The so-called “cola wars” of the Reagan era, immortalized in song by Billy Joel, did more than just call attention to the subtle but crucial differences between Coke and Pepsi. The ever-escalating, celebrity-endorsement-studded ads also ensured that all other competing soft drinks would be pushed even further into the margins. What’s a plucky, ambitious rival to do? Dr Pepper decided to go with the nuclear option. Or, more accurately, the post-nuclear option: a series of elaborate ads designed to look like miniature science-fiction epics set in a grim, dystopian future.
One 90-second spot, obviously inspired by George Miller’s Mad Max franchise, is set on “the planet Dullzon after the cola wars” and follows a taciturn, cowboy-hatted renegade who traverses a ruined landscape with his squat, googly-eyed alien sidekick in search of refreshment. Pretty much everything a viewer could want from an actual Mad Max movie is here, including roving bands of spiky-armored punk mutants.
For its Diet Dr Pepper campaign, the soft drink company decided to go in a decidedly Blade Runner-inspired direction. A 60-second spot from 1985 imagines a sleek but dismal and passionless future in which the world, now called “Colapolis,” is run by the cola companies and advertising slogans are blared from giant speakers 24-7. In a dimly lit corporate boardroom somewhere in this nightmare world, an attractive blond has to determine which one of the three seemingly identical, vest-wearing, bare-chested dudes she’s interrogating is human and which two are machines. Instead of the Turing test, however, she administers the soft drink test. While the machines happily drink down the generic diet cola she offers, only the human holds out for a Diet Dr Pepper. Who knew that “Peppers” might be humanity’s last best hope?