The 1980s marked the high point of a decades-long rivalry between two enormously powerful institutions, a rivalry that resulted in untold casualties, hardship, and tooth decay. The Cola War has died down, but the legacy of paranoia and hysteria still remains. Until recently, much of the history of this hard-fought battle for the taste buds of America and the world went largely unreported. Advertising campaigns and cola reformulation were just the public side of this vast global caffeine-fueled battle. Both Pepsi and Coke were locked into a zero-sum game to push the boundaries of cola packaging and distribution. Now, for the first time, the true story of the seamy side of the Cola War can be told.
Coca-Cola made the first great stride when its scientists successfully tested the twenty-ounce bottle in the South Pacific. Pepsi responded by dropping The Cube on selected grocery stores in Japan, and the “taste race” was on. Over the years, both sides strove to top the other in beverage capacity, sometimes with tragic results.
One of the largest contributing factors to the “taste race” was the misinformation produced on both sides of the conflict. A brief, but by no means complete, account of these events follows below.
1975-1988: For years, the Coca-Cola Intelligence Agency (CCIA) supports maverick RC Cola dealers in Latin America.
1976: Pepsico responds by propping up a corrupt regime of 7-UP bottlers in Colombia. The 7-UP plants serve a dual purpose, by helping to stem the tide of Coke drinkers, as well as serving as a means by which Pepsi operatives can launder billions of Pepsi Points.
1976-1981: Operation Uncola garners untold numbers of Pepsi t-shirts, hats, and instant win opportunities for Pepsico and its allies. The prizes are little consolation to the resident Latin Americans, who saw their cavity rate triple in the 1970s alone.
1983: Damage from the saccharine bombing of Honduras goes unconfirmed, except for a higher rate of cancer in Honduran rats.
1983: Pepsi introduces the “Pepsi Challenge,” determined to prove that Pepsi is the “People’s choice.” Coke begins inquiries into lives of suspected Pepsi sympathizers, resulting in their blacklisting from supermarkets, convenience stores, and cola-serving restaurants.
1984: With the failure of New Coke, Coca-Cola’s Five Year Plan gets off to an aborted start. Coca-Cola sends its entire board of directors to staff a bottling plant in Siberia. Sales figures and taste test results are routinely fabricated during this era, duping Pepsi into spending billions developing clear soda and wide-mouth cans. Rosy corporate reports hide the reality of Coke’s deep production problems.
1985: Michael Jackson loses his hair to fire as a result of CCIA sabotage on the set of a Pepsi commercial.
1986: Things look bleak for Coke. Merchandisers must line up for hours just to get a few cases of Sprite for the stores on their rounds. Morale is low, and for the first time, people began questioning whether Coke truly is “it.” However, lines for Mr. Pibb remain short and brisk throughout the entire crisis.
1995: Nearly 200 researchers perish in a carbonation accident in Georgia, while working on a top secret effort to develop a “three-liter bottle.” As a result of the accident, Coke and Pepsi begin unilateral repackaging efforts, leaving the taste race to maverick companies like Shasta.
This timeline is but a sampling of the drastic covert measures taken in an effort to achieve beverage supremacy. Corporate earnings statements and testimony from distributors paint a disturbing picture of further Cola War atrocities. After CEO John Scully left Pepsico to head up Apple, irate executives retaliated by assassinating his new company. Unconfirmed rumors abound that Diet Pepsi spokesman Ray Charles was blinded by operatives from 7-UP, acting under orders from Coca-Cola headquarters.
The new joint effort in cola bottle-size reduction, as well as the retirement of Pepsi spokesperson/spiritual leader Hallie Kate Eisenberg may signal the ceasing of Cola hostilities, and perhaps the beginning of a new era of Cola Detente. Only time will tell if, of all possible courses of action, these cola executives have chosen the right one, baby. Uh huh?