In 1997, the Coca-Cola Co. ran an unusual commercial in which teenagers in baggy pants raced over sofas to snatch a bright green soda that nobody had heard of before. “Surge!” a voiceover exclaimed. “It’s a fully loaded citrus soda with carbos! Beat the rush!” Backed with a $50 million marketing campaign that included a Super Bowl commercial, Surge was Coca-Cola’s brand new neon green concoction packed with sugar and caffeine. The company released it to compete directly with PepsiCo’s Mountain Dew, which at the time accounted for nearly 80 percent of “heavy citrus” sodas and was absolutely crushing Coke’s lagging Mello Yello.
Surge was marketed to boys and men between the ages of 12 and 24, and although it captured some of Mountain Dew’s sales—by 1999, Dew’s dominance had narrowed to roughly 66 percent—it also received a lot of negative publicity because some people believed that high-caffeine drinks shouldn’t be sold in school vending machines. (According to an Associated Press article, one can of Surge had 51 mg of caffeine, slightly less than Mountain Dew. A can of Coca-Cola has just 34 mg.) Some school districts banned it, retailers stopped stocking it, and by the year 2000, sales had dropped more than 60 percent. Coca-Cola continued to make Surge for a while, but by 2002 it was all but gone from store shelves.