Sunday, January 25, 2009

New Look, Same Great Uncertainty for Pepsi's Customers

by Benjo

I've been hearing quite a bit from readers recently about the new Pepsi bottle. Here's a picture, for those who haven't seen it:
What's remarkable is not what you see on the bottle, of course, but what you don't see. A representative first-sighting story, from reader Mobius, happened on New Year's Day:
I had this truly epic hangover. So I went to 7-Eleven for a two-liter of Pepsi, as a pick-me-up. I get to the fridge, and there's this swoopy logo that kinda looks like the Obama thing. I'm like, "Okay, fine. New look. Same great taste too though, right?" Wrong. Looked the bottle up and down like a gift horse, looking for that New Look, Same Great Taste logo--nothing. Pretty shitty way to start off a year.
Reader ShirlGirl was also thrown off by Pepsi's new logo, but in a different way:
I don't consider myself very visually inclined. So I didn't even realize there was a new look--those New Look, Same Great Taste logos are usually the only way I know that a logo has changed. I got to the register, and the cashier asked me what I thought of the new look. Well, I nearly had a heart attack!
Another reader contrasted his experience with Doritos' makeover earlier in the decade:
I saw the Nacho Cheesier bag from afar and freaked out! I mean, the new look must mean that the taste is much worse, right? But I looked closer, and there's the logo, telling me that it's the same great taste. Kind of crazy--a completely new look, and yet the taste hasn't changed, not even a bit? That's a pretty unbelievable thing, that they're even able to do that.
These emails, and dozens of others just like them, made it clear to me that, without proper labels, consumers have no way of knowing what they're buying. But just how deep is the problem? I mean, if the logo for a food or drink product changes, do you assume the taste has changed too? For more on this, I contacted Jerry Dinkins, who is a well-respected soft-drink enthusiast. His comment:
If the look changes, it's almost obvious that the taste changes too, unless they explicitly tell you otherwise. I mean, just look at the different forms a Pepsi can take. You got the can; the glass bottle; the big plastic bottle. Do all of them taste alike? Of course not. Everyone knows the glass bottle is the tastiest.
If all this is true, though, how does Pepsi get away with such a blatant lack of transparency with their customers? For some insight, I contacted Pepsi representative Darren Lane. Lane conceded that the absence of a logo leaves the taste of the soft drink a mystery. But he fiercely disputed the notion that this mysteriousness hurts customers.
It's preposterous. People love mystery--Agatha Christie proved that long ago. It's part of the beauty of our product that you don't know exactly what's inside the bottle, and we take great pride in that. Fine, a few people are put off by the lack of Same Great Taste logo, and they don't buy the drink. Well I've got some news for you: the only one that's hurt by those lost sales is us. So let us worry about that. You worry about what your kids are doing. You know? People should be worrying about what their kids are doing.
However, I spoke with societal psychologist Diane Timlin, and she believes that Lane is missing the point.
Flavors and tastes are a fundamental component of the set of stimuli that shape our reality. If you see an unfamiliar-looking Pepsi bottle with no indication of the status of the taste, you question that reality. Now, when you question, you lose touch. And when you lose touch with reality, you lose your identity; you become, for all intents and purposes, insane. Now when you start to think about the sheer number of people who see this new Pepsi bottle, you're talking about insanity on a mass scale. That's just the simple scientific truth.
Consumer-rights advocates have been trumpeting the degradation of civic life that's brought about by incomplete labels for years. Many hope that, with a Democrat in the White House and a strong majority in Congress, their goals will finally be codified in law. Vince Roberts, of Soda Citizen USA, better known as SCUSA, mentioned a bill that has been circulating in Washington for years. The bill, known as the Same Great Taste Act, would require companies to post prominent logos on any product on which the look has changed, informing the customer that the taste is the same.

But Roberts says that ShirlGirl's case proves that reforms need to go farther than just that bill:
If the look hasn't changed, but the taste has, companies need to let you know. If they've both changed, same thing. And if nothing's changed? Well, you need a "Same Look, Same Taste" icon there, too. Because frankly, the customer needs to know.
Stay tuned to see what kind of legislation gets passed. Until then, I'll be sticking with the classic:

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