That's So Nineties!

Coca-Cola's Surge

Image courtesy of Coca-Cola Company

That's So Nineties!
| published Sept. 22, 2014 |

By Thursday Review staff


Remember that potent highlighter-green citrus soft drink from the 1990s called Surge? Some readers may not, others surely do. Either way, the short version of its short history is this:

Coca-Cola introduces the drink in 1996 as a marketing response to the rise of Mountain Dew, the new jewel in the crown of Pepsi’s empire; Surge gets rave reviews for a while, and develops a modest but loyal following; sales slump as competing high-caffeine citrus drinks cut into the action; Atlanta corporation in charge of Surge pulls the plug on the canned version in 2002; sales dive even more; giant company yanks the tubes to all fountain machines in 2003; drink is killed, evil Brand X (or was it Brand Y?) wins the day.

Just your typical story, sort of Mad Men meets Kids-in-the-Hall Brain Candy meets Anna Karenina.

But, like Tab and Twinkies, nostalgia can often win the day, especially if those once-loyal followers also know how to effectively use Facebook, Linked-In and Amazon. Indeed, using social media, cult followings have the power to very nearly resurrect anything.

Surge, it seems, is back. Like Newt Gingrich’s 2012 phoenix-like rise from the ash heap of the 1990s, or Monica Lewinski’s recent media rehabilitation and comeback campaign, the decade that brought us Bill Clinton, Troopergate, AOL and Nirvana also brought us Surge resurgent.

The Comeback Surge was the brainchild of three dudes: Evan Carr, Sean Sheridan, and Matt Winans. Together, they leveraged a lot of Facebook activity and some of their own self-generated funding to convince the top brass in Atlanta that Surge will again sell. These guys raised money through donors and online crowd-funding, bootlegged their own sales campaign using, sent thousands of emails and tweets, and even bought billboard space targeted to the morning and afternoon commutes of Coke execs in downtown Atlanta.

Carr, Sheridan and Winans also created something called “Surge-ing Days,” a campaign wherein volunteers and enthusiasts call the Coca-Cola consumer affairs number as often as possible to demand a resurgence of Surge. They also created videos on You Tube, got the attention of CNN and other news organizations, and eventually amassed a huge following on Facebook. The Surge Facebook page has gathered 128,000 followers, and it continues to grow each day.

Perhaps to their surprise, Coke execs—impressed by the marketing campaign, for which Coca-Cola had to expend zero cash—were swayed, and a big Surge reboot party was held at company headquarters a few weeks ago to herald the return of the brash, bold, greenish soda. There were t-shirts, caps, a logo redesign rollout, and an endless loop of great 90’s tunes to help keep the spirit of the adventure attuned to its nostalgic motivations.

Analysts question how long Coca-Cola will maintain the Surge line, which has been selling out at a remarkable, unprecedented clip on Amazon. If the comeback remains strong, surely Coke will keep the product alive for the foreseeable future, but a few savvy business observers suggest that if the product takes another 90s-style sales dive, the suits in Atlanta will again dump Surge.

Surge became popular with soda drinkers in the 1990s because it was an alternative to Mountain Dew, another high-caffeine drink consumed by folks who wanted the intense jolt and the bright flavors (and among those who had not acquired a taste for coffee). But at that time there seemed to be room for only one intense citrus-flavored carbonated drink, and Mountain Dew eventually bested Surge in the battle for best caffeine buzz.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Have Coca-Cola & Pepsi Gone Flat?; Thursday Review staff; Thursday Review; August 1, 2014.