Bring Back Crystal Pepsi [Kicking Back with Jersey Joe]
It’s January 1993 and everybody’s watching the Dallas Cowboys take on the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVII, when suddenly, during a commercial break, Van Halen rocks out to Right Now and the entire country is officially introduced to Crystal Pepsi.
Crystal Pepsi, the clear and caffeine free version of the long standing Pepsi Cola was ushered in with a big money marketing campaign and a series of high concept commercials. The spots, featuring images of being refreshed and free, promised “You’ve never seen a cola like this.” They were certainly right, but no one could have predicted the disaster that followed.
The idea for the clear Pepsi began in the 1980’s when many manufacturers started experimenting with clear products after seeing the success Ivory had by creating a transparent bar of soap.
Pepsi reformulated their recipe by removing the dark brown color, the caffeine, and many preservatives.
Crystal Pepsi first hit stores in several test cities in 1992. Denver, Colorado; Sacramento, California; Dallas, Texas; and Providence, Rhode Island were the four lucky cities selected. Congratulations to them! The test run was a success and sales of the new clear cola in those cities did quite well. Those who purchased the product gave the idea and taste “positive results.”
Pepsi decided to give the clear cola a full national launch and officially add it to the Pepsi lineup of products in stores coast to coast in 1993. Hearing this, Coca-Cola would quickly work on a rival clear cola, Tab Clear, and rush it to stores by Christmas 1992.
Pepsi spent a massive amount of marking money to promote their new product. The rights to Van Halen’s Right Now, which could not have been cheap, spearheaded the series of commercials that aired in a heavy rotation after the initial Super Bowl ad. You couldn’t get through watching a sit-com without seeing one.
Crystal Pepsi was served in the same traditional manner as most Pepsi products at the time. It was sold in 12 oz cans, 16 oz glass bottles, 2 liter bottles, 12 can packs, and 24 can cases.
I don’t know for sure if it was ever served in fountain drink form, but I would guess it was at larger convenience stores. It was never offered at any fast food restaurants that I can remember or find evidence of.
Pepsi also rebranded a number of their vending machines to advertise and sell the new product.
A partnership with Pizza Hut also offered customers a free 2 liter bottle with any pizza purchase. Pizza Hut also used the opportunity to slam their rival, Domino’s in a clever ad.
Initially sales were good. The product was flying off of store shelves as people wanted to try a sample to be a part of the new invisible cola craze. The Simpsons, always being topical with the times, poked fun of it in one of their episodes.
Sadly, after all the hype and all the buzz – everyone pretty much hated the taste. It was being billed as a clear version of Pepsi, but it didn’t taste the same as Pepsi.
To me, the taste seemed as though someone took Pepsi and threw a splash of 7-UP in it and removed the dark color. I thought it was good, though I hated that it was caffeine free. I remember my grandfather trying to make a mixed drink out of it one night in the kitchen. He wasn’t pleased!
Suddenly, store shelves were full of the unsold product. Pepsi quickly realized they had a dud on their hands and stopped producing any more. Besides the negative reaction to the taste, customers simply didn’t want to change. They like their Pepsi in the original dark brown, sludge color!
A few months later, they would reformulate the taste by adding more citrus and quietly returning to stores as Crystal from Pepsi. That time, they really screwed it up. The taste was even worse and it wasn’t on sale for very long. There was no big budget marketing campaign for this one, either.
When the second version came out, I was so happy that the product wasn’t dead. But, then that citrus weirdness hit my mouth – that was it.
David C. Novak, who is now chairman of YUM Brands, the company that owns KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, thought Americans “just didn’t get it.”
In a 2007 interview with Winging It, an online magazine, he stated that “they [Americans] don’t see my vision.” He also admitted that the taste was the problem and they should have taken more time to work on that. He also stated “Once you have a good idea and blow it, you don’t get a chance to resurrect it.”
Mexicans, however got to enjoy a new version that hit Mexican store shelves in 2005.
As of 2010, the official trademark for the name expired with the US Patent & Trademark office. Sadly, it looks like this soft drink is officially dead.
There were two small mistakes I can see with this beverage. It could have worked, but first they needed to work on the taste. I think it could have been as simple as adding more sugar and keeping the caffeine. I know most health nuts wouldn’t be happy with that, but then again are health nuts downing the soft drinks?
They could have also continued to manufacture it with a reformulated taste on a smaller scale until they got it right. From what I remember of how it tasted, I would have been great for someone who was sick or had an upset stomach. And by today’s standards, it tasted better than Red Bull. Maybe they could have turned it into an energy drink.
The brand definitely has some nostalgia factor. It was like we were all part of a failed experiment. Finding a bottle can earn you a hefty chunk of change. As of the time I write this, there is an ebay auction with a buy it now price of $60 a bottle!
Pepsi would have another failure on its hands in 2002 with Pepsi Blue. However, that remained in stores for two years and is still sold overseas. It had a cotton candy like taste, which I also enjoyed.
So, what do you think? Anybody out there actually like Crystal Pepsi as I did?
Name: Crystal Pepsi
What: clear cola soft drink advertised as a clear version of Pepsi
Originally Sold: Test markets 1992, nationwide 1993
Still available: No
JERSEY JOE RECOMMENDS: Sadly, this product is not available anywhere, nor is going to be anytime soon.
Pepsi does experiment with different flavors from time to time and if they wanted to try something new they should bring this back. We even had a Memorial Day Pepsi flavor in 2010 (with blueberry and cherry flavors)! This really could make for a cool limited release. Initial sales, like the original, would be pretty good. Judging by the comments viewers have posted on YouTube, I’m not alone in that thought.
Pepsi currently markets a throwback version of their products, made with real sugar and even featuring the original logos. Why not give Crystal Pepsi a quick run?
For the rest of my life, every time I hear Right Now, I will always think of Crystal Pepsi and those few brief months in 1993 when a clear cola was cool.
And how about the days when soft drinks were still sold in small glass bottles?
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