In the spring of 1992, Pepsi unleashed a clear cola called Crystal Pepsi. Though it only stayed on the market for about a year, Crystal Pepsi left an impression on some people, like competitive eater Kevin Strahle.
Earlier this year, Strahle organized a social media campaign to bring the soda back, sparking a petition that quickly amassed over 37,000 signatures.
And it worked.
This summer, PepsiCo sent Strahle a letter hinting at a potential reboot of the brand, which he shared on Twitter. True to their word, they announced that, on Dec. 10 and 11, fans could download the Pepsi Pass app to enter a sweepstake that will ship cases of Crystal Pepsi to 13,000 lucky winners just in time for Christmas.
The internet’s been hyperventilating ever since, but why? Aren’t products discontinued because of poor quality? Not always, and especially not in the 1990s.
The Real Reason Crystal Pepsi Failed Is Murky To Most
Many people, including the drink’s creator, David Novak, attribute Crystal Pepsi’s demise to its mediocre taste. According to Novak’s 2007 interview in Fast Company, he said, “It would have been nice if I’d made sure the product tasted good,” and that a few of his colleagues urged him to alter the taste. Even Strahle has stated that he can’t remember how the beverage tasted.
Despite everyone’s vague memory of the drink’s average taste, the more plausible reality is that Coca-Cola shot Crystal Pepsi down before it had the chance to take off. Crystal Pepsi was never meant to be a niche product; it would have completely replaced the dark Pepsi as we know it.
Taking note of this, Coca-Cola’s first chief marketing officer, Sergio Zyman, hatched a plan to confuse consumers, according to Stephen Denny, author of Killing Giants: 10 Strategies to Topple the Goliath in Your Industry.
Shortly after Crystal Pepsi started showing up on store shelves, Coca-Cola released a similar version of Tab, their second-tier diet drink (behind Diet Coke). The clearness of Crystal Pepsi and the lack of caffeine communicated the idea of a health drink when it was still just a clear cola.
When Zyman made consumers compare Tab Clear, a decidedly mediocre diet drink, with PepsiCo’s new flagship product, the latter’s image took a major hit. Accepting the loss, PepsiCo pulled Crystal Pepsi off the market in the fall of 1993.
Why Should We Care That It’s Back?
When you have PepsiCo executives publicly showing remorse about product quality, and you’re in a comeback wave of 90s nostalgia products (French Toast Crunch, Surge, Hi-C Ecto Cooler, and M&M’s Crispy, to name a few), you almost feel obligated to trust the time machine.
The new Crystal Pepsi is caffeinated and allegedly carries a more palatable flavor profile than its decades-old predecessor. Whether you loved it then or never got to try it, the clear cola’s resurgence promises a unique experience. It’s transparent Pepsi – the novelty alone is worth the hubbub.
But I Missed The Competition!
Don’t worry, PepsiCo’s representatives hinted to Strahle that Crystal Pepsi won’t only be available via the sweepstakes. Strahle promised in a recent YouTube video that he wouldn’t taste any of the promotional pack he received until “everyone” could also enjoy it. Whether “everyone” covers the United States or the entire world, no one knows yet.
But we’ll all see things a little clearer in 2016.