Soda, As Described By Those Who Make It (Part 1: Pepsi)

Every corporation must, at some point, describe the product or products that it sells. For some companies, this is easy. “We sell guns that shoot bullets!” “We make representations of people, animals, and objects out of papier-mâché, then fill the objects with candy!” “Need to sign something? Use one of our pens. They’re very nice pens.” You know what you’re getting, and you know why you need it.

Is the flavor of this soda bigger than a breadbox? What do you mean, you don't understand me? Look at this breadbox. Is the flavor bigger than that? ANSWER THE QUESTION.

Some companies, however, sell products that are not so easily described. Let’s say you knew someone who, for whatever reason, had never tried Coca-Cola. (Amish, pehaps? Although I think the Amish drink Coke as well, probably during Rumspringa. Let’s just say this guy had no tongue for a while, then, through the miracles of science, he received a tongue implant and was now tasting many things for the first time. Wait. No. Let’s just say he’s Amish.) You want this guy to try a Coke, but he’s never tried it, and he’s looking askance at this brown bubbly liquid that you’re offering him.

“Drink it!” you yell at him a little more loudly than you initially intended. Others turn to see what’s going on, so you force an easy demeanor, and tell him “Go on, it’s great, it’s like…well…” How would you describe the taste? “Acidic, sweet, and carbonated” would be my description. A recent piece about flavor science in the New Yorker mentioned that Coke actually has citrus-y flavors, which we ignore for various reasons, such as the dark, un-citrus caramel color. Berke Breathed once described Coke and Pepsi both as tasting like “malted battery acid,” which I think is as good a description as any.

But, of course, corporations want pleasant, appetizing descriptions of their products.

First off, let’s look at some Pepsi brands, and the descriptions thereof. All descriptions were taken from

Pepsi – the bold, robust, effervescent magic cola
It’s the cola

MAGIC? If you have to use the word magic to describe your product, you lose. You have failed at product descriptions. Why not just label everything magic? “MacBook Pro: The magic thinking device!” “Marlboro Lights: The magic smoke-makers!” “Hangers: The Magic Coat Levitators!” So Pepsi, I am sorry. You are not allowed to use the word magic to describe soda. I mean, I like Pepsi. I drink Pepsi a lot. Too much, in fact. But never, not even once, have I thought “Wow. The drink I am drinking seems sufficiently amazing that science as it currently stands could not adequately describe the taste sensation in my mouth.” And I frequently consider the limits of science (it’s my way of keeping it real), so the fact that I have never once thought “Jeez louise! This soda is M-A-G-I-C!” means that it is, well, not magic.

But even worse, Pepsi is described as “effervescent magic.” What sort of pathetic magic is that? “Well, young apprentice, you have done well. You have spent years studying ancient and arcane tomes. You have given up your soul, devoting yourself entirely to unlocking the potential power of the dark arts. But now, now is your greatest and final challenge. To verify that you have effervescent magic, you must make bubbles! Lots of bubbles! Little tiny ones. If my nose doth tingle you will have proven yourself the greatest wielder of effervescent magic the world has ever known. Well done, practitioner of the dark and fizzy arts! Now, to learn the mystical secrets of Alka-Seltzer! Repeat the spell after me, my apprentice: Plop…plop…fizz…fizz…

Finally, notice how you have never seen the tagline “It’s the cola” used in any advertising copy, ever? There’s a reason for that. “It’s the cola,” to put it bluntly, sucks effervescent ass. It’s one step away from “hey, it’s that thing that’s over there!” or “it’s the product we’re advertising!”

Mountain Dew
Mountain Dew exhilarates and quenches with its one of a kind great taste.
Do the Dew

Woah! I am totally not thirsty to the extreme!

I feel like this description is a holdover from the days when Mountain Dew advertised using windsurfers, sky divers, and astronauts to show the exhilarating, envelope-pushing nature of Mountain Dew. Now, of course, Mountain Dew has acknowledged that it is Nerd Nectar. A better description of Mountain Dew would be:

“Mountain Dew keeps enough of your brain awake that you can play World of Warcraft, but doesn’t wake you up enough to realize what a sad, pathetic waste your life has become. Do the Dew!” (heavy metal guitar strum)

Mug Root Beer
Everything about Mug Root Beer appeals to the senses: the rich foam, the unique aroma and the feeling of ice-cold refreshment. It’s the perfect drink for the whole family.
The Taste You Crave

This is soda porn.

Diet Pepsi Wild Cherry
Only Wild Cherry Pepsi has the thrilling burst of unique cherry flavor and a sweet, crisp taste that gives you more to go wild for!
Check Out The Cherry.

Check out the cherry? Are they referring to this?

Please don’t check out the cherry. I don’t need to know about it bursting, or about anyone going wild. Just…stop.

Jazz – Black Cherry French Vanilla
Introducing Jazz, a new zero calorie cola from the makers of Diet Pepsi. No calories, no fat, all the indulgence. Grab yourself a Jazz in either Black Cherry French Vanilla, Caramel Cream or Strawberries & Cream and experience a Jazz moment all to yourself.
Jazz, the new sound of cola

The word jazz was once possibly slang for fucking. In fact, the word jazz likely came from the word “jasm,” which probably came from the word “jism.” I want you to think about that for a little bit, and now re-read the description of Jazz -Black Cherry French Vanilla, but replace the word “jazz” with the word “jism.” Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Now go enjoy a jazz moment all to yourself. If Jazz is “the new sound of cola,” there’s a good chance that the new sound of cola involves labored grunting.

Slice – Orange
If your family craves bold orange taste, you’ll love new Orange Slice. Try the great taste of orange…It’s twisted. Also available in Grape, Peach, and Strawberry. (Available only in Wal*Mart)

Advertising copy for sodas comes in 2 distinct varieties. It is either targeted towards teens (“the crazy taste old people just don’t understand!”) or the whole family (“contains essential iodine, beloved by everyone from young and old!”) This tries to do both. It’s clearly directed towards the soda-buyer of the family, but then it ends with “It’s twisted,” which is a little confusing considering Pepsi also sells Tropicana Twister Orange Soda, as you’ll see below.

Also…peach flavor? PEACH FLAVOR? You’re damn right that peach flavor is only available at Wal*Mart. Any reasonable supermarket couldn’t sell that shit, because the unions would keep it out. THIS IS WHY WAL*MART SUCKS. That and there’s an asterisk in the title. Are we supposed to multiply Wal by Mart? Wouldn’t that give you wmwawrwtamaaaratlmlalrlt?

Tropicana Twister Soda – Orange
Tropicana Twister Soda gives you the powerful fruit flavored taste you’re looking for. Tastes so intense, you’ll sprain your flavor muscle!
The Intensely Orange Orange

Woah, check out that flavor muscle! This orange flavor is so fucking intense that your flavor muscle will grow claws and try to dig its way out of your mouth! YUM!

First off, orange soda is orange soda. Even great orange soda is only marginally better than mediocre orange soda. Here in the U.S. we like our orange soda bright and sweet, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for flavor variation. So I acknowledge that the copywriters didn’t have a lot to work with. And, since Pepsi sells both Tropicana Twister and Slice Orange soda, which are basically identical, there’s extra pressure to come up with copy that really speaks to the orange-flavor-craving consumer.

But never, never once, have I ever wanted to imagine spraining my “flavor muscle.” Do you know why? Because the flavor muscle is a real thing. It’s your tongue. Everyone knows that. Do you want to think about spraining your tongue? Probably not. (Unless, of course, you’re a 12 year-old boy and you don’t really understand sex yet, so you say awkward phrases to your friends such as “I’d totally sprain my tongue on her lady bits, right guys?” and then high-5 your similarly clueless friends.)

Clearly, the copywriter was thinking of something metaphorical, that doesn’t actually exist. “You’ll explode your brain’s orange cortex!” “You’re going to completely disintegrate your soda-pop receptors!” “You’ll crap your flavor pants as your fruit-rectum constricts, and then lets loose with intense orangocity!”

But they weren’t metaphorical enough. The flavor muscle exists. It’s a tongue, and when you bite it hurts like all hell. The tongue is covered with sensitive, delicate taste buds. And so to you, Tropicana Twister Orange, I say the same thing I said to M.C. Hammer: “Don’t hurt ’em.”

Curtis Retherford


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