Campaign Fail: Crystal Pepsi
Updated: Jun 17, 2019
In the 1990s, a seemingly odd product started appearing on the shelves that left many consumers confused. Crystal Pepsi.
During that time, there was a growing interest for ‘purity’ among the public, Pepsi saw this as an opportunity and tried to hop onto the bandwagon, hence Crystal Pepsi. It was basically a clear cola and was supposed to be a healthier version of normal cola that was found in the market.
Pepsi took their chance to use this ‘purity’ trend and it seemed like it would have worked out, but it flopped pretty badly.
Crystal Pepsi = Pepsi that’s clear. That was probably what the majority of the consumers expected when they took their first sip. But no, it tasted nothing like the Pepsi everyone was so familiar with. Consumers would have associated cola to be brown in colour, and clear soda was expected to have a citrus like taste to it, just like 7 Up or Sprite. However, Crystal Pepsi tasted nothing like cola; it wasn’t as sweet and it did no have that citrusy hint to it. That, left many consumers in confusion.
Why did they create a clear cola?
Yeah, why did they? There was no explanation as to why they thought the public needed a clear cola, and the concept of it being ‘pure’ was never properly conveyed to the consumers. So, how was the drink ‘pure’? That too was unexplained and left entirely to the consumers to think about. Basically, try not to fix what wasn’t broken.
Crystal Pepsi was advertised to have fewer calories than regular Pepsi, contained no caffeine at all and was “100% natural flavours”. It was introduced to the public as a cola that was “not just Pepsi without the colour”. Well it seemed to consumers that Crystal Pepsi was clearly going to be healthier than regular Pepsi. However, Crystal Pepsi was found to contain similar ingredients, such as high fructose corn syrup, and it could not be considered as a diet option at all. (It only contained 20 calories less than ordinary Pepsi, 154 calories to 130 calories while diet Pepsi contained less than 1 calorie). Crystal Pepsi not only offered no health benefits but was essentially still a high sugar, high calorie content drink that was merely was clear and non-caffeinated. It was transparent that nobody associated it with a healthy drink. So how much healthier was Crystal Pepsi? No one knew.
In 2017, Crystal Pepsi made a comeback and was actually sold out pretty quickly. Why was it sold out so quickly despite its outcome in 1990s?
Crystal Pepsi caused such an impact in the 1990s that everyone just wanted to have another sip in remembrance of the older days. And yes, no one came back for seconds.
Didn't Pepsi do their research before producing Crystal Pepsi?
They did. In fact, they had been developing a clear soda for around 15 months and created 3,000 variations before finalising the formula used for Crystal Pepsi. Furthermore, they invited 5,000 consumers to participate in the testing process. A top Pepsi-Cola marketing executive mentioned, "People describe it as being not that sweet (as regular colas), smoother and extremely refreshing". So, if it really tasted better than regular colas and was less sweet, why did it fail?
Misconception of their consumers.
Pepsi failed to identify that the colour brown didn't affect whether consumers were going to purchase their soda or not. Consumer just wanted a drink, that tasted like Pepsi. Crystal Pepsi created anxiety for the consumers. Kyle Murray, a marketing professor at the University of Alberta, did a study on how we react to new products. They had subjects react to new products while measuring their pulse rate and perspiration. It was concluded that, when a product was too far out of the norm, like Crystal Pepsi, subjects were observed to display signs of anxiety; they really didn't know how to react to such a change.
From this, we can see that Pepsi's failure in Crystal Pepsi was mainly due to the lack of understanding of their consumers. While it was not wrong for them to see the 'purity' trend as an opportunity, the misunderstanding of their consumers resulted in them creating a product that was not what the consumers actually wanted. With better understanding, they could have perhaps still leveraged on the 'purity' trend and sold a different kind of Crystal Pepsi which might have been well-received. As such, being able to uncover insights of your consumers will surely enable you to have an edge over your competitors. You can click here to find out more about uncovering your consumers' insights.