Posted by: nickgerlich | August 29, 2007


Before the onslaught of energy drinks, it existed. Before the flurry of flavors, it dominated the shelf. And before the New Coke fiasco, it rode herd over the low-calorie beverages.

I’m talking about Diet Coke, of course. And as of this summer, it is now 25 years young.

Diet Coke 25thCoca Cola even saw fit to release a commemorative can…a sleek, slender silvery can befitting of a beverage that has added nothing to our waistlines during its time on earth. Gizmag reports that our beloved DC (also known as Coke Lite in some countries) is available in 173 nations globally, and has a 40% share of low-cal beverages.

Not bad for a beverage whose introduction was a calculated risk.

Prior to Diet Coke, the Coca Cola Company relied on Tab, its saccharine-laced bitter diet-pill-in-a-pink-can that was consumed primarily by women. But Coke sensed that there was an untapped market out (read: men) who secretly wanted a diet cola, but would not be caught dead drinking out of a pink can. So Diet Coke was made just for them.

Introduced with much fanfare in 1982 to the tune of a $50 million ad budget (unheard of in those days), and with TV spots hosted by Bill Cosby, there was no mistaking the bold lettering of Diet Coke as being aimed squarely at males.

And men bought it. But so did women, for all intents and purposes sealing the demise of Tab (which is only available in a select few markets these days). It also marked the first product from Coke to feature Nutrasweet, the then-revolutionary new sweetener.

Diet Coke changed the way we refresh and rehydrate. Although there had been diet colas since the early-1960s (starting with Diet Rite, made by Royal Crown), low-cal beverages had been positioned primarily as “dietetic” drinks, a kiss of death from a marketing angle. By extrapolation, one must be ill before they could drink one of these things. Culture being what it is, women gravitated toward them because they saw fat as being on par with sickness, so they gulped the stuff. Men, however, either shunned it entirely, or sipped it quietly in the closet.

Diet Coke has been the number 3 beverage in the US since 1984, a mere two years after its introduction. Since then, an endless array of flavor varieties and copycats have hit the shelves. But in spite of Diet Coke’s market dominance, the real story here is that DC marked the first time that Coca Cola had ever used a line extension for a new product.

Until DC, Coke had always created entirely new brand names and identities for its products, such as Tab, Sprite, Mr. Pibb, and Mello Yellow. But bolstered by the success of Diet Coke, they have since gone on to line extend virtually every product in their refrigerator, with flavors, decaf versions, and “Zero” versions (e.g., Sprite, Fanta, Mr. Pibb).

The success of DC and the ranks of wannabes has even spawned a new cultural phenomenon: washing down a gut-busting calorie-laden burger-and-fries combo with a diet cola. It’s atonement in a can, a dashboard confessional that seemingly does away with one’s sin.

If you haven’t done so already, fill a glass with ice, and pour some DC for a toast. But do yourself a favor and skip the Big Mac.

Dr “Zero Calorie” Gerlich



  1. Thanks for posting these stats, interesting. Wow! must say, beautiful product (re)design! Do you have any idea of which firm designed this?

  2. Of all the sodas on the market, Diet Coke seems to be the most addictive. I only have anecdotal evidence of this from my mom and Sonic employees, but that could be the reason that people would consume such a unpleasantly sharp drink for 25 years.

  3. I have no idea who did the design of the special can, but I have seen them eBay fetching money from the collectors (I can’t find this one in Texas). As for the taste: I agree. It’s a tough drink to swallow, but I suppose it is the lesser of two evils. It beats Tab hands down, and it has no calories. Guilt-free swigging! (NG)

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