Learn From My Crystal Pepsi Mistake

cliffhilton Blog

By: David Novak, Co-Founder & CEO of David Novak Leadership

Welcome back, Crystal Pepsi! Those are four words I never expected to say, or write for that matter, considering I was responsible for the original Crystal Pepsi launch in 1992. Why is it shocking that I’m writing these words? Because Crystal Pepsi was my biggest career fail. Yet I learned a valuable lesson from this fail and it’s one that helped me change as a leader. Let me explain.

While head of marketing at Pepsi, I had a brilliant idea that I thought would be my career maker: Crystal Pepsi! Crystal Pepsi would be our answer to the momentum created by Clearly Canadian’s flavored water. I gained support from my boss, focus groups provided unbelievable positive responses, and it was even mentioned by Dan Rather on CBS Evening News after a successful test launch in Colorado.

When it came time to get the bottlers involved, I was so confident, I thought they’d probably stand and applaud by the end of the meeting. They did like the idea, but they had a concern: that it didn’t taste enough like Pepsi.

Sometimes our best assets can be our blind spots. When I look back, I realize I never really listened to the criticism because I figured I was the marketing expert and they just didn’t get it. I went ahead and launched the product anyway. And we did it so fast that we had a small quality control problem. The product tasted great in the lab, but had a bit of an aftertaste in certain markets.

The problems with Crystal Pepsi became sort of legendary with a Saturday Night Live skit pouring Crystal Pepsi on mashed potatoes and Time Magazine listing Crystal Pepsi in the top 10 marketing failures of the twentieth century.

It was hard for me to let go of my passion, confidence and perspective, so I didn’t listen to feedback or wisdom offered by others. Even the franchisees were suspicious of the longevity of the product and chose to sell it at a premium price, which was wise since the shelf life of Crystal Pepsi was short lived. I still wonder if Crystal Pepsi would be a permanent product if I had listened and incorporated feedback into the launch plan. Clearly, (pun intended) the fact that Pepsi recently relaunched Crystal Pepsi for a limited time shows that there was something to the idea!

Failure is a great teacher. The Crystal Pepsi failure taught me the importance of letting go of my confident position momentarily so I could actively listen to the wisdom offered by those around me, especially when people are trying to warn me that I’m about to drive off a cliff.

As a leader, it’s absolutely important to have confidence in what you’re doing. Yet it’s also important to consider this question: what if those opposed to your idea are right? I didn’t consider this question during the Crystal Pepsi launch. I now know how important it is to listen to opposing points of view and consider the potential barriers to success so I can make my plans more successful.

John Wooden says it best: Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be. I changed as a result of the Crystal Pepsi fail. What about you? Take a moment to consider how you respond to failure by reflecting on the questions below.

• Describe a failure in your life.

  • What happened?
  • Who was impacted?
  • What was the outcome of the failure?

• Did you recognize the value of your failure and make changes to the way you lead? Explain.

• What can you learn from your failure?

• How will you incorporate what you learned into the way you lead today and in the future?

If you need some help embracing your failures, then download this guide on Learning from Your Mistakes. In it, I share tips that helped me adopt a “learn from your mistakes” mindset. As Zig Ziglar says, “It’s not how far you fall, but how high you bounce that counts.” Let’s commit to learn from our mistakes and bounce back as more effective leaders.

Share this Post