True Blue?
A trivial prediction

New York, May 9, 2002 –  I think I have to go out on a limb and predict failure for Pepsico's new soft drink, "Pepsi blue." It's only a gut feeling, but my gut usually serves me well in such matters. (Update, 2006. Pepsi Blue was pulled from the American market in 2004, but may remain available in Mexico, Costa Rica, and some other countries, according to this Wikipedia entry.)

     Blue comes about as Pepsico tries to ride the coattails of its recent triumph, Mountain Dew Code Red. "Code Red is a great success model for us to follow," Dave Burwick, senior vice president of marketing for Pepsico North America, told the Associated Press. Maybe so. But then again, "Crystal Pepsi" is a great failure model to follow.

     Crystal Pepsi hit the scene in the early 1990s, during that odd, historical marketing moment when every liquid in sight — from dishwashing soap to alcoholic malt beverages — suddenly became invisible. (To my friend and partner in bemused scrutiny, Jeff, and, I, 1992 seemed to be the "year of the clear." After Crystal Pepsi and clear dishwashing liquid were introduced, we joked, "What's next? Clear bread?" Clear beer? Little did we know that Zima was already being released and was about to have a big marketing push.)

      Aside from Pepsi Blue, Crystal Pepsi is the only other instance in my recollection where Pepsi, or any major beverage concern, attempted to make a cola that wasn't brown. The colorless cola didn't hit the mark with consumers, and Jeff and I were not quite sure what to make of it.

     But before we could finish scratching our heads, this unseen beverage did its second disappearing act, vanishing from the market more quickly than it took Pepsi's R&D to dream it up. In fact, it failed so quickly that we both all but forgot about it until almost two years later, when two truckloads of crushed, bailed, unused Crystal Pepsi bottles arrived at the recycling plant where we then worked. (For a truly kick-ass history of this beverage, see "Captain Mike's Crystal Pepsi™®© page.)

     On the surface, Pepsi Blue seems more akin to Crystal Pepsi than Mountain Dew Code Red. And like Crystal, Blue looks way off-target in my view.

     It is greater challenge, I think, to successfully tinker with a flagship product like Pepsi Cola, compared to a secondary brand like Mountain Dew. While the Cherry Pepsi and Pepsi One brand extensions may be doing okay (though I really don't know), Crystal Pepsi and Pepsi Free have gone the way of Arch Deluxe and McDLT.

     Maybe Pepsi Blue won't be a complete failure, but I severely doubt it will be anywhere near as successful as Code Red.

     Both Code Red and Pepsi Blue are targeted to 16 year-old males. Elementary color theory tells us that red is a "warm" color. Mountain Dew is the edgy Pepsico's edgiest product. Combine the two and you get one red hot product for teenagers exposed to, if not actually immersed in, extreme youth culture. The semiotics of Red Dew work perfectly.

     By contrast, blue is a cool, soothing, subdued hue. How many subdued 16-year old males do we see these days? I just have my doubts.

     Another color problem is that blue beverages, in my experience, generally sell well to 8- to 12-year-olds. How old were you the last time you drank you drank blue Kool-Aid, or had a raspberry Slushie? (If 20 or older, "you might be a redneck," in the words of Jeff Foxworthy.)

     But who knows? Maybe I've missed a psychographic shift in the years since I left market research. Pepsico's press release confirms they did speak with "thousands of teens about creating a cola fusion" before developing Blue. And it isn't the only blue drink they're trying to float. Right now on the streets of Manhattan (and presumably elsewhere), samplers are handing out a new Gatorade-branded berry flavored water product. Admittedly, it was the feeling that each sip left me more parched than the last — not its blueness — that lead me to throw it away and return to my simple spring water.

     I am curious to see how Coca-Cola does with its new entrant, Vanilla Coke. It should do fine I think. The Coke brand always harkens to the nostalgic past, and the vanilla Coke, as a fountain drink, is a decades-old classic from America's diner heydays. It seems a pretty safe idea to take something people have enjoyed for years at the soda fountain (such as lemon in Diet Coke), and bottle it for the convenience-store cooler. (Sept. 2004 side note: did Vanilla Pepsi come and go already? It only just barely appeared as a blip on my radar.)

     But Blue Pepsi? I have my doubts. Here is a lovely Pepsi Blue blog if you feel so inclined.

Reader responses:

I am going to agree with you totally, I was just at duane reade and decided to try it. It taste like shitty potpourri. I cannot believe they released it tasting so bad. It will never compete with Vanilla Coke, anyways, nice prediction.

- shroom

Pepsi Blue is the nastiest soda I have ever tasted. You can actually taste the food coloring, not to mention it's the spitting image of a bottle of Windex! Plain Pepsi is fine, Pepsi Twist was pushing it, but this is so unbelievably revolting that I can't even express it in words! I bid the Pepsi people more success in their next concoction...oops, I mean, creation.

- Kristen McGoey

Just a note:

There have been many clear colas and some are still on the market. They are usually "gourmet" colas, marketed as natural or old fashioned. New York Seltzer made one when they were around and there is one now made by a Natural Soda or some such name. I believe that Snapple once had one too; I know they had a clear root beer.

- Jeff

Indeed, yes I concede that there are actually clear colas out there. However, I'm pretty much discounting  "boutique" or gourmet soda brands for this discussion, and focussing on big brands, or store brands and private label with major distribution — big revenue soda products.

Pepsi's press release

PREPARE YOUR SENSES FOR PEPSI BLUE: A FUSION OF BERRY AND COLA
Pepsi's Latest Soft Drink Innovation to Launch Nationally this Summer


PURCHASE, NY, May 7, 2002 – You've never seen or tasted anything like this: It's new. It's blue. And, later this summer, it's coming to a store near you.

     Pepsi-Cola North America (PCNA), the industry's fastest-growing total beverage company, today unveiled its latest soft drink innovation – a fusion of berry and cola, Pepsi Blue. Providing a whole new beverage experience, Pepsi Blue will be launched nationally in 20-ounce bottles in August.

     "With its unique look and taste, Pepsi Blue has the potential to reinvigorate the cola category," said Gary Rodkin, president and CEO of PCNA. "We're convinced innovation is the key to growth. In the past 15 months alone, with exciting new products like Mountain Dew Code Red, Pepsi Twist and Sierra Mist, we've proved consumers – particularly teens and young adults – will respond enthusiastically to new carbonated soft drinks. We think Pepsi Blue can do for cola what Code Red did for Dew – that is, grow the entire category."

     "Pepsi Blue was developed by and for teens," said Dave Burwick, SVP, marketing, carbonated soft drink brands, for PCNA. "We talked to thousands of teens about creating a cola fusion, and they told us two things: Make it berry and make it blue. Teens understand fusion better than any other age group. They live it every day – in their music, fashion and culture."

     Nine months in the making, Pepsi Blue was one of more than 100 cola fusion concepts tested by PCNA's innovation and R&D groups. It was the resounding choice among thousands of teens, two-thirds of whom said they would purchase Pepsi Blue regularly when available.

     Pre-launch marketing activities will reflect the grassroots approach PCNA established last year for Mountain Dew Code Red. Gradually building Pepsi Blue awareness among retail customers and consumers, sampling efforts will begin in teen hangouts and other youth-oriented venues over the next few weeks. The impending introduction of Pepsi Blue also will be teased on the Internet, outdoor postings and other nontraditional outlets.

     Purchase, NY-based Pepsi-Cola North America (www.pepsi.com) is the $4 billion refreshment beverage division of PepsiCo, Inc. In addition to Pepsi Blue, its other brands in the United States include Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Pepsi ONE, Pepsi Twist, Wild Cherry Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Mountain Dew Code Red, Sierra Mist, Mug, Slice, Aquafina, FruitWorks, Dole single-serve juices and SoBe. The company also makes and markets North America's best-selling ready-to-drink iced teas and coffees, respectively, via joint ventures with Lipton and Starbucks.

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