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Octopus TV Failure Awards – Crystal Pepsi by Andrew Eborn

Updated: Dec 15, 2019

Octopus TV Failure Awards – Crystal Pepsi by Andrew Eborn

Welcome to the Octopus TV Failure Awards (TOFA) recognising that if necessity is the mother of invention failure is the father of success. In this weekly series Andrew Eborn President of Octopus TV and Founder of The OctopusTV Failure Awards shines a light on products and services, brand extensions and campaigns that - for one reason or another - failed thereby earning entry into The Octopus TV Failure Awards

Each Tuesday a new entry will be explored.

Thank you for all of your nominations so far. Keep ‘em coming! Send your nominations now together with full description and images to

Last week in our series on nominees for The Octopus TV Failure Awards (TOFA) we looked at the spectacular spectacles Google Glass This week we look at Crystal Pepsi – a clear contender for TOFA

Something new

According to Mintel approximately 33,000 new consumer packaged-goods are introduced every month (Mintel Global New Products Database). Most of them fail.

Clearly Crazy

Having successfully survived the 80’s and put away our legwarmers, hair scrunchies, parachute pants and shoulder pads, the 90’s began with a clear craze. Marketers were obsessed with purity – free from artificial colours.

Clarity was associated with purity and gave rise to a number of products stripped bare.

Colour - or lack of it - was recognised as a tool for visual persuasion.

The fad was encouraged by the continued promotion of Ivory soap.

"99 and 44/100% pure"

Introduced in 1879, Ivory soap from Proctor & Gamble was famous for its claimed purity and for floating in water. By 1895 P&G had adopted the slogan “99 and 44/100% pure" in reference to the claim that Ivory was purer than the castile soap available. This was subsequently used by Willy Wonka when opening his factory. I’ve got a Golden Ticket etc etc

From soap to soda and petrol to pop companies clamoured to capitalise on the clear craze.

Amoco launched its clear gasoline, Amoco Ultimate. Coors Brewing Company produced Zima, marketed as a clear alcoholic alternative to beer. Colman Hutchinson, my fellow Director in Boxatricks the format creation company set up with the creators of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, has already put Zima in the frame for an Octopus TV Failure Award. Zima did not cut the mustard for Colman. It tasted “awful” Colman points out.


Pepsi’s poptastic history has been punctuated by failures way before Kendall Jenner even tried to bring peace to the world through Pepsi.

Let’s be clear - "You've never seen a taste like this"

In 1992 PepsiCo launched Crystal Pepsi as a caffeine free clear alternative to normal colas. Devoid of artificial ingredients including the colouring that gives Pepsi its caramel hue, Crystal Pepsi was marketed as being healthier than the regular cola. It may not, in fact, have been as heathy as people thought with 250 calories and a 69 grams of sugar in a 20-ounce bottle.

Right Now - we are all thirsty for something different

Following a successful test in markets like Denver and Sacramento, Crystal Pepsi was launched throughout the US supported by massive marketing campaign. During the Super Bowl on 31st January 1993 we were told why Right Now the choice is clear..

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Cola Wars

Initially, Crystal Pepsi enjoyed sparkling sales’ success gaining a whole percent point of US soft drink sales - worth around US$470m - in its first year. Sales soon fizzled out due to a number of factors not least the activities of Pepsi’s arch rival.

The ongoing battle between Pepsi and Coke is legendary out for the computer game coming soon.

On 14th December 1992 Coca-Cola launched its own clear product, Tab Clear with a deliciously bizarre TV ad.

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In the 2011 book Killing Giants: 10 Strategies To Topple the Goliath in Your Industry Sergio Zyman, Coca-Cola's chief marketing officer who introduced Diet Coke in 1982, is reported as saying that Tab Clear was a "suicidal kamikaze" effort to create an unpopular beverage that was positioned as a counterpart to Crystal Pepsi in order to "kill both in the process".

The Tab brand rather than Coke was used for this "born to die" strategy. Tab Clear was labelled as "sugar free" to confuse consumers into thinking Crystal Pepsi had no sugar and Tab Clear was marketed as if it were "medicinal". Sergio Zyman pointed out that "Pepsi spent an enormous amount of money on the brand and, regardless, we killed it."

Zyman went on to explain:

“This is like a cola, but it doesn’t have any color. It has all this great taste. And we said, ‘No, Crystal Pepsi is actually a diet drink.’ Even though it wasn’t. Because Tab had the attributes of diet, which was its demise. That was its problem. It was perceived to be a medicinal drink. Within three or five months, Tab Clear was dead. And so was Crystal Pepsi.”

Not so Yummy

David Novak CEO of Yum Brands (KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut) is often cited as being the genius behind the notorious flop Crystal Pepsi”.

David Novak had a phenomenal career, leaving a legacy of 41,000 restaurants across 125 countries and a market capitalization of about $33 billion when he retired as chairman.

In an interview in 2007 Novak said that Crystal Pepsi was “. the best idea I ever had, and the worst executed. A lot of times as a leader you think, “They don’t get it; they don’t see my vision.” People were saying we should stop and address some issues along the way, and they were right. It would have been nice if I’d made sure the product tasted good. Once you have a great idea and you blow it, you don’t get a chance to resurrect it.”

Novak recognised it was “a tremendous learning experience”.

"The bottlers told me, 'David, it's a great idea, and we think we can make it great, but it needs to taste more like Pepsi,'" Novak said. "And I didn't want to hear it. I was rolling the thing out nationally and I didn't listen to them."

As the novelty clear craze faded, Pepsi Crystal ceased distribution.

Crystal Craze Maze

The crystal craze gave rise to some superb spoofs

From Saturday Night Live’s Crystal Gravy

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to the product that never was from Octopus TV Failure Awards other nominee

Crystal Guinness

Shortly after Crystal Pepsi vanished, Pepsi populated shelves with a citrus soda called Crystal and in 1995, 7 Up — also owned by PepsiCo — introduced 7 Up Ice Cola. Just like Crystal Pepsi though, both of these drinks failed and were quickly and quietly withdrawn.

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be

Crystal Pepsi has made a number of returns including limited re-releases in US in 2016 and 2017.

“We have a lot of fans and they're really enthusiastic and they've been asking for Crystal to come back for a long time," Linda Lagos, marketing director for the Pepsi brand, told CNN.

As Vogue pointed out “ A monumental PR fail, Crystal Pepsi was widely derided at the time. (What was so wrong with normal, non-clear Pepsi in the first place?) “

Absence does make the heart grow fonder. As Vogue goes on to acknowledge

These days, the beverage is considered to be something of an ’90s icon, a quintessential symbol of the decade. Hearts have mellowed on Crystal Pepsi with the passage of time. (You know what they say, absence does make the heart grow fonder.)”

Retailing for $1.79, the brief re-release was the “cheapest taste of nostalgia you’re likely to ever get.”

"You’ve got this whole retro vibe going on," Duane Stanford Beverage Industry Expert , Executive Editor, Beverage Digest. and Atlanta Press Club Chairman 2017 points out

“Younger Americans will simultaneously shun the brands their parents loved while "embracing the retro brands from periods when they were really little and maybe even periods that they never experienced themselves. You’re going to see soft drink companies continue to have some fun with that."

This throwback was celebrated in the summer of 2017 with free concerts at baseball stadiums across the US featuring artists like Busta Rhymes at Yankee Stadium in New York, Sugar Ray's Mark McGrath at Chase Field in Phoenix, AZ and Salt-N-Pepa at Marlins Park in Miami.

With Pepsi tinted glasses, Chad Stubbs, Vice President, Marketing, Pepsi Trademark suggests "Crystal Pepsi has always been a fan favorite and fans continue to ask for it time after time. From the 90s through today Pepsi has been a brand very much connected to music and baseball. We're excited to see this special tour come to life and to celebrate Crystal Pepsi's last return."


Crystal Pepsi is still selling on eBay where you can pay upwards of US$8 a pop for the pop or US$20 with a fanny pack. One seller is even offering an original bottle at US$8,000

The Beast - throwback throw up

If you are tempted to buy a bottle of the original Crystal Pepsi from 1992 don’t drink it! L.A. Beast did with predictable results ….

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Putting “u” into flavor

Crystal Pepsi continues to enjoy its clear presence in Pepsi’s history and is often cited as a reminder whenever brands ignore history and dabble in introducing new and bizarre flavours. As Lauren Cohen, marketing director at Pepsi, points out "We have a rich history of introducing flavors in our cola business,"

You’re fired !

On May 22 2017, Pepsi introduced a cinnamon-flavoured cola called Pepsi Fire. Even before its launch the Twittersphere exploded with derision drawing comparisons to Crystal Pepsi.

Why did Crystal Pepsi fail to fizz?

As I pointed out when looking at another Octopus TV Failure Awards nominee, Colgate Lasagna, new products need to be consistent with core brand values and customer perceptions and expectations.

Consumers don’t like to be confused.

The Crystal Pepsi bottle said cola but it did not look like a cola. Consumers were confused and without a clear explanation for the deviation from expectations rejected the new product. Tab Clear helped fuel the confusion making everything far from clear.

Bad Taste

When the creator himself admits the product does not taste good you know you’re in trouble!

The Octopus TV Failure Awards / TOFA

Trends can be tricky. Curiosity may lead to short term spike in sales especially if backed by a massive campaign. If that product not only fails to deliver according to expectations but actually tastes bad as well failure is 99 4/100 % certain!

For all these reasons Crystal Pepsi is this week’s clear nomination for The Octopus TV Failure Awards.

See you next Tuesday for more fantastically fabulous failures ….

Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewEborn and @OctopusTV

Send your nominations now

From failed products and services to campaigns and ads we would rather forget, we want to encourage organisations and brands to be better at learning from failures not just ignoring them and pretending they never happened.

Send your nominations with full description and images to

In addition to international recognition and glittering prizes the winners will receive the much valued TOFA

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