Surge Soda's Facebook Fans Push Coca-Cola to Revive the Drink
Evan Carr wasn’t happy when Coca-Cola discontinued Surge soda in 2001. The quality-control specialist drank a lot of the sweet, caffeinated, citrus-flavored soda as a teen. Surge was best on a hot day, after a bike ride, he says. “It was really a thirst quencher for me.”
Never fully accepting the loss, in December 2011, Carr set up a Facebook page called The Surge Movement where fans could commiserate. In the spring of 2013 he launched a full-blown lobbying campaign that included calls and e-mails to Coke. The 26-year-old Carr and his cohorts raised $4,000 through crowdfunding for a billboard near the company’s Atlanta headquarters that read: “Dear Coke, We couldn’t buy Surge so we bought this billboard instead.”
Last April, Carr wrote a letter to Coke executives telling them they were ignoring an opportunity. The day after he sent it, Coca-Cola North America President Sandy Douglas responded. “Thanks for your ongoing interest in Surge,” Douglas wrote. “We are working on a plan to make Surge available again by popular demand.” Cans of the drink reappeared in limited supply on Sept. 15.
“Surge is back,” the Facebook page declared. A 12-pack of 16-ounce cans featuring the original logo sells for $14 exclusively on Amazon.com. According to Scott Williamson, a spokesman for Coke, the company’s first e-commerce reintroduction is a gesture to Surge’s dedicated and persistent fans.
“This will be a great learning experience for us and a refreshing opportunity for fans,” Wendy Clark, Coke’s president for North American sparkling and strategic marketing, said in a statement, declining an interview request. The fans in this case—the Facebook page had reached 128,000 “likes” in mid-September—really can take the credit for highlighting an opportunity, Williamson says.
Coke isn’t saying much about what exactly it wants to accomplish with the Surge comeback. The company has said it needs to attract the next generation of consumers, and national TV campaigns don’t reach these cord-cutters and mobile junkies. Social media can.
Coke introduced Surge in 1996, in one of many attempts to compete with PepsiCo’s popular Mountain Dew. The fourth-best-selling soft drink in the U.S., Mountain Dew has been a rare bright spot in Pepsi’s soda lineup in recent years as consumers turn to healthier, more natural options such as flavored waters and juices. Popular with teens, video gamers, and extreme sports enthusiasts, Mountain Dew outperformed the company’s soda sales as a whole last year, according to Beverage Digest, a trade publication. Still, volume sales declined 2.2 percent in 2013, to about 614 million cases. By contrast, Coke slid 0.5 percent, to almost 1.6 billion cases, and Pepsi fell 3.6 percent, to 790 million cases.
The original Surge never caught on in a big way. The last bottles and cans of the green soda sold in late 2001, two years before the social networking site Myspace debuted.
Depending on the sales, the company might expand Surge to other retailers, Williamson says. Coke is happy with the early reaction, though Williamson declines to say anything more specific than “thousands of cases” when asked how much Surge Coke produced and how much has sold. “Our efforts have been consistent with the size of the project,” he says.