What Pepsi Max can teach you about a successful product launch

ONE MINUTE BRIEFING: Simon Calver is Head of Investments, Ventures at the Business Growth Fund, and former CEO of LOVEFiLM and Mothercare.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 05 Dec 2018

Launching a new product can be among the most daunting times for a business, especially if its range has until that point been quite limited. The cost of failure isn’t just the wasted investment of time, talent and money, it’s the fear that will be generated over the company’s future among staff and investors alike.

Simon Calver has run businesses at all stages, from hyper-growth at start-up LOVEFiLM to turnaround at high street stalwart Mothercare. Here, he shares what he learned from his highly successful launch of Pepsi Max in the early 90s, when he was part of the team running PepsiCo’s operations in the UK.


"The key thing is that the story stacks up for the consumers, for the staff, for all your channels and intermediaries. Pepsi’s consumers were telling us that they didn’t want full sugar drinks, but they didn’t like the taste of the one calorie drinks like TaB. Yet we knew that if we could get people to drink diet drinks, they would increase their consumption by 30 per cent.

"All the swimsuits and pool imagery around diet drinks was a barrier. We couldn’t just advertise behind existing categories to change their minds, so we came up with something that didn’t taste like a diet drink and that was a lot more masculine. The simple story that we articulated again and again to distributors was that this was satisfying an untapped need that would increase the total market so they’d make more money. It was win win.

"I like a good scrap, but I think you’ve got to be careful spending too much time looking at what your competitors are doing. The more you focus on how they operate and how they’re structured, the more you’ll find yourself reverting to the same paradigm they operate in. You need to focus on what customers are telling you about their pain points, about the needs that aren’t being satisfied. Then it’s about creating barriers to entry so you can have more time with first mover advantage, to tell your story to the market."

For more information

This guide focuses on marketing, specifically the value of timing and gentle teasing, drawing inspiration from the king of the product launch, Steve Jobs. For a product development perspective of new launches and the importance of fast iteration, read this piece by inventor Graham Harris.

Image credit: Ged Carroll/Flickr (Creative Commons)

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