Skip to content

Pepsi, Throwbacks and Limits of Design

2010 January 3

Apparently, Pepsi has decided to revisit its “throwback” product promotion, once again offering Pepsi and Mountain Dew with archaic labelling.

Throwback Pepsi and Mountain Dew bottles

I'm old enough to remember one of these looks.

They are also, once again, promoting the limited-time use of real sugar in the throwback products… and this is what really puzzles me. I don’t try to pass myself off as a “branding expert.” I’m a designer; if you really feel in need of extensive branding advice, I’ll refer you to someone. Be that as it may, I certainly can’t see the advantage to promoting “real sugar’s” return.

If we assumed that sugar was replaced by high-fructose corn syrup because the latter is better (which many people vehemently disagree with), it would seem that Pepsi is promoting the return of an inferior product. Like Ford bringing back hand-crank ignition, or Intel bringing back the Pentium II.

If we assume that sugar is better than high-fructose corn syrup, on the other hand, it seems to send the message that “hey, everyone: our product is usually a cheap, ersatz version of what it used to be!”

Admittedly, we’re talking about Pepsi and Mountain Dew. So far as I know, pop has yet to generate any equivalent to the premium product variants of most other foods and beverages. It isn’t as though Coca-Cola or RC are selling an organically-grown cane sugar cola (yet). So there’s probably no significant downside to Pepsi’s “real sugar” promotion, but it still seems like an effort to tarnish their brand, even if it’s an ineffective one.

Of course, that’s not entirely out of character for Pepsi. From the standpoint of graphic identity, it seems like they’ve spent the past couple decades in a schizophrenic effort to regularly undermine their brand through redesign-itis.

I’m not going to dig around the web for examples, but think of all the logos, logotypes, color schemes and can designs which Pepsi has churned through since the old red, white and blue identity seen on the throwback bottle above. (Mountain Dew has had similar treatment.) Now contrast that with Coca-Cola, which has been a comparative rock of visual stability for a century.

And Coca-Cola’s design is not only consistent, but good. A fine example of how a good visual identity can be timeless, never really going out of style. Whereas everything that Pepsi comes up with seems to be desperately pursuing a trendiness that it never really catches up with.

In a way this is a lesson in humility. Without being genuinely amateurish or ugly, Pepsi’s design does almost everything wrong that it’s possible to do wrong in terms of graphic identity. But obviously, the difference between good design and poor design only counts for so much, because Pepsi still sells oceans of fizzy, brown cola.

At the same time, though, I’m going to guess that Pepsi spends a small fortune on its endless redesigns; certainly not less than Coke spends to keep its time-tested designs clean and polished. So another lesson might be: shouldn’t you be buying good design if you’re going to spend the money anyway?

3 Responses
  1. February 27, 2010

    Agree with you on Pepsi’s issues with branding but I’d quibble on the point that Coke’s logo is good. It’s consistent — amazingly consistent — but not very good, I think. The actual legibility is lousy; it’s only readable at all because it’s so consistent and ever-present.

    Not that I’d go changing it.

    It is unique and immediately identifiable. And it’s longevity gives it weight/legitimacy, but speaking strictly from a logo-design perspective, I think it’s lousy.

  2. Matt permalink
    February 28, 2010

    Hm. I don’t know. I see what you mean about a strict logo-design perspective, but in that case I think I would submit that there is simply more to being a “good logo.”

    I mean, I don’t know that the legibility is genuinely “lousy,” but how much does it matter, if so? It’s a logo, not a newspaper headline, after all. As you observe, the Coca-Cola logo is almost universally familiar, but I’m not sure that even in considering a brand new logo I would be worried about legibility, at least assuming it came up to the same level as Coke’s logo.

    Though having said all of this, I don’t think I said anything specifically about the Coca-Cola logo in my original post anyway. 🙂 I was really addressing their overall graphic identity, which is certainly much more than just the logo. And in that overall, big picture sense, I still think Coke does a very good job.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Cleveland Browns logo: analysis | Modern Ideas

Comments are closed.