Google Suraj on Surge: Why Did the Best Soda Ever Fail? | Time to Rage

Time to Rage

Co-founder of FinLitTV. Former investment banker and UVA Grad in NYC. Passionate about solving financial literacy. Love sports
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Photo from http://brohamnation.com/surge-we-hardly-knew-ye/

(Photo from http://brohamnation.com/surge-we-hardly-knew-ye/)

Note: This post is a special request from my friend Michelle who wanted to see “Suraj on Surge”. Thanks for the inspiration - the subject is very near and dear to my heart.

1996 = Fate

In first grade all of my classmates really struggled with how to pronounce my name correctly (the correct way is “Sue-rudge”, where the “rudge” is pronounced like “budge”). In a desperate attempt to make it easier for them, I started pronouncing it “Sir-idge”. 

My friends found this much easier to say, but little did I know that my name was about to get much easier for them to pronounce in 1996 when I entered 3rd grade, which was when I first experienced the soda Surge.

The delicious taste (and high caffeine levels) immediately won it a treasured place in my heart. Forget about Red Bull or 5 Hour Energy, in the 2nd half of the 90’s, Surge was all we needed to stay awake and go nuts. For people in my age group, Surge was the fuel for endless after school hangouts and late night sleepovers.

It also had the unintentional side effect of changing the way my name was pronounced forever as over time it turned from “Sir-idge” to simply “Surge” - not that I minded, of course. In fact, I embraced it as several of my student government campaigns in middle and high school revolved heavily around Surge related advertisements and posters.

By 2000, Surge was by far my favorite soda and I was drinking it multiple times a week.

2001 = Tragedy

It started off innocently enough. It was some time in 2001 and mom came back from the store without any of my favorite soda. No big deal - I didn’t think much of it at the time; I obviously I figured that Surge was too popular and the local Farm Fresh or Food Lion was overrun by caffeine-crazed teenagers who couldn’t get enough of the best soda in the world.

Next week, it happens again. I start to get worried. Finally, after a few months reality sunk in and I was crushed. The worst part was that they didn’t give us any warning! I would’ve stocked up on Surge cans for months if I had known my favorite soda was going out of existence. 

Despite a fantastic name, delicious flavor, and a loyal, passionate fan base, Surge was discontinued - and at the tie I had no idea why. 

So If It Was So Good Why Did It Fail?

Now that I’ve had 11 years to cope with the loss of Surge, let’s take a look at some potential reasons why Surge failed as a product:

  • Poor Taste - Impossible. Next.
  • Poor Sales - This has to be the main reason why Surge was canned (see what I did there!) as the two reasons products fail is either too little revenue or too high costs. I have a hard time imagining that the costs associated with producing Surge are significantly more expensive than other soft drinks so I think it is safe to rule out the cost side of the equation. So, Surge must have not sold enough units to satisfy Coke executives. Some of the potential reasons that Surge for the poor sales probably include include external competition, internal competition, ineffective marketing, lower-than-expected demand, health concerns, etc. (some of which I’ll delve into deeper below). 
  • External Competition - Mountain Dew was Surge’s main external competitor, as it was a similar flavored product from Coke’s rival Pepsi. While there are relatively low barriers of entry to the soda market (any idiot can make their own soda in their kitchen), Mountain Dew had the significant advantage of being entrenched in a market where buyers are reluctant to switch easily. Most people are fiercely loyal to their favorite sodas, so it was difficult for Surge to gain market share against a behemoth like Mountain Dew, which had a 50+ year head start on Surge. Sure, I’ll drink a Pepsi if that’s all that’s available to mix with my Jack, but if I’m at the store I’m choosing Coke (or Coke Zero) 100% of the time over Pepsi. I strongly prefer Coke over Pepsi and there isn’t anything Pepsi can do to change that; which is one of the main reasons why new sodas tend to have a high failure rate (see a case study on the infamous failure of “New Coke”).
  • Internal Competition - As if Surge didn’t already have it bad enough trying to compete with a strong Pepsi product, Coke also had (and still has) a similar (but inferior) product called  Mello Yello that competes with Mountain Dew. Mello Yello was first introduced in 1979, so Surge had a lot of ground to try and make up when Surge was released in 1996. This was certainly reflected in their marketing budgets as I’m sure Mello Yello had a much larger marketing budget than Surge. As an example, I’m sure you remember the days before Tom Cruise went batshit insane, when he starred in several high profile movies in the 80’s and 90’s, including the racing movie Days of Thunder, where Mello Yello was a huge sponsor of his race car. It seems that Coke management were not willing to invest in two sodas that competed directly with Mountain Dew, and unfortunately for us all, they made the wrong choice by not having faith in Surge.
  • High Caffeine Levels - I remember reading some reports that Surge had substantially higher caffeine levels than other sodas, but I strongly doubt this would be a valid reason to shut down Surge.  *
  • Rumors - There was a hot rumor** going around in middle school that Surge was shut down because it had the unfortunate side effect of reducing a guy’s sperm count 

*The high caffeine may or may not have been partly responsible for the massive upswing in ADHD diagnoses that began in the late 90s

**As an addict of Surge from 1996-2001 I really hope this was a rumor

Current Status

It’s been a rough few years for us Surge fans. Right away there were several websites that popped up, including SaveSurge. However, despite repeated attempts to contact Coke management, Surge has remained discontinued. 

Every once in a while when I’m in the soda aisle at the supermarket, I’ll see a green 2-liter and get excited. But alas, it normally is just something stupid like Vault

However, in 2011 some glimmers of hope appeared for us fans as a new Facebook Group called SurgeMovement was created to try and bring back Surge.

SurgeMoment going strong

What If?

I wonder what would happen if Surge were released as a new product in 2012. Granted, people are even more health conscious and concerned about sugar/caffeine than ever before, but Surge seems like a product that could thrive with the help of social media. I can easily imagine several clever, high-energy, cost-effective advertising campaigns that could quickly gain traction (especially on Youtube and twitter).

Plus, it fits right in with our Red Bull / Monster / 5-Hour Energy culture, and I’m sure it would be a great mixer if you’re trying to rage. I think Coca-Cola should definitely bring Surge back, especially as it doesn’t seem they have any real answer to Mountain Dew. I mean, when was the last time anyone saw anyone drink Mello Yello? And check this out, people are still tweeting pictures about it here and clamoring for it here - we can’t get enough of it!

In any case, I definitely have some nostalgia about Surge. I don’t often drink sodas, but when I do...I prefer drinking a Surge

Are there any other products from your childhood that you think would succeed if they were re-introduced today? 

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