Fuck Pepsi (or, The Scrappy-Doo of Beverages)

Calvin peeing on an older Pepsi logoYes, you heard me correctly.

Now to explain, because at heart I’m a reasonable guy: I have no particular beef with PepsiCo, or at least no more or less so than any other multinational corporation (a topic for another time). My statement is aimed at their namesake flagship product, Pepsi-Cola.

No, this is not going to be a rehash of the “Coke vs. Pepsi” debate (though I suspect the comments section may devolve into one). I do not see beverage preference (or nearly anything else) as a zero-sum game, and the meat my grievance is more of an indictment of certain marketing/advertising practices in general. So if you enjoy Pepsi-Cola more than anything else in the world, without irony I say “good for you”; once you have found her, never let her go.

It’s true that if forced to choose between a Coca-Cola and a Pepsi-Cola, I will choose the former every time. But not because I think that Coke is innately superior, or because it’s officially endorsed by Santa Claus (it’s not), or any other reason that The Coca-Cola Company has spent a lot of money over the past hundred-plus years engraving into the collective consciousness.

Pepsi simply does not taste good to me, most of the time. There’s a certain flavor compound in Pepsi that I find, well, yucky. I’m pretty sure it’s the same chemical found in lime lollipops, which also cause me to curse. Maybe it’s because I was given a lime lollipop as a child after a particularly nasty doctor visit, just after being given a dozen shots and having my tongue scrubbed with sandpaper. Or maybe it’s poisonous to me. I don’t know. Regardless of the reason, most of the time when I drink a Pepsi, that particular taste jumps out and punches my mouth in the mouth-balls. Sometimes it doesn’t, depending on the exact mix from the bottler or soda fountain operator. But it’s often enough that I avoid it.

So why the invective? Isn’t hurling epithets antithetical to my live and let live attitude? By itself, yes, it would be. It’s not my general practice to malign things simply because I don’t like them. But to completely understand my beverage rage*, I’ll need to over-simplify the history of brand advertising and Coke vs. Pepsi within the span of a few paragraphs.

National consumer product brands began to flourish in the U.S. in the late 19th century, as technological innovation allowed mass production and individual packaging of what until then had been generic bulk goods sold at local stores. Yes, a company could make money by selling soap by the barrel. But put it in a neat-o box with a pretty picture that a consumer could point to or grab themselves and you’ve got yourself the makings of an empire, like Proctor & Gamble found with Ivory Soap starting in 1879.

Schmancy boxes are fine, but how do you convince the masses that one type of soap, rice, or cereal is better, spiffier, or otherwise more desirable than another? As it happens, advertising agencies evolved right along with the products, ready and able to place little psychological meme-bombs (or outright lies) in newspapers, outdoor advertising (billboards, signs, etc.), an increasing number of national publications, and everywhere else that ignorant or otherwise persuadable people could be found. Before the national consumer brands, the majority of these ads were for patent medicines (pseudo-pharmaceuticals that made far-reaching claims but usually delivered little more than a buzz, crippling addiction, or worse).

Enter Coca-Cola, trademarked in 1893 and marketed as much for its medicinal properties as its taste. It wasn’t unique in using a jolly narcotic kick to deliver satisfaction, and even if its use of the kola nut to enhance flavor and the effects of coca leaves was innovative, it was the breadth and creativity of Coca-Cola’s advertising that’s generally credited with propelling it into brand super-stardom. By 1895 it was available in every state of the U.S., and by 1908 “Drink Coca-Cola” could be found on 2.5 million square feet of the country’s exterior wall real estate.

The Pepsi-Cola Company was launched in 1902 to capitalize on a beverage formula created a few years earlier, and has nipped at Coke’s heels ever since. Whereas Coke had the luxury of building on its original feel-good image, Pepsi has had to use a grab bag of tricks over the years to keep itself afloat (and not always succeeding):

Reimagined Pepsi logo by Lawrence Yang - http://www.suckatlife.com/In short, Pepsi Cola is the Scrappy-Doo of beverages. And that’s fine: I’m sure that Scrappy-Doo also has his fans, and I’m guessing that they also prefer Pepsi. You could even make the case that Pepsi’s ability to adapt is admirable (though you’d fail, because most mutations are not successful or desirable.)

Has The Coca-Cola Company employed heavy-handed tactics over the years to help maintain their market dominance? Probably. And have Pepsi Cola drinkers suffered over the years because they have often not been given any choice except for Coke? No doubt.

So is it fair for me to say “Fuck Pepsi” because I refused to buy into the fake non-conformity of the Pepsi Generation campaign, or because PepsiCo is finding success by playing Coke’s game of locking venues/universities/convention centers into single-vendor contracts? Probably not. And instead of bitching, couldn’t I just go find a water fountain? Yes, and I often do.

And in truth, if a Jones Soda or Boylan’s is available when I crave a carbonated beverage, I’ll often choose it over Coca-Cola, and will happily pay more for it (though I do sometimes genuinely crave Coca-Cola, especially if it’s not made with HFCS). Of course root beer trumps all for me, especially some of the regional brands. And root beer is PepsiCo’s saving grace: I rather enjoy Mug Root Beer, even more than Coca-Cola’s offering (Barq’s). It’s no Sprecher, but it’ll do in a pinch if offered (which is to say, not frequently enough).

But enough of all of this intellectual contortion and selective reading of history. It all really just boils down to my original point:

Fuck Pepsi.

*I almost wrote “bever-rage”, but did not. You’re welcome.

An open apology to Bill Watterson: I thought twice and thrice before utilizing “Peeing Calvin”, but for better or worse, the rendering of his wily evacuation has become an icon for simplistic cultural discourse. It is my intent and hope that my use of “Peeing Calvin” will be read as ironic, in context of the long-winded explanation for my two-word denouncement.


Bloated Pepsi logo dude
by Lawrence Yang – isuckatlife.com

Advertising in America
Advertising Educational Foundation
History Matters
Project Muse

History of Coca-Cola
Digital Deli Online

History of Pepsi
PepsiCo Website
Soda Museum

Coke Pepsi market share
Beverage Digest

Pepsi lawsuit: fountain business
Beverage Digest


  1. Posted April 27, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    This is the greatest educational blog post about soda ever written. Longer thoughts FTW.

  2. Posted April 27, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    For my money, Virgil’s Special Edition Bavarian Nutmeg root beer is the holy grail of root beers. It runs around $5 for a beautiful ceramic-rubber-capped bottle.

  3. Posted April 27, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Virgil’s is terrific. I’ve never had the special edition you speak of, but I’ll seek it out, thanks!


  4. Posted April 27, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    If Pepsi is the Scrappy-Doo of beverages, than surely Root Beer is its Dynomutt.

  5. CallieMo
    Posted April 27, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Nicely done, Storm.

    FYI: If you have a Costco in your local area and have a membership, they sell the “Mexican” (cane sugar not HFCS) Coke by the case for an decent price. Since drinking soda regularly would add to my already considerable wide load, I consider these a treat and have one (two at the most) a week. The interesting thing is that the sugar version is more refreshing to me and doesn’t leave me MORE thirsty like the HFCS version would.

    Have you ever tried brewing your own root beer at home? My grandmother and later my mother made homemade root beer when I was a kid. When I became an adult, I was given the stash of bottles and bottle capper so I could make it myself. It’s really pretty easy to do and the flavor blows the doors off anything commercial. Just don’t store the bottles anywhere you might dislike a mess while they’re in the process of fermenting. We stashed ours in a bedroom that we were doing stripping/painting type work in once so they’d be out of the way and, of course, that was the one time the yeast went wild and over-fermented. The extreme pressure blew the neck off several of the glass bottles and the root beer jets hit the ceiling. Cleaning root beer off the ceiling is not a fun job. Now we put the cases of bottles into plastic contractor bags and keep it in the cellar during fermentation time.

    You can brew other flavors of soda as well (birch beer, cream, ginger ale, etc.) If you have a beer-making store in the area, you can pick up the extracts there along with champagne yeast (which works better than your basic store yeast) and of course bottles and a capper.

    It’s a fun project and drinking the results all summer long is a lovely benefit.

  6. Posted April 27, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Adam and CallieMo.

    CallieMo – spot on about “Mexican” Coke and the “Chinese food effect” of HFCS. It’s almost enough reason for us to join Costco in and of itself.

    I have brewed my own sodas in the past using extracts, back in my zymurgist days. Though like you, I limit my soda consumption to one or two a week, and having a few gallons around would be just too tempting 😉 But I’d definitely recommend it for larger households.

  7. Number_6
    Posted April 27, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Personally, I miss being able to find Hires Root Beer. It’s still made, but once Barq’s and Mug started being marketed, it lost it’s space on most store shelves. But until that happened, I drank that stuff all the time, far more than Coke or Pepsi.

  8. Robin (the Mini-Minion)
    Posted April 27, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    For the last… oh, at least 15 years, I haven’t been able to stomach brown sodas of any sort — cola, root beer, birch beer, sarsaparilla, you name it. I think I overdosed on cheap supermarket-brand cola as a kid or something. I do have a certain amount of loyalty to PepsiCo, though, as I am a lifelong devotee of Mountain Dew (OMG, Throwback is awesome), and they apparently own part of Ocean Spray.

    That said, I am fascinated by this condensed history of the Cola Wars, and advertising in general. (Yeah, Mad Men!)

  9. Gle3nn
    Posted April 27, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    I have the same feelings about Coke. It’s a sickly sweet flavor like black licorice or rotting corpse.
    I worked for Pepsi for a while. Coke payed better but I liked Pepsi’s business ethics better. Whenever Coke moved in to a location, they would demand to be exclusive, only coke products in fountains. Pepsi always allowed other flavors so that customer could choose for themselves. Maybe that’s why Coke has the larger market share.
    I also prefer fake Future over fake Nostalgia.

  10. Posted April 27, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    Number_6 Yeah, I miss Hires, too. Looks like it’s owned by Dr. Pepper now.

    Robin – Thanks, and rock on with your beverage choice; I think a lot of people’s affinity for PepsiCo is due to the Dew (though I’m not a fan of that genre in general, though it deserves props because in this case Coke’s Mello Yello is the Johnny-come-lately.) Pepsi (wisely) gave up at a certain point in trying to displace Coke as the #1 cola and decided to focus instead on making lots and lots of money with its other brands (they both hold a lot of other well-known brands.)

  11. Posted April 27, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    Gle3nn – I’ll have to do some research and see if there’s a correlation between real licorice lovers and Coke aficionados. Fake Future/Fake Nostalgia is an interesting premise, though I personally never bought into Coke’s “aw shucks” marketing. And their polar bear campaign made me stabby.

  12. tilthouse
    Posted April 27, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    Don’t forget that the Coca-Cola bottle for Passover is also made with real sugar. We’ve just missed it this year, but look for the yellow caps on 2L PET bottles (not contest caps).

  13. Posted April 27, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    I just wanna know how much Rotting Corpse Gle3nn has actually tasted. Actually, no I DON’T wanna know!

    Always been a Coca-Cola sorta CouchGuy myself, though it’s mostly the Caffeine-Free Diet Coke variety these days. (sigh) I indulge in the occasional realcanesugar Coke when I can get it.

    For root beer, the regional Dog n Suds brand is peerless — in my youth they existed as the local equivalent of the A&W with frosty mugs, hot dogs and carhops in minskirts on skates. Now they remain only as a regionally-bottled brand of Root Beer. Mmmmm – tasty!

  14. Posted April 27, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    I had to give up soft drinks for the sake of my teeth (and my incredible guilt over supporting those corporations–see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_Coca-Cola) but I’ve always preferred the taste of Coke.

    As a data point, I despise licorice. Fake OR real.

  15. Alex
    Posted April 28, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    I actually use the cola wars, when arguing about regulations vs. free markets, to debunk the idea that evil corporations with their marketing campaigns are controlling our lives. You said right at the beginning that you prefer Coke to Pepsi because you prefer the taste of Coke. By and large I think that’s how most people make their buying decisions. If you want to get mad about anything, just be mad that all that money spent on advertising makes the stuff more expensive than it would be otherwise.

  16. Posted April 28, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Alex –

    My thoughts on multinational corporations are much more complex than could be boiled down into a sentence or two, which is why I set it aside for another time.

    Without going too far down the rabbit hole, I will say that I’m certainly not “mad” at multinational corporations, nor do I believe that they are “evil”. Sometimes they behave in ways that could be called “evil”, just as individuals sometimes do (though the misdeeds of corporations in most cases affect far more people than those of individuals.)

    I also wouldn’t say that marketing campaigns are “controlling our lives”, as if we’re all robots waiting to receive commands. But there’s a reason corporations and political interests spend so much on advertising to achieve their goals: in the aggregate, it works.

    I’m also not going to address the relationship between regulations and free markets right now; suffice it to say that I believe that attempts to apply *any* ideology in an absolute manner will fail, spectacularly.


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