Fizzle Gone Flat: Coke and Pepsi’s Marketing Mishaps

In the world of soft drinks, Coke and Pepsi loom large, battling it out for the title of the people’s favorite. Claiming first and second places in the market, respectively, both brands have seen great success in their marketing endeavors (like the iconic Coca-Cola polar bears and Pepsi’s celebrity appearances).

Each drink has its signature taste, branding, and loyal fans. Coca-Cola reigns supreme, especially in the South, where any carbonated beverage is affectionately dubbed a “Coke.” Its blend of crispness and sweetness has catapulted it to the top of the global soda market.


Not far behind, Pepsi carves its own niche. With a subtly sweeter formula, thanks to the absence of citric acid (a little soda trivia for you), Pepsi holds its own as a strong contender in the global landscape.


But even these mighty brands aren’t immune to a marketing mishap or two. Today, we’re looking at a couple of their marketing campaigns that fell *flat.*

The Pepsi Challenge and New Coke

In 1975, Pepsi launched the Pepsi Challenge. In this blind taste test, consumers were asked to choose which soda they preferred – and it appeared the overwhelming response was Pepsi.

Coca-Cola’s response? The company replaced its classic formula with a sweeter one, New Coke, in 1985. People hated it. Even though it sold pretty well outside of the South, the overwhelming response was, “Change it back!” Which Coke did only three months later.

This marketing mishap teaches us an important lesson: understanding and respecting your audience’s attachment to your product is crucial. Coca-Cola’s misstep wasn’t just in altering its formula but in underestimating the emotional bond consumers had with the original taste. This event underlines the importance of balancing innovation with the cherished values and traditions of your brand.


Pepsi isn’t a stranger to marketing mishaps either…

Crystal Pepsi: The Pursuit of Clarity

Fast forward to the 90s, a time when transparency wasn’t just a buzzword but a design aesthetic. Enter Crystal Pepsi, a caffeine-free, clear version of its original formula. It aimed to tap into the era’s fascination with clarity and purity, embodying a trend that stretched beyond beverages into technology and fashion.

Despite fitting perfectly with the see-through Game Boys and Macs and initially sparking consumer curiosity, this fizzy crystal ball didn’t predict its own swift demise. Lacking the expected cola flavor and confusing consumers with its clear appearance, Crystal Pepsi became a classic example of a product that was visually intriguing but failed to resonate with the market’s taste preferences, lasting less than a year on the shelves.


The 1992 launch of Crystal Pepsi serves as a stark reminder that aligning with a trend doesn’t guarantee success if the product fails to meet consumer expectations. This venture into clear soda demonstrated the importance of ensuring that a product’s core attributes, such as flavor and brand identity, align with consumer desires and perceptions. It underscores the critical need for market research and understanding of consumer behavior rather than relying solely on aesthetic or conceptual appeal.

Unforgettable Campaigns, Without the Hiccups

What can we learn from these fizzled endeavors? For starters, knowing your audience is as important as the product itself. Both Coke and Pepsi learned the hard way that innovation is a delicate dance with tradition.


Check out our VP of Digital Marketing, Shane, as he gives his candid thoughts on these marketing mishaps here:

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