4. Jolt Cola (1985 – 2009)
Before the United States became a nation of sleepwalking zombies in need of a beverage market completely saturated with energy drinks, Jolt Cola burst forth proudly proclaiming that it contained “all the sugar and twice the caffeine.”
Though it became a pop culture phenomenon — appearing in Jurassic Park and Gremlins 2, receiving mention in Wayne’s World 2, and inspiring both Buzz Cola (“The Simpsons”) and Volt Cola (“Beavis and Butt-Head”) — the company faced hard times in the 2000s. After its parent company filed bankruptcy in 2009, Jolt Cola essentially morphed into an energy drink with the creative moniker “Jolt Energy.”
3. Josta (1995 – 1999)
While Jolt was merely a highly caffeinated cola, Josta was the first legitimate energy drink marketed in the United States. Introduced in 1995, Josta included not only caffeine in its recipe, but also guarana. It became significantly popular but was nevertheless discontinued by PepsiCo after only four years. Oddly, though guarana beverages are extremely popular in Brazil and other South American countries, no guarana sodas have ever taken off in the U.S.
2. Crystal Pepsi (1993 – 1994)
In 1993, PepsiCo, thinking that health-conscious consumers would equate “clarity” with “purity,” determined that a see-through caffeine-free cola drink would be the next big thing. It was not.
Despite a massive advertising push that included the beverage’s first television commercial airing during the 1993 Super Bowl, the drink did not catch on and vanished within a year. The imitators it spawned — Tab Clear and 7up Ice Cola (released in non-US markets) — lasted longer than Crystal Pepsi.
Pepsi has introduced plenty of failed products — such as the Pepsi “Wild Bunch,” Pepsi AM, and Diet Pepsi Jazz — but next to “New Coke,” Crystal Pepsi may be the biggest soft drink flop in history. However, while the Coca-Cola Company was able to simply reintroduce its original formula as “Coca-Cola Classic” (and thus reap the financial rewards), Pepsi likely saw no upside to this beverage bust.
1. Orbitz (1997)
By 1997, the World Wide Web was taking off. Many high schools and universities offered online access to students, and nearly 40 percent of all US homes had a computer. As private users flocked to the internet, brands and marketers scrambled to become a part of it. The future was here, and it was online — so why not create a futuristic drink that celebrated this medium of communication?
Orbitz was that space-age drink. Created by Clearly Canadian, it was advertised as originating on Planet Orbitz — “Prepare to embark on a tour into the bowels of the Orbiterium,” stated one ad — and it was marketed as a “texturally enhanced alternative beverage.” Really, it was just a fruity, transparent soda filled with suspended edible balls. The experience was like drinking fizzy bubble tea from a tiny lava lamp.
While it was certainly odd that the balls didn’t sink (no matter how hard you shook the bottle), the drink itself wasn’t terribly remarkable. However, what was significant about Orbitz was that the beverage’s official website, Orbitz.com, was prominently displayed on the cap and label. It was cheesy and set in some Epcot Center reject font, but it marked perhaps the first time a major snack or soft drink manufacturer emphasized its online presence and tried to utilize the Web as its main avenue of marketing.
I liked the stuff, but then I’ve always liked tapioca (and I loved Clearly Canadian), so the texture didn’t really bother me at all. But the public-at-large seemed to disagree, and the soda was gone within a year. The website, however, lives on as one of the world’s largest online travel agencies.