What's in a Name?: Pepsi

What's in a Name?: Pepsi

Nov 6th 2023

When it was first concocted over a century ago, one of the world’s most popular sodas was created by a pharmacist looking to invent a “healthy” cola. But, initially, it came with a name that, thankfully, didn’t stand the test of time.

What does the name “Pepsi” bring to mind? Refreshing carbonation? Catchy jingles? Perennial cola wars? This iconic beverage with the recognizable red, white, and blue logo has a fascinating history of innovation, competition, and adaptation.

The Birth of a Cola Empire

Pepsi's story began in the late 19th century when North Carolina pharmacist Caleb Bradham set out to create a refreshing drink to aid digestion and boost energy. In 1893, he invented "Brad's Drink," a mix of sugar, water, caramel, lemon oil, kola nut, nutmeg, and other natural additives. However, the name didn't have the zing Bradham was looking for.

In 1898, Bradham rebranded his creation "Pepsi-Cola." According to the company, the moniker came from two possible sources: 1) Bradham purchased the naming rights from a local competitor named “Pep Kola” and slightly altered it. 2) Because he considered the drink a “healthy” cola to help with stomach issues, Bradham incorporated the root of the word “dyspepsia,” meaning indigestion. Regardless of the reason, the new name had a certain ring to it, and it wasn't long before Pepsi-Cola became a hit in Bradham's drugstore.

Early Success and Challenges

The early 1900s saw Pepsi-Cola's popularity soar following the official incorporation of Bradham’s company and the subsequent opening of hundreds of bottling franchises. Bradham even adopted an official logo featuring a swirly red script, still reminiscent of the brand today. However, like any pioneering endeavor, Pepsi faced challenges, including changes in ownership and the impact of World War I on ingredient availability that led to a new formulation.

The infamous rivalry between Pepsi and Coca-Cola is legendary, and it began to heat up in the mid-20th century. Pepsi's marketing campaigns emphasized a sweeter taste and often featured the "Pepsi Challenge," where blind taste tests pitted Pepsi against its chief competitor. The Cola Wars also brought about iconic ads with a star-studded cast, including Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Brittney Spears.

The New Generation: Diet Pepsi and Beyond

In 1965, the company merged with Frito-Lay Inc. to create PepsiCo Inc. This new entity would oversee not only the flagship Pepsi brand but also a growing portfolio of snack and beverage products. The company also introduced varieties of the original product, such as Diet Pepsi, zero sugar, cherry and vanilla flavored, and more.

As the world grew smaller through globalization, Pepsi quickly became one of the most recognized and consumed cola brands and was named the most popular cola drink in supermarkets in 1977.

Pepsi's journey from a local digestive aid to a global phenomenon is nothing short of remarkable. It's a testament to the power of innovation, branding, and the ability to adapt to ever-changing consumer tastes. The beverage remains one of the world’s most iconic cola brands 125 years since its inception.

For more business-naming stories, check out What's in a Name? Triscuits, What's in a Name?: Chick-fil-A, and, of course, Penny Mustard: Our History.

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