The Magic Cool Cans Of 1990
1990 was the year my soda nerdom first surfaced. I really should have prepared myself for all that was to come, but at the time, I was oblivious. All I knew was that I must collect all of the Pepsi Cool Cans. It was my mission, my burden, my legacy. I lived within walking distance of a small local grocery store that had a Pepsi vending machine out front, and I was there nearly everyday popping my quarters in. By the end of the summer I had amassed a garbage bag full of the empty cans. My mom threw them all away shortly after. I will never forgive her for that and I’m counting down the days until I can stick her in a darky, dingy nursing home.
The Cool Cans accomplished two things. First, it freshened up the stale pepsi look to appeal to younger drinkers. Its last major can redesign had been 1973. A year after the success of the Cool Can promotion, Pepsi made their first official logo change in almost 2 decades. Second, if you looked in the bottom of empty cans, some had a dollar value ($1, $5, $25, etc) which could be redeemed for cash.
There was a minor controversy over the cans. Specifically, the black neon-like can. Some ingenious chap figured out if you stack two of these cans on top of each other in the correct position, a vertical “S-E-X” appear. A Pepsi spokesman insisted it was merely a coincidence.
More information about the Pepsi Sex Cool Cans, check out Snopes.com for a great article on it.
Not to be outdone, Coca-Cola also released special cans in the summer of 1990. Things didn’t go nearly as well. MagiCans were an odd bit of engineering and technology. Unfortunately, it might have been a little ahead of its time. MagiCans were spring-loaded with actual cash. When you opened one of these, money would be lifted up, popping out of the can. Many malfunctioned, and a few people ended up drinking a disgusting mix of chlorinated water and aluminum sulfate.
In many cans, the spring would get jammed and not release the prize inside. In these special cans there was also a sealed-off portion that contained liquid. ( to give the can enough weight so you wouldn’t know if you had a winning can until you opened it) In a few of the cans, that sealed-off portion wasn’t sealed tight enough.
A whole article in the New York Times was devoted to the fiasco shortly after the promotion kicked off.
Worried about the bad publicity from that report, Coke took out advertisements yesterday in newspapers in 50 big United States markets. The full-page ads, to be run only once, warned consumers that a ”very small number” of cans contain a foul-smelling, but harmless, water that should not be drunk.
Coca-Cola also bought television time to deliver the same message.
There was also a rumor someone died from drinking the foul-smelling water. This time, according to Snopes, the rumor was false.
Nowadays new packaging designs seem to change yearly, if not seasonally, but back in summer of 1990, these limited time cans caused a lasting memory for many soda drinkers.
Note: Coca-Cola is releasing a few summer can designs this year: