Which brings me to Pepsi. Are they so devoid of new product ideas that they need to bring back a failure from the 1990s because a small group of loyal followers want them to bring it back? What’s changed? Is a small niche drink valuable to them now when it wasn’t in the early 90s? Are core sales declining so much they are desperate? Do they think it will catch on this time? My friend Barry Minkin didn’t think so then, and doesn’t think so now.
Here is what he shared with me as to his earlier research on the subject of clear colas:
In 1993 when they were considering a clear Pepsi launch, I called PepsiCo and told them it would be a mistake. At that time a team from PepsiCo flew out to meet me in Palo Alto to hear what I had to say. This morning I made the same call and am waiting to hear if there is someone who is willing to listen and as happened in 1993 cancel the launch or if I’m too late to give advice and they are already on the launch pad.
In my over 50 years as a global management consultant and futurist I learned many lessons in the “real world”. One lesson is that in market research what people say they want or how they act is too often not correct or factual. I always prefer to get out in the real world and observe their actual behavior.
I use something called the K.J. Method named for a cultural anthropologist, Kawakita Jiro, who initially used the tool in anthropology. Briefly, it is a method for sequential grouping and synthesis of observations. I used the KJ method to observe beverage buyers in busy deli’s during lunch time.
I noted that people who bought Coke and Pepsi know exactly which beverage they wanted and grabbed it immediately. Moreover, their food choice trended to larger portions and meat was favored. I was to eventually label this group who I could never envision eating yogurt or drinking light beer the “Darks”. Their polar opposite the “Lights” the Odwalla, bottled/ mineral water buyer seemed to shop through the beverages often reading ingredients. The “Lights” also choose more salads and healthier smaller selections.
Over time and hundreds of observations I was to learn that what Geneen Roth had written was true “We eat the way we live.” My correlate is we also drink the way we live and eat. From this data I eventually developed the Light /Dark Psychographic Model showing that light/dark segmentation was a valuable logic hook to view values and lifestyles. I later used the technique to convince Anhauser Busch that clear beer would not be the drink choice of the loyal “Dark” Budweiser drinker in the Mid-West to go with his steak. They like Pepsi did drop that product. Hopefully, I’ve shed some lite that seeing clear in a Pepsi case would be a mistake, indeed a clear and present danger.
I asked Barry if he felt that things might have changed in 20 years in terms of how the current generation might view color? His answer was an unequivocal “no.” I know he has called Pepsi to see if he can “help” again. Maybe they’ll listen, maybe not. One thing is clear, Barry knows that observing the species in their natural habitat is the best and most reliable form of research. I suspect Pepsi has skipped that step.