A History of Pepsi Cola

Neatorama presents a guest post from actor, comedian, and voiceover artist Eddie Deezen. Visit Eddie at his website or at Facebook.

Pepsi Cola was originally called "Brad's Drink" and marketed in Bern, North Carolina in the early 1890's by pharmacist Caleb Bradham. Bradham = "Brad's Drink," get it?

By 1898, the name Pepsi was officially adopted. The name "Pepsi Cola" is derived from the pepsin and cola nuts in the recipe. Pepsi was originally marketed as a cure for stomachaches or dyspepsia.

A church across the street from Bradham's drugstore claimed the name Pepsi Cola was an anagram for "Episcopal." But Pepsico, the company that manufactures Pepsi, discounts this theory. (And remember, just because Britney Spears is an anagram for Presbyterians, it doesn't mean this fact has any other significance.)

Pepsi actually fared better than its main rival, Coca-Cola, in its early days. (Coca-Cola was invented a few years earlier, in 1886.) It sold briskly until 1923, by which time Coke had built a huge empire.

Pepsi, meanwhile, went broke. Sugar prices had gone up as result of World War I, and the company couldn't pay to make it's own beverages. Eight years later, the company went bankrupt again.

Ironically, the Great Depression did not bankrupt it a third time. If anything, it helped. Pepsi introduced a 12-ounce bottle in 1934 at the height of the depression. Coke bottles were only half that size, a fact Pepsi capitalized on. Its marketing team wrote the words to the world's first jingle to go on the radio:

Pepsi Cola hits the spot,
Twelve full ounces- that's a lot,
Twice as much for a nickel too,
Pepsi cola is the drink for you,
Nickel, nickel, nickel, nickel, nickel.

(YouTube link)

The catchy song caught on like wildfire. It became a hit record and was recorded in 55 languages.

The saddest and ugliest chapter in Pepsi history occurred with its new owner, Walter Mack, in the 1940s. Mack was a very broad-minded man for the times. He maintained that Pepsi either completely ignored the African-American market or used blacks as ethnic stereotypes in their ads. Mack believed he could gain marketing shares by targeting blacks in advertising. He hired an all-black marketing team. They came up with more broad-minded ads, such as an ad with an African-American mother holding a six-pack of Pepsi and handing one over to her son.

But at the time, racial segregation and Jim Crow laws were still very prevalent in America. The black marketing team faced complaints and insults from many Pepsi workers, as well as threats from the Ku Klux Klan. The idea being spread was that with the new African-American focus on Pepsi, many of their white customers would be pushed away. Many of the Pepsi investors complained too.

In a meeting with 500 Pepsi affiliates at the Waldorf-Astoria in 1947, Mack tried to ease the tension and upset. To the 500 bottlers, Mack announced that he didn't want Pepsi to "become known as a n****r drink." The African-American ad team was disbanded. Walter Mack was to leave as Pepsi's president in 1950.

In the meantime, the famous Coke-Pepsi rivalry was to continue on, as it does to the present day. But, as was to become the usual pattern, Coke won the "cola wars" by catering to American GIs in World War II.

In 1959, Pepsi debuted at the Moscow Fair. Pepsi gained enormous publicity as Soviet Premier Khrushchev drank a Pepsi cola with Vice President Richard Nixon.

In 1964, Pepsi introduced America's first national diet soft drink, Diet Pepsi.

Pepsi focused it's campaigns on youth in the 1960's with famous slogans "Come alive- you're in the Pepsi generation!" and "It's Pepsi -for those who think young!"

Many celebrities have been associated with Pepsi over the years. Pepsi was the favorite drink of Elvis Presley, who always kept his refrigerator at Graceland fully stocked. Baseball's last 30-game winner, Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain claimed he was "addicted" to Pepsi. He drank a case every day. McLain's weight ballooned to over 300 pounds. Joan Crawford married to Pepsico president Alfred Steele from 1955 until Steele's death in 1959. She was a Pepsi advertising executive and board of executives member from 1955 to 1973.

In 1984, Michael Jackson signed a contract with Pepsi and produced many commercials and many world tours through 1993.

(YouTube link)

In the early 1990's, Ray Charles starred in a diet Pepsi commercial campaign called "You got the right one, baby." Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Beyonce, the Spice Girls, and quarterback Drew Brees have all been Pepsi spokespersons.

The famous "Pepsi Challenge" was introduced in 1975. This was a blind taste test, in which the blindfolded consumers were asked to choose which cola they preferred: "Coke or Pepsi?" A majority did, in fact, select Pepsi. This type of one-on-one competition was revolutionary at the time and gained tremendous publicity.

To this day, Coke and Pepsi rival each other as the number one soft drink. Nationally, the rivalry is close, with arguments about superior sales in various corners of the U.S. For whatever reason, Coke is much more popular in northern states, while Pepsi wins in popularity in the southern states. But globally, it is no contest, as Coke consistently far outsells Pepsi globally.

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Thanks for the Michael Jackson Pepsi ad video Eddie. I remember thinking how talented that kid was...a young Alphonso Ribeiro who would go on to co-star in The Fresh Prince of Belaire as well as winning Dancing with the Stars. He now is the current host of America's Funniest Videos. Talented guy.
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