(“Keeping Tab(s): Brands’ fans loyal,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 14, 2003 — by Scott Leith -Staff)
Pam Nutt is clearly a TaB nut.
Yes, she’s heard plenty of little witticisms based on her last name. No matter. This one is accurate, Nutt said, given that she drinks six cans of Tab a day.
“When the distributor told me they were going to discontinue TaB in the machine at school, I almost died,” said Nutt, a teacher who lives in Henry County. “I begged them not to take it out.”
Such hard-core devotion might seem a bit much, but it is keeping TaB alive. As a little-known, small-selling soda, TaB owes its existence to a small army of sometimes fanatical consumers who will do almost anything to see that store shelves remain stocked with their favorite drink.
The fans call bottlers, sometimes to beg for a product’s return. Some launch Web sites extolling the virtues of their favorite drinks, occasionally for long-gone brands such as Josta or Crystal Pepsi.
And their numbers are growing, fueled by the constant arrival – and departure – of new products. Witness this summer’s introduction of Mountain Dew LiveWire by Pepsi. It was off the market by Labor Day, as planned by Pepsi, but fans lobbied to keep it anyway.
Pleas for a drink’s return can come years after their departure, too. Jean Giese, a spokeswoman for PepsiAmericas, a big Pepsi bottler in the Midwest, said requests still trickle in for Crystal Pepsi, a clear cola that debuted in 1992 and was short-lived.
TaB is arguably the most-loved of all the small-time brands. It has even prompted scholarly attention.
George Plasketes, a professor at Auburn University and admitted TaB fan, wrote a paper called “Keeping TaB: A diet soft drink shelf life” that is set to appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of American Culture.
TaB, he said, is a “subculture, iconoclastic kind of thing.” Plasketes said the drink has a place in pop culture, including mentions in movies that include Austin Powers films and “Back to the Future.”
“It shows up as this icon of an era,” said Plasketes, a professor of radio, television, film and popular culture. Among the first TaB, which turned 40 this year, was among the first diet soft drinks. At one point, it was the most popular diet beverage in America.
That all changed in the 1980s, when Diet Coke was introduced. TaB ads ended in 1987.
While TaB sales plunged, some drinkers remained fiercely loyal. It’s not an easy task, given that TaB can be downright difficult to find.
Nutt, a longtime fan, has badgered Coke bottling employees about carrying the brand. Now, she said, they tend to avoid her.
Thomas Wagner, a 21-year-old University of Pittsburgh student, maintains a Web site devoted to the drink. “At some level, I think I like TaB because it’s atypical and a little quirky,” he said. On his Web page, which he calls a “central location for TaB information and news,” you’ll find a history of TaB, lists of stores that carry it and suggestions for mixed drinks made with the soda.
Fans of other soft drinks are also on the Internet. Josta, a short-lived Pepsi drink, lives on in scattered mentions. Azure Lee of Augusta was a Josta fan when the drink debuted in 1995. She quickly put her love of the drink on the Web for all to see.
“I was like 16 or 17 at the time and really didn’t have much else that I had to do,” she said recently. Her site is gone, but other Josta-centric Web pages still exist. One, the “Jostafarian Outpost,” even has video of an old Josta commercial.
Is anyone listening?
All of this begs a few questions: Does making a fuss matter? Do giant soft-drink companies listen?
Coke, Pepsi and Dr Pepper/Seven Up all say they keep tabs on requests and complaints. At Coke, for example, if someone calls to ask about tracking down a specific brand, they’ll be referred to their local bottler.
Maria Perez, a Coke spokeswoman, said the firm notes “every call” and provides a database for bottlers to see what people want.
Dr Pepper/Seven Up, the U.S. unit of Cadbury Schweppes, is trying to boost distribution of its Diet Rite brand, partly because the famous Atkins Diet specifically mentions the drink as being acceptable.
Spokesman Mike Martin said the evidence of Diet Rite’s higher profile is clear from the number of calls.
The bottom line: Lobbying does matter. If you want evidence, just consider TaB.
“It lives,” Perez said, “because people want it.”
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