For a limited time only

@@img1The Prince Of Beverages
By Greg W. Prince

Americans have many wonderful qualities, but a long and winding attention span isn’t necessarily one of them.
I’m sorry, what was I just talking about?
Hey look over there! It’s a cat!
Now who are you again?

See how easy it is to get distracted? You have a hundred or more channels, all of them accessible on one or more remote control apparati. You have AM, FM and maybe XM radio. You have a zillion Web sites and not a few print vehicles vying for your attention. You can shop in Wal-Mart, Kmart, Target, supermarkets, drug stores, dollar stores, convenience stores and club stores. And goodness knows you can slake your thirst with a dozen different drinks you never heard of before, and those are just the ones recently reviewed right here on BevNet.

No wonder we can’t stay focused. No wonder beverages are beginning to temp it.

Think back three years to the unveiling of Mountain Dew Code Red. It was an exciting, spectacular launch, an adrenaline shot to the heart of a great franchise that might have shown signs of sagging. Code Red, the best kind of new news, would blare forever.
But forever isn’t as long as it used to be. Code Red endured, but it was, by definition, old news after a while. It happens. In the meantime, the space it absorbed on shelves and in coolers was no longer hosting a comer. It was holding an already-there.
Again, this didn’t make Code Red an ultimate failure. Nor could Vanilla Coke-with Code Red, the key players in the line extension sweepstakes of 2001-2002-be considered a non-success just because it couldn’t maintain its rollout momentum.

If it’s true what people say, that “I can’t remember what I had for dinner last night,” how do you expect them to keep remembering to drink again what they just imbibed 15 minutes ago? Maybe in the future, every drink will enjoy 15 minutes of fizz, but that’s another story.
For now, compress that quarter-hour. Get in and get out if you can. That’s the lesson learned from Mountain Dew LiveWire, last summer’s can-Dew from Pepsi. That was the soft drink that said we’re here for the summer, we’re gone by the fall.
And it was. It was successful, but it was true to its word. The summer wind came blowin’ in in 2003, but when it blew out, so did LiveWire, until summer ’04. Same deal this year.
But Pepsi has decided it doesn’t have to be a summer thing. As you can read in a bit of detail elsewhere on this site, Pepsi has decided not to limit its limited-time only beverages. In the on-deck circle is Mountain Dew Pitch Black, the grape-tinged iteration that will spook stores to Halloween. More intriguingly, waiting in the hole, is Pepsi Holiday Spice, a cola with the ginger and the cinnamon and the good cheer.

Pepsi hasn’t been afraid to mess around with its cola name, going back to Diet Pepsi in 1964, roaring through dice-rollers Pepsi Light, Pepsi A.M., Crystal Pepsi, Pepsi Kona, Pepsi One and Pepsi Blue and alighting lately on Pepsi Edge. See a lot of all-time hits there? No? Any franchise killers? No. It’s a company that’s always been willing to take a chance within reason. Why not Pepsi Holiday Spice?
And why not take it out for a late-year run with a promise to put it away with Santa’s reindeer by January? All of the above were launched in hopes of becoming permanent fixtures. Few made the long-term cut. If the worst happens, if nobody buys Pepsi Holiday Spice, if everybody laughs at Pepsi Holiday Spice, what harm will come of the Pepsi name? Probably little to none. The company itself says testing reveals consumers buy the concept as “new,” “different” and “innovative,” just the things Pepsi likes to see when it looks in the corporate mirror. If it gets a little image boost from new Spice, it’s a quick win.

This experimentation in full public view is a good thing for consumers, too. Soda drinkers get to try something new, feel they’re in on something unusual. There’s an urgency to the limited-time tactic. “I gotta try that!” “I gotta try that now!”
In-and-out isn’t strictly a Pepsi brainstorm. The great Coca-Cola chief executive Roberto Goizueta called on his minions to introduce more purposely short-term options a decade ago; Sprite Remix’s shift from Tropical last year to Berryclear may be proof that somebody was listening somewhere along the way. Microbrewers have built cachet by offering seasonal beers for years. McDonald’s made summer something special by telling McKiddies that those pineapple shakes won’t be here for long. Those entities didn’t toss out chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, not to mention lager, stout and ale. Similarly, Pepsi won’t be flushing Pepsi and Diet Pepsi and Wild Cherry Pepsi to put its muscle and might behind Pepsi Holiday Spice.

In a time of brandnesia, marketers who help consumers define their brands are going to get extra credit. Mountain Dew Baja Blast is another good example. The lime-laced fountain drink is a Taco Bell exclusive, kind of interesting unto itself. It’s the sign of a beverage company with enough confidence in its brand umbrellas to make rain.
Nothing is forever among beverage brand extensions. Why pretend that it is?

Greg W. Prince ( has covered the beverage business as a reporter and editor for more than 15 years.