Crystal Pepsi Reboot Questionable Call

Crystal Pepsi

When marketing gurus cannot think of something new, they often resort to resurrecting something old. Pepsi’s answer is bringing back Crystal Pepsi, a product that has not been available for 20 years, thinking the demand for the old transparent drink is there, but the reboot of the clear soft drink seems to be a questionable call by Pepsi management.

Nostalgia is a big draw – just ask the millions worldwide who have already bought tickets to see the Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia and the newer generation next week in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But that is understandable given the tremendous success of the six previous Star Wars films.

The situation with Crystal Pepsi is vastly different, which makes it seem strange that they made the call to bring it back. The original Crystal Pepsi was not a success!

Crystal Pepsi was, as the name implies, a clear caffeine-free, low-sodium soft drink introduced by PepsiCo in some cities in 1992 and nationally in January 1993 (with a Super Bowl spot featuring Van Halen’s song Right Now. The product was marketed as a clear alternative to traditional sodas. It went off the market early in 1994. It was also sold in for a time in Australia and Canada and lasted in Europe for a little longer, but was also not a success outside the U.S. Enough said?

In 2007, Fast Company asked David Novak, who is now CEO of Yum Brands (KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell), about spearheading the Crystal fiasco when he was at Pepsi. He called the flop a “tremendous learning experience.” Novak still believes the product was one of his best ideas, but poorly executed. That would imply that a new better executed launch could have different results, except Novak added in the interview, “It would have been nice if I’d made sure the product tasted good.”

Pepsi seems to have decided to tip a toe in the waters to test demand by staging a contest and small advertising campaign that ought to show if anyone wants the drink now, when soft drinks sales are slipping. Are they hoping people will mistake it for bottled water? The hype is curious since the product will not be available in stores or vending machines.

The very limited-time contest, which will be held Dec. 10 and 11, is for users of their Pepsi Pass app. There will be 13,000 winners who will each get a six-pack of the soda. Yes, that is all.

The company has said that “Crystal Pepsi fans, and their enthusiastic requests for its return, inspired Pepsi to bring back this iconic ‘90s product for the holiday season.” It is true there was a petition drive and a push on social media (as well as billboards outside Pepsi’s headquarters) to urge the firm to bring the drink back, but how big could the groundswell have been? There is certainly bound to be curiosity from those too young to have tasted Crystal Pepsi and those who do not remember its taste (as well as those who seems to have liked it), but the marketing reboot seems to be a questionable call.

Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss

Adweek: Crystal Pepsi Is Back and Serves as a Time Machine to the ’90s in This New Spot
Fast Company: Winging It
CNN: Crystal Pepsi is back! Here’s how to get some
Pepsi Pass

Pepsi product photo

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