Pepsi Tries Throwback Branding — with a Premium Price

Pepsi Natural

Marketers are dead certain that consumers always want something fresh and new; meanwhile, consumers often seem to hate big changes—as Pepsi's and Tropicana's disastrous rebrandings just proved. But for some reason, everyone loves throwback branding.

Several brands will be trying the strategy out in the upcoming weeks: General Mills is marketing "vintage" cereal boxes through March 21st at Target; Pepsi and Mountain Dew will be releasing throwback brands in April, at a significant price premium. Details on the later two just emerged: Both will harken to old-time soda-pop roots, with sugar-cane sweetners rather than high-fructose corn syrup; both will have glass bottles and a design that evokes the 1960's and 1970's. The blog Keacher already has a taste test up of a third product, Pepsi Natural:

Time for a sip.  While the regular version had a biting, acidic feel, the natural felt smoother and more mellow.  The regular mouthfeel was inferior, being somewhat astringent.  There was a grittiness on my tounge and teeth with the regular version that seemed absent with the other.  Overall, the taste profile was very similar.  I think that the natural version had hints of cognac, but even in the non-blind test the two drinks were difficult to distinguish.  Later, a couple of my friends also used the adjective "smoother" when describing Pepsi Natural versus regular Pepsi.

It's an interesting move. In a former life as a management consultant with beverage-industry clients, I worked on a conundrum that has tortured the industry: Unlike nearly every other class of consumer good, soda has never been able to create a high-margin, premium product. Many marketers still rue the cola wars of the 1980s, which eventually led to diet sodas being priced just like regular sodas, even though the demographics are much richer.

Throwback branding might just work in finally creating that long sought-after premium, for a number of subtle reasons. As Ad Week points out, retro-branding is an easy way to tap sentimental connections—which brands themselves have spent billions of dollars in creating, only to discard them once the new campaign approaches. Moreover, Pepsi, in linking retro with it's "natural" roots, finally has a believable story connecting it with the organics movement at large. And organics of course, are the biggest story in food and beverage of the last twenty years: A so-called organic product can easily sell for twice as much, even though the health benefits and lessened environmental impact are dubious. Very clever. 

[Tip via Kottke]


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