Crystal Pepsi: Right Now (And Then)

Since this ‘cool vintage’ trend doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon,  we’ve seen everything from the Kodak Super 8 Camera, to Polaroid Pic-300 Instant Camera to Furby’s to vinyl records to…  just about anything these days. If it was popular then, there’s a chance to profit off of that nostalgia now. I’ve touched base on nostalgia before on this blog, and how, when done right, can lead to powerful results.

Take Coca-Cola’s Hi-C Ecto-Cooler, a green drink that had the flavor of oranges and tangerines released for the promotion of the original 1984 Ghostbusters movie, for example. It was such a success, it wasn’t discontinued until 2001. That’s 17 years after the movie! And even then, Coke kept the flavor, and just re-branded the drink to ‘Shoutin’ Orange Tangergreen’. It underwent another name change in 2006, and was ultimately discontinued in 2007.

I ain’t afraid of no juice (eBay)

So when it was announced that the drink would be back in its original green glory for the new Ghostbusters, the Internet rejoiced. No more homebrews or Facebook petitions– you could finally get your hands on authentic Ecto-Cooler again!

This isn’t the first time Coca-Cola has revived an iconic soda in recent years. It’s also brought the popular cult-followed SURGE back to life, although in a more limited release. Initially launched on Amazon, cans are beginning to appear in grocery stores as well.

Pepsi’s response to the vintage trend?

Crystal Pepsi.

If this doesn’t scream 90’s, I don’t know what will (KenCreative)

Basically Pepsi with no brown coloring and a slight fruity aftertaste, Crystal Pepsi launched with an extremely expensive ad campaign. Including the bus wrap above (first of its kind), Crystal Pepsi also had a Super Bowl commercial for its 1993 launch.

The commercial copies the artistic look of Van Halen’s music video for the song with radical catchphrases like ‘right now only wildlife needs preservatives’ and ‘right now artificial doesn’t feel right’. It’s clear (ha) that Pepsi was going for a health-focused angle. Like the vintage trend of today, Pepsi was merely following the ‘clear = healthy & pure’ trend of the early 90’s.

It’s laughable nowadays that a soda would try to market itself as healthy. With the link between sodas and America’s obesity problem being scrutinized, every soda has come under attack in recent years. So when Crystal Pepsi became the vintage soda of choice, they certainly couldn’t have gone with the same angle. Instead, they did what every other brand has does in its shoes: play up the nostalgia.

Crystal Pepsi made a brief come back last year with another TV commercial, although no where close to the original Super Bowl behemoth. But this year, there’s no TV ad. It looks like Pepsi has gone all digital for this year’s limited launch with social media posts and a website.

When you try so hard you fail. Nice floppy disk, though. (Pepsi)

And while the social media posts are cute and try too hard at times, what the real gem here is the website. Oooh, this website.

There’s no risk of me dying of dysentery on this one, is there?

Most kids who grew up in the 90’s have played the computer game The Oregon Trail at some point. (I got my start on The Oregon Trail Deluxe). An educational game to teach children about western settlement, The Oregon Trail was a mix of economics, strategy, skill and plain old luck. Crystal Pepsi, in partnership with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the owners of The Oregon Trail, has taken a beloved icon of the 90’s and combined it with a… not as beloved soda from the 90’s. It’s easier than pretty much any version of The Oregon Trail you’ll find, as it’s designed to only take 10 minutes to beat (for the quick and always distracted digital audience), and there doesn’t seem to be much strategy needed to win.

Fun Fact: I played through The Oregon Trail to prove how hard it was, and I finished for the first time in my life. Game time: 36 minutes, 23 seconds

Part of the appeal of The Oregon Trail was its difficulty: it was designed to show the hardships people faced when settling the west. From practically your entire party dying, to thief stealing half of your cattle (personal experience), to running out of bullets for hunting, this computer game was as challenging as was addicting. If you could beat this game, you were king of your first grade class. The Oregon Trail was an elementary school  status symbol.

I’m not sure how I feel about Pepsi adapting this classic game from my childhood to sell their soda. First of all, I believe that by making the game easier and beatable in ten minutes, Pepsi has lost the nature of the game. I get that this isn’t really a ‘game’ per se, but if Pepsi wants to make a reference to The Oregon Trail, they should at least up the difficulty. This feels like a watered down version instead of a throwback reference. There’s no equivalent to the item shop in this game- the heart of the strategy in the original. That’s where you could buy oxen, bullets, and other items, and wonder if you could get away with not buying the recommended amount of clothes. It showed children that resources were limited, money was limited, and settlers had to make tough choices. The Crystal Pepsi game has no item buying. It doesn’t even have limited ammo for hunting- you can go out and get as much food as you’d like without repercussions.

I did think adding social media icons at events along the game was a nice touch, however. So when my rad ride gets detoured due to some Creepy Crawlers, I’m able to share the moment, along with the game, to my Facebook friends and Twitter followers.


The soundtrack is also great: who wouldn’t love crusin’ on a traditional teenage road trip to Whoop (There It Is). Classic. The game even plays a somber ‘death’ song when one of your friends gets lost at the mall, the equivalent of one of your party members dying in the original game.

Yeah… ‘lost’. If my friends wore clothes like that, I’d get ‘lost’ too

And like how the original game had bumps in the road, Crystal Pepsi 90-fies them: your VHS tape gets tangled, the fax machine jams, your dial-up gets delayed, or you forgot to tape your favorite show. It also translates the items you can get to things like inflatable furniture,  floppy disks, and JNCO jeans. And instead of your party catching illnesses, Pepsi Crystal members become uncool. They’ll get ‘bogus haircuts’

And just when I make the dysentery joke…

But here’s the one thing I don’t get about this game: there’s no app. This would be perfect as an app title. It would be a fad- a quick download, play through, then deletion, but that’s all Crystal Pepsi needs. It’s only here for a limited time, so they don’t need an app that will hold up for months. Although they didn’t give a specific time frame, last year’s release only lasted a few days. It would also be better for social sharing; it’s an easy transition from app to social media when you’re on your phone. I’m wondering if there’s a licensing issue behind it- when Pepsi got permission to make this game for desktop, maybe they were not given permission for an app.

I know that apps can be gimmicky at times; I’ve seen ad campaigns before and have wondered why an app was created. Just because you can make an app doesn’t mean you should have an app. The key is figuring out if that app will help extend your message, or will it just waste your money. And in this case, Crystal Pepsi needs to bring this game to an app.

Just not this guy. You can leave him out.


4 thoughts on “Crystal Pepsi: Right Now (And Then)

    1. Sara says:

      As long as companies can profit from nostalgia, I’m sure they’ll continue to bring back 90’s products. But it may not be our punishment forever- we’ll eventually shift into the 00’s pop culture for throwbacks. It all depends on who’s currently holding the money.


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