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The Pepsi Challenge has been an ongoing marketing promotion run by PepsiCo since 1975. It is also the name of a cross country ski race at Giant's Ridge Ski Area in Biwabik, Minnesota, an event sponsored by Pepsi.
The challenge originally took the form of a taste test. At malls, shopping centers and other public locations, a Pepsi representative sets up a table with two white cups: one containing Pepsi and one with Coca-Cola. Shoppers are encouraged to taste both colas, and then select which drink they prefer. Then the representative reveals the two bottles so the taster can see whether they preferred Coke or Pepsi. The results of the test leaned toward a consensus that Pepsi was preferred by more Americans.
Coca-Cola ran a series of ads lampooning the Pepsi Challenge. In one of them, the subject preferred the taste of a tennis ball. (Yet another lampoon reportedly had chimpanzees comparing tennis balls.)
In 1981, Pepsi ran a "Pepsi Challenge Payoff" contest that would hand out a large prize to anyone who could gather Pepsi bottle caps that spelled out the word "challenge". Each bottle cap had a single letter beneath it. The letter "A" was the rarest, making it challenging to win the prize.
In his book Blink, author Malcolm Gladwell presents evidence that suggests Pepsi's success over Coca-Cola in the "Pepsi Challenge" is a result of the flawed nature of the "sip test" method. His research shows that tasters will generally prefer the sweeter of two beverages based on a single sip, even if they prefer a less sweet beverage over the course of an entire can.
When the preference in blind tests is compared to tests where cups are labeled with arbitrary labels (e.g., S or L) or brand names, the ratings of preference change. Scientific findings do support a perceptible difference between Coca-Cola and Pepsi, but not between Pepsi and RC Cola.
The band Negativland lampooned Pepsi and the Pepsi challenge on their 1997 album Dispepsi. Several Pepsi commercials were sampled from the era of the Pepsi Challenge featuring Bill Cosby and Michael J. Fox.
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