A Tribute to Fallen Sodas
A few months back I posted a Top Ten Ghost list in honor of Halloween. Contained in the article was a mention of Slimer, the floating green blob from the Ghostbusters movies. I’m sure it is no surprise for Slimer to appear in such a list. What was a bit of a surprise, at least for me, was how many people clicked on the link for Ecto Cooler in the post. If you’re not familiar, Ecto Cooler was the Hi-C tangerine and orange flavored drink featuring a picture of Slimer plastered on each box or can. Unfortunately, it’s long since ceased production, or at least ceased to exist under the Ecto Cooler brand. But the reminiscing of all drinks got me thinking, why not profile some of the hits, or more accurately misses, of the drink world? Good or bad, sometimes remembering such things can be fun. So this is a great look back on some of the sodas and soft drinks of years past:
The Pepsi Division
Crystal Pepsi (1992-1993)
I think we’d have to start any kind of discussion about dead soda with Crystal Pepsi (or Pepsi Clear as it sometimes known by). Sparked by a marketing fad that equated clarity with purity, Pepsi decided they wanted in and generated their infamous Crystal Pepsi drink. Dubbed as a caffeine-free “clear alternative” to normal colas, it was backed by a large marketing campaign, including a television advertisement featuring Van Halen’s hit song “Right Now” that premiered during Super Bowl XXVII:
Despite initial success, maybe due to the novelty of it all, sales for Crystal Pepsi quickly fell. Was America not ready for clear cola? I remember trying it, and it seemed to taste like flat Pepsi, but maybe I got a bad can? The drink certainly has its fans. Pepsi pulled it off the market, and revamped the soda several months later with a reformulated citrus drink titled “Crystal From Pepsi”. Alas, Crystal From Pepsi failed as well. No word on how Crystal Gravy fared.
Slice was supposed to be Pepsi’s answer to Sprite (at least in the U.S. market where they don’t have a license for 7 Up). Although interestingly enough, Sprite was originally Coke’s response to the popularity of 7 Up. Every one’s imitating someone else, right? The Sprite brand was created in 1961 and took over the number one spot in lemon-lime drinks in 1978 thanks to Coke’s market dominance. Pepsi, as Coke’s main competitor, decided to branch out beyond cola and Slice was born.
Not that Slice was just lemon lime soda. Varieties of Slice have included Apple, Fruit Punch, Grape, Passionfruit, Peach, Mandarin Orange, Pineapple, Strawberry, Cherry Cola, “Red“, Cherry-Lime, Pink Lemonade, and Dr. Slice. But the lemon line version was the original that spawned it all. It existed until it was usurped in most markets by Sierra Mist around the summer of 2000. By 2003, Sierra Mist became a national brand, and the remaining varieties of the Slice line faded away or were replaced by 2006. One exception is Dr. Slice, which can still be found in some fountains.
Josta was Pepsi’s “high-energy drink” that was predominately fruit and berry like, with a bit of spice, and a touch of the key mysterious ingredient guaraná. The reddish brown drink was introduced in 1995, but pulled from stores due to a “change in corporate strategy” in 1999. Shortly before the beverage was discontinued, an “Association for Josta Saving” was started and the Save Josta Campaign declared April 4, 2007 “National Josta Day” in hopes of resurrecting the dead soda. It hasn’t worked, although I will say the use of the panther, the fancy foreign ingredients, and the marketing slogan “Unleash it” gives me flashbacks of Sex Panther. I wonder if guaraná was actually bits of real panther?
Pepsi’s Wild Bunch (1991-1991)
Well that didn’t last long, now did it? The Pepsi Wild Bunch is actually three different sodas: Strawberry Burst Pepsi, Raging Razzberry Pepsi, and Tropical Chill Pepsi. These were basically test products that were fruit-boosted Pepsi variations. After all, Cherry Coke worked, right? That principle can apply to all fruits with colas, right? To further hurt matters, Pepsi actually sold the new flavors in a boxed three-pack and the Razzberry has been said to not really taste like raspberries. At least it was a good effort.
Pepsi Blue (2002-2004)
Undeterred by the Wild Bunch fiasco, Pepsi was determined to mix a berry-flavor with Pepsi. Granted it took them over a decade to do so, but they got it done. Sort of. Apparently Pespi Blue was the result of taste-testing over 100 flavors spanning a nine month period. It was launched in mid-2002 and designed to compete with Coca-Cola’s Vanilla Coke. Pepsi was also riding high on the success of Mountain Dew Code Red. Unfortunately, some consider Pepsi Blue to be the company’s equivalent of New Coke. Well, either it or Crystal Pepsi.
So what was the problem? It might start with the fact it really didn’t taste like Pepsi. It might have been better marketed as simply a berry drink. Anyone thinking this was going to be like Cherry Coke (i.e. flavored cola) was disappointed. In fact, Coke decided to release their own version of the drink called Fanta Berry. Also, it looked like Windex. That’s probably not a good thing. And to top it off, it was tinted using Blue 1, a highly-controversial coloring agent banned in numerous countries at the time. But Pepsi Blue lovers fear not, there is talk of resurrecting the soda in 2009.
Mr. Green (2002-2003)
SoBe is a subsidiary of Pepsi and briefly sold Mr. Green as their first and only soda. It was along the lines of Dr. Pepper, but infused with ginseng. And of course it was green, although it kinda looked like raw sewage. The name comes from the SoBe lizard, which graces bottles of most SoBe products. The marketing force behind Mr. Green was the in-your-face-Xtreme type of advertising that has been used so often during that time (more on this later). And like most SoBe products, there was message under the cap (if you got a bottle) along the lines of: Get a Job, Exercise your Brain, or Brush Your Teeth.
Pepsi Fire & Pepsi Ice
Alright, this one may be cheating a little bit. Yes, these flavors did exist, but you could fill pages upon pages full with weird variants of any soda. Particularly Coke and Pepsi, which have had numerous flavor variations, many of which were only available overseas or for limited times. For example, did you know there was a Pepsi Ice Cucumber? Other odd examples include Pepsi Twist Mojito, Pepsi White (with yogurt flavoring), Pepsi Holiday Spice, and Pepsi Carnival. So why single out these two?
I guess I’m amused with the idea of Pepsi flavors available in the same flavors I can buy mouthwash in. And they taste pretty much the same way. Fire was a cinnamon like drink, ice has that minty flavor. Or maybe I’m fascinated by the simple question, what happens when you combine Pepsi Fire and Pepsi Ice together? Is that like Pop Rocks and Coke? Some things just shouldn’t be put together.
The Coca-Cola Division
Coke II (1985-1992)
Let me set the scene for you. Once upon a time, Coca-Cola basically had a monopoly on the soda market. Not that there weren’t alternatives, but Coke destroyed them in market share. Along comes Pepsi, which slowly begins to eat away at Coke’s dominance. As time passes Pepsi gets bigger and bigger, and by the early 1980s Pepsi had begun to outsell Coke in supermarkets, with Coke managing to maintain its overall edge through fountain sales. Coke executives got worried and believed people wanted a sweeter Pepsi-like soda. Hence “New Coke” is created. This was not a good decision.
Although the product tested well and was liked by more people than history may remember, a number of consumers did not like the New Coke and these people were very vocal. There was a backlash to the new drink and Coca-Cola Classic was revived. Even Fidel Castro, a long time Coke drinker, contributed to the backlash, calling New Coke a sign of American capitalist decadence. I guess we can say that Max Headroom was not able to get consumers to “Catch the Wave”.
Coca-Cola executives announced the return of the original formula on July 10, less than three months after New Coke’s introduction. On the floor of the U.S. Senate, David Pryor called the reintroduction “a meaningful moment in U.S. history.” The new product continued to be sold and retained the name Coca-Cola until 1992, when it was officially renamed Coca-Cola II. The older product was brought back as Coca-Cola Classic and eventually just Coke.
It was the mid 1990s and Mountain Dew was very popular. Problem was, Coca-Cola didn’t have an equivalent to compete with the Pepsi product. Well, that’s not entirely true. Coke had Mello Yello. You might remember it from the movie Days of Thunder, in which Tom Cruise’s character, Cole Trickle, drove a Mello Yello-sponsored car to victory in the Daytona 500. As a kid I always loved Mello Yello, it was just that you couldn’t really find it anywhere. At least not where I was. That would change when the family would go on vacation. There was always a chance the soda would appear in the hotel vending machines, sort of a soft drink lottery. I often looked forward to the prospect of Mello Yello more than the vacation. Turns out Mello Yello is popular in certain areas of the South, I even saw a Mello Yello Slurpee in Mississippi. It just doesn’t have nationwide appeal apparently.
Enter Surge, a citrus soft drink introduced to compete with Pepsi’s Mountain Dew. Except it was green, not yellow. It actually first debuted in Norway under the moniker Urge. Not sure on reason behind the name change, but it hit the U.S. backed by a heavy marketing campaign that focused on “extreme” stuff and people yelling “Surge!”. Here’s an example:
And then there’s this parody:
But like all the beverages on this rundown, it has since ceased production. Coca-Cola now makes Vault, a similar soda that veers a little more towards energy drinks like Red Bull than pure soda. If you’re feeling nostalgic, you can visit savesurge.org, or listen to this song, or go to Norway where Urge apparently is still around and kicking.
OK Soda was a soft drink created by Coca-Cola that aggressively courted the Generation X demographic with unusual advertising tactics, including endorsements and even outright negative publicity. There is an OK manifesto, and on each can one of the ten statements from the manifesto was printed around it. Also, the design of the can would be in the style of underground comics. Despite all the “coolness”, the soda did not sell well in select test markets and was officially declared out of production by 1995. The drink’s slogan was “Things are going to be OK,” and you could even call their toll free 1-800-I-FEEL-OK hotline. As an added bonus, here’s the whole Manifesto for you:
OK Soda Manifesto
1. What’s the point ok OK? Well, what’s the point of anything?
2. OK Soda emphatically rejects anything that is not OK, and fully supports anything that is.
3. The better you understand something, the more OK it turns out to be.
4. OK Soda says, “Don’t be fooled into thinking there has to be a reason for everything.”
5. OK Soda reveals the surprising truth about people and situations.
6. OK Soda does not subscribe to any religion, or endorse any political party, or do anything other than feel OK.
7. There is no real secret to feeling OK.
8. OK Soda may be the preferred drink of other people such as yourself.
9. Never underestimate the remarkable abilities of “OK” brand soda.
10. Please wake up every morning knowing that things are going to be OK.
Citra was a grapefruit-flavored soft drink released into by Coca-Cola Company around the same time as Surge. Think of it as akin to Squirt or Fresca, at least foreign Fresca. In the United States Fresca is a diet soda, but not elsewhere. The original marketing campaign had the theme “Curiously crisp Citra”. Although not completely dead, Citra was rebranded as Fanta Citrus in 2004. Although finding Fanta Citrus is another endeavor on its own.
Sprite Remix (2003-2005)
We mentioned of few Pepsi’s ill-fated attempts at flavor variants, so it’s only fair to mention at least one of Coca-Cola’s. Although ill-fated wouldn’t be the right word to describe the Sprite Remix sodas. They had their fans, particularly the Aruba Jam (Cherry) flavor. You’ll also notice Tropical and Berryclear varieties. Granted we could have highlighted Sprite Ice or Sprite on Fire, but we already did those variations with Pepsi and the Remix flavors actually got themselves a following in the U.S. Not only did they work as a soda, they apparently work well in mixed drinks too.
Mr. Pibb (1972-2001)
Mr. Pibb, or Mr. PiBB as it’s often spelled, isn’t exactly gone, it was replaced by Pibb Xtra in 2001 with a slightly tweaked formula. That hasn’t stopped the Internet petitions or an entire episode of American Dad constructed around the soda’s disappearance. When Pibb Xtra came out, bottlers were allowed to use up their remaining stocks of real-deal Mr. Pibb. By 2003, all Mr. Pibb was gone and replaced with Xtra. Anything sold as “Pibb” to this day is “Pibb Xtra”. That’s how Mr. Pibb quietly ended, but let’s go back to the beginning. In 1972 Coke came up with the promotional campaign dubbed, “Private Air Force for Mr. PiBB” which came complete with free swag. I guess Coke was trying to “rally the troops” behind it’s new creation, their answer to Dr. Pepper.
Of course the later ad slogan became “Put it in your Head”. You decided which one is better. Maybe it doesn’t really matter, as I’ll refer to the late Mitch Hedberg. He once said, “Mr. Pibb is a replica of Dr. Pepper but it’s a BS replica because the dude didn’t even get his degree. Why’d you drop out of school and start making pop so soon?” Although I will offer a counter argument to Mr. Hedberg, which is: Mr. Pibb + Red Vines = Crazy Delicious.
The Wild Card Division
What? They made a soda based on bubble gum? Yes, Sir! Hubba Bubba Bubble Gum Soda and the diet version were pink soft drinks manufactured thanks to The Wrigley Company, maker of Hubba Bubba bubble gum. The drink was actually the brainchild of Steve Roeder, who came up with the bubble gum soda concept by using snow cone flavoring with soda water. Legend has it that he approached Bazooka gum first, before getting the go ahead from Wrigley. If you’re interested in bringing this bad boy back, you can sign the online petition. Or if you’re jonesing for bubble gum soda now, you can try and hunt down Bubble Yum soda.
Rondo was a citrus-flavored soft drink available in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Marketing dubbed it a soda which was “blended from fine essences” and also “lightly carbonated”. The best part about the soda, its slogan: Rondo, The Thirst Crusher. Its commercials featured people crushing the cans in various ways, something like this:
If that’s not enough, there’s a parody of the drink in the movie Idiocracy. Instead of Rondo, it is Brawndo: The Thirst Mutilator. That in turn lead to a real Brawndo energy drink and ad campaigns like this:
Red Fusion (2002-2004)
Sporting an alluring red color and the use of a variety of fruit flavors, Red Fusion was a cherry variant of Dr. Pepper. It was also the first new flavor added to the Dr. Pepper family of beverages in the company’s 122-year history. Too bad it was more or less cancelled one year into its run, even if it lingered around a little longer. It tasted like a a sweeter, cherry flavored, watered down Dr. Pepper, although some compared it to Cherry NyQuil.
Not too much to say on this one. Kick was RC Cola’s attempt at a citrus soda to compete with Mountain Dew. Damn that Mountain Dew, so popular is spawned a couple of imitators. And neither was up to the challenge of taking down the Dew. This version was an even more sugary, syrupy one, with caution tape imprinted upon the can telling me how dangerously ass-kicking it was. In fact, it was the “psycho nitro drink…in a can.” The Kick name came from the (also) failed sports drink line, Quick Kick.
Orbitz is not your traditional soft drink. From the Clearly Canadian Beverage Corporation, it’s a non-carbonated fruit-flavored beverage. The fact it had no fizz in it is not its most significant feature. That would be the small edible balls floating in it. As you can see above, colored globular gelatin balls are floating in the liquid, and combined with the packaging it gives off the vibe of a Lava Lamp. And who wouldn’t want to drink a Lava Lamp? Though I will say that when I see something floating in a drink, I’m reminded of Skittle Bräu. That’s not all bad.
Orbitz was introduced around 1996 and came in six flavors: Raspberry Citrus, Blueberry Melon Strawberry, Pineapple Banana Cherry Coconut, Vanilla Orange, Black Currant Berry, and Charlie Brown Chocolate. The latter two were introduced after the initial launch. The marketing campaign went some thing like this, “Set gravity aside and prepare to embark on a tour into the bowels of the Orbiterium.” Too bad people didn’t want the Canadian drink with slimey balls in it. But it couldn’t have just been the balls, people drink Bubble Tea. Either that or Orbitz was a head of its time.
Although Orbitz may be dead, it lives on in a bastardized form.
Like Orbitz, this may stretch the definition of soft drink a bit. It wasn’t carbonated, but it was sure full of sugar. And who doesn’t want to drink their Halloween candy? It would be stupid not to do it! I stumbled upon these bad boys in high school, and remember them tasting like drinking an unfrozen Flavor Ice. That may not appeal to many of you, but I wanted more. Unfortunately, as quickly as I found them they disappeared from local supermarkets. Most people I talk to are not even aware they existed. But they did, I have visual proof (and in 5 flavors)!
Super Mario Soda
Nothing is better after a hard session of video gaming then throwing back a cold drink. So why not make that drink Mario related? Shasta Cola thought it was a great idea and made this soda in four different flavors, each featuring a Mario World character on the can. Choices were as follows: Mario Punch, Luigi Berry, Princess Toadstool Cherry (how did this one not become Peach?) and Yoshi Apple (speaking of which, how did Yoshi not get the Berry flavor?). Also goes great with Sonic the Hedgehog potato chips.
7-Up Gold (1988-1988)
7 Up Gold was a Dr. Pepper invention, but was unveiled under the 7 Up brand after the companies merged. It was marketed for a short time in 1988 as a spice-flavored beverage, similar in taste to Vernor’s Ginger Ale. It seemed to be quite popular with people who actually tasted the stuff. However, there was a certain amount of irony in 7 Up’s marketing slogan of “Never had it, never will”. That was pretty much how consumers viewed the product. The slogan was actually made in reference to caffeine, although that didn’t make much sense either since 7 Up Gold did list caffeine as one of its ingredients.
No, that’s not just a 7-Up can that’s upside down. It’s dnL Soda, a Cadbury Schweppes beverage that was part of the 7-Up family of drinks. Basically it was the polar opposite of 7-Up as it was a caffeinated green drink in a clear bottle (as opposed to a caffeine-free colorless drink a green bottle). Although that didn’t translate as well to the can versions. dnL has a citrus-like flavor and was marketed by the slogan, “Turn your thirst upside-down.” The story is that dnL is more lime than lemon, hence the green color and hard to pin down taste.
Well, that ends our tribute to fallen sodas. I know there were a bunch that weren’t mentioned, particularly flavor variations of established soda, so feel free to chime in with your own favorites in the comments section. (Header Photo : Pax Holley)