December 11, 2015

Return of Crystal Pepsi?

Knowing that the 90’s are “retro” makes me feel old. 

While I do remember the 90’s fondly in some respects, there are probably some things that shouldn’t come back.  I have a sneaking suspicion that Pepsi thinks its own Crystal Pepsi is one of them.  Based on their method of “reintroduction” I believe that Pepsi is certainly playing it as safe as possible with some subtle hints that it may be a reluctant relaunch.

In their teasers leading up to it, Pepsi tweeted a photo of a can of original Pepsi being imbibed by someone named Crystal, (wearing a cheap necklace with bearing her name) with the caption “Is this what you meant?” and later a photo of a can of original Pepsi laying on a bed of crystals with the caption, “So, not this.”  I tease my kids the same way when I’m mildly reluctant to give them something they’re asking for.  Kind of a, “Are you sure you want this?  How about this, instead?”  Say what you will about my parenting, I’ll bet I’m not the only one who does this. 

Even compared to Coca Cola’s “online only” Surge comeback, the Crystal Pepsi initial offering is extremely limited.  As announced, Crystal Pepsi is available as part of a sweepstakes wherein the entry period is 48 hours (ending today).  Initially I thought the entries were only limited to Pepsi loyalists who had points in their PepsiPass accounts.  Each entry will cost you 1000 points for a chance to win one of 13,000 six-packs of 16oz bottles.  It turns out that even if you don’t have the PepsiPass app, you can enter online and you get 5000 points just for signing up.  So really it is open to anybody.  The only people this weeds out are people who don’t have enough motivation to sign up for an account and people who have already signed up for an account, but have used their points and don’t have motivation to do what it takes to build their points back up in the short time period. 

From a marketing standpoint, this gives Pepsi a huge amount data on potential customers.  This allows them to really gauge how much interest there is in Crystal Pepsi rather than relying on the rallying cry of a handful vocal enthusiasts.  First off, it allows Pepsi to see who would be interested in getting their hands on at least a six pack.  I see this as Pepsi asking the question, “By raise of hands, who wants Crystal Pepsi?”  When you sign up for the PepsiPass account/app and put in an entry, you give your email address, mailing address, birth date, and phone number.  I expect marketing loves information like that.  Additionally, not only are they asking “Who wants some?” they can sort out the info by order of “How bad do you want it?”  During the two day period, you’re limited to 3 entries per day for a total of 6 entries.  So likely 1 entry falls into the “Sounds interesting.” category, 2 entries equates to “I’d try it.” 3 entries tells them “I’ll do everything I can for a single day to get some, but I’m not devoted enough to do this for two days.” 4 Entries means “I’m in, but I’m a bit short on points.”  5 entries shows them “I just signed up for Crystal Pepsi and nothing else.”  6 entries tells them, “I’m a Pepsi fan through and through.  I’ll do everything I can no matter what.”

Once the 13,000 winners get their coveted 6-pack, you can bet a fair number of winners will brag about it via social media, showing Pepsi feedback and creating buzz. From here they can make the decision whether they want a wider launch.  While I haven’t seen anything official from Pepsi, there is speculation that Crystal Pepsi will hit stores in Summer 2016.  I would be very surprised if it lasts very long, given that it flopped the first time around and Pepsi’s penchant for Limited Time Offers, particularly under the Mountain Dew brand.  Even 23 years of pining nostalgia won’t keep it afloat if it isn’t any good.  Everyone who tasted it the first time around has undoubtedly experienced changing tastes/palettes and preferences over the years, so would people really exclaim “This tastes just like I remember!” after all this time?  However, Pepsi is touting it as improved. (Which begs the question, is it really a return if it’s been reformulated?)  Supposedly it has caffeine this time around, which I would guess they’re thinking adds to its appeal.  I’d imagine that came from focus group data because it kind of pulls it away from its original intent of being more simple and clean than regular colas.  But whatever, their Dewshine seems to be somewhat prolific, I wonder if that was a precursor to a Crystal Pepsi relaunch.

I think that the video ad Pepsi released was subtly tongue-in-cheek advertising, mocking their own product in a way.  The ad opens with the janitor cleaning the elevator when he finds a hidden button for the 92nd floor.  He’s swiftly transported up there where everything is apparently stuck in ’92/93.  Computers, hairstyles, glasses and everything visible seems to indicate it’s still 1992.  Everything is also festooned with Crystal Pepsi logos.  This does seem to feel like that’s where Crystal Pepsi belongs: in the past.  The employees there seem to know the janitor, almost as if he was part of their team at one point.  This to me suggests that some people involved with the original Crystal Pepsi didn’t make it very far in life.  It was a pretty well remembered failure, though not as epic as New Coke.  The employees there, dressed in garb not out of place in early 90’s offices, (though not out of place in some offices today) are celebrating the relaunch to Tag Team’s Whoomp There it is, opening with the line, “Tag Team, Back again…”  In review, was Tag Team ever back again?  As far as I know it wasn’t a household name.  The song, released in 1993 reached #2 on the Billboard charts, but that’s all that I can remember from them (I had to google who even performed the song).  The lyrics fit a relaunch, but being a #2 song suggests that while this may be a relaunch, it was never a #1, never really a win.  So the commercial opens with ‘92, when Crystal Pepsi was launched and flows to a musical reference to ’93, when Crystal Pepsi was pulled.  And that “Whoomp, there it is!” is almost like an in-your-face, “You really want this, FINE! Here it is.  Don’t complain later if you don’t like it.”  It’s obvious these are 16oz bottles, which were the norm at the time, but rarer in the two decades since.  It adds to the nostalgia, but also may be a suggestion that maybe you don’t want it in today’s standard 20oz bottle.  If I recall, it wasn’t that bad that you wouldn’t be able to finish a 20oz, but sometimes even something that’s mediocre loses its appeal after just so much.  The video ends with one of the employees saying, “Let’s get the word out!” and then you hear the dial up modem sound as they crowd around the computer – and wait.  Again, here’s something that suggests maybe Pepsi is a little reluctant to let this go, and maybe it really does belong in the past.

Regardless of their intentions, I’ve thrown my hat in the ring, and if I have a six-pack show up at my door sometime later this month, I’ll let you know and I’ll try my hardest to bring the world a recipe so that even if this is a limited time only coming this summer or worst case scenario a promotion only for the holidays, Crystal Pepsi will live on.
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