Pepsi Canada has brought back the taste test, launching a Canadian-specific summertime promotion titled the “Pepsi Ultimate Taste Challenge” and supported through facebook both online and offline (link here). Facebook offline support includes a map showing locations where Pepsi will be conducting the taste test and at which times. The online component runs a digital challenge testing you on various cultural components linked with Pepsi (slogans, word scrambles, celebrity endorsements, and more).
For those unfamiliar with the previous taste test formats, interested consumers would line-up and drink to cola samples (one Coca-Cola and one Pepsi) and guess which one was Pepsi. The purpose of this test was to prove to consumers that in the absence of branding (red Coca-Cola packaging, blue Pepsi packaging), consumers actually preferred Pepsi more. The test was a big success for the organization when they first ran it in the 1970s and 1980s, leading Coca-Cola to change its formula and launch New Coke (which has since become a worldwide case study on the company’s blunder). Pepsi gained market share through its taste test and Coca-Cola’s reaction was to alter its formula, which led to pandemonium as consumers rushed to buy as much Coca-Cola as they could before it was phased out of the market. Coca-Cola eventually caved to consumers and re-launched the original Coca-Cola (called Coca-Cola Classic). So why would Pepsi Canada want to re-launch this taste test, have they not learned their lessons from the past? Will this iteration of the taste test change anything?
The current taste test shouldn’t have the same adverse effects for Pepsi that they encountered in the 1970s and 1980s. Times have changed and so have consumer soft drink preferences. Both companies have learned their lessons and moved on from that point. While the Pepsi Ultimate Taste Challenge is on display on a national scale, it is not in the United States. This point alone isolates the effect that the taste test can have. American consumption versus Canadian consumption has roughly a 10:1 ratio, therefore it would be equivalent to a 10% impact in the United States (similar to a large scale pilot test market in the United States). Similarly, Coca-Cola has learned what would happen if they reacted to taste testing and changed their formula. In this aspect, the Pepsi taste test should only affect Pepsi and the summer sales for both brands.
In addition, the current version’s taste test should deliver stronger results to the overall Pepsi franchise, rather than only to the Pepsi brand. The 2012 version incorporates both Diet Pepsi and Pepsi Max, pitting the entire Pepsi franchise against Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, and Coke Zero (neither Pepsi nor Coca-Cola has a mid-calorie offering in Canada…yet). This caters to the current beverage trends, giving calorie-conscious and sugar-conscious consumers a chance to take part in the taste test as well.
The underlying effects of this taste test should go a long way toward helping both brand’s summer soft drink sales. The comparisons would not only increase exposure and sales for the Pepsi franchise, but also for Coca-Cola’s franchise. Summer is definitely the season for sampling, and bringing awareness back to soft drinks at this time benefits everyone. After all, if not promoting soft drinks during the summer, when else can it be promoted?