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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Why It Failed -- Bring Back Crystal Pepsi: Part 1

I look back with nostalgia at Crystal Pepsi.  Thinking back to '92-'93, can you remember the taste? To jog your memory, go grab a regular Pepsi.  It's the exact same flavor, sans coloring and caffeine.
Why was Crystal Pepsi a failure?
The answer can be found by looking at experiments we've done on consumers' taste, expectations, and satisfaction with beverages on the market.  What causes a positive or negative response in the consumer partly has to do with the psychological associations they have with the flavor they are expecting to taste either clashing or matching with what they actually get.  As it turns out, inferences we make due to a drink's color mean a lot.

Scientists from Appalachian State University and the University of Auckland worked together in a paper that explains the process:
"Effects of Food Color On Perceived Flavor"
" color affects the consumer's ability to correctly identify flavor, to form distinct flavor profiles and preferences, and dominates other flavor information sources, including labeling and taste.  Further, these results support the notion that food color is inextricably linked to expected flavor in the minds of consumers, making the selection of uncharacteristic food color problematical.  In the following, we present three possible strategies for making the introduction of a novel food color viable for marketing communication purposes.  The first is to teach consumers to accept a novel color as characteristic, or emblematic, of a particular food, as green is for peppermint or brown is for cola. [I interject - brown was long established by Pepsi/Coca-Cola]  This is a strategy that is self-defeating in some respects, but is useful under certain circumstances, as we shall discuss.  The second strategy is to celebrate the very incongruity of a novel food color, to announce to the consumer that its novelty is there to surprise and delight, and the proper response is to have fun and enjoy it.  [Interjecting again - Crystal Pepsi's marketing directly attempted this, as you'll see in the embedded commercial at the bottom]  The third strategy for the introduction of a novel food color is to sever the food color and flavor expectations connection, making it impossible for the consumer to connect the two..."

Breaking cola's brown "novel color" factor
"...A drawback to rendering a novel color no longer novel is that it loses its ability to surprise the consumer into attention, which was the prime reason for utilizing novel color in the first place..."

Backpedaling: no coloration is not vibrant
"...When the appearance of a food product is nondescript, then associating it with a new, more vibrant color can enhance its noticeability, its distinctiveness and its appeal..."

For a current example,  the marketing for a drink sold now, "The Green Machine,"  shows that the company (Naked) appropriately adjusted their marketing based on the insights we're talking about.  The product title rhymes, is intriguing, and directly addresses the odd color in a playful way.  Stamped on it is a catchphrase, "Looks Weird, Tastes Amazing."  There are many fruit juices in the ingredients, and they make sure not to be vague about it.

Pepsi, in trying to spice things up, took a step backwards.  I don't think that "clear" was necessarily perceived as a color in this situation, but as the lack of it.  Nevertheless, they severed the connection between the niche, classic brown color associated with cola, inviting the public to evaluate the taste without any preconceived notions.  As a result, the consumer initially pays more attention to the flavor.  The fact that the flavor is exactly the same as the brand's main product then lead to disappointment. 

There may be hope for Crystal Pepsi yet... 
In part 2 of this subject, I talk about 4-MI, cola's caramel color, in the news as a deadly carcinogen.

Caramel Color Carcinogens -- Bring Back Crystal Pepsi Part 2

  In the conclusion of Part 2, I make my argument
for the resurrection of Crystal Pepsi!

Here is a Crystal Clear Pepsi commercial from its launch back in 1992.  Tssst...AHHh!
Lawrence L. Garber Jr., Eva M Hyatt, & Richard G. Starr Jr. (2000). The effects of food color on perceived flavor Journal of Marketing Theory And Practice, 59-75 Other: ISSN: 10696679

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1 comment:

  1. I was hoping that the big soda companies would quit putting color in their drinks. Who wants to drink a soda, knowing they are doing a risky behavior which may cause cancer? I hope they leave the caffeine in the crystal drink. I have changed to Sunkist, Big Red and Big Blue, which also have way too much coloring in them, but they also have caffeine. Maybe they might even make a sprite/7-up with caffeine. I really don't care, but I like a boost and don't want coffee or tea all the time.


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