Addictions come in all shapes and flavors. Some are packaged in needles, others in paper bags. But one Southern woman’s secret vice happens to be a mutant green soda can with bold, red lettering in the foreground.
Ask 23 year-old Aimee- she withheld her last name for this story- and she would confess her love of Surge. In fact, she swears by it so much so that she has been known to pose in photos with the soda that kicks like an energy drink.
“I’m addicted” she says. “I need my fix.”
But there is just one catch for the Washington D.C. resident. It no longer exists. Not in its original form anyway. That’s because Coca-Cola, the company responsible for creating Surge, yanked the brand off store shelves in 2002.
Designed as a competitor to Pepsi’s Josta, Surge appeared on shelves in 1997. With its high caffeine content–about 35 grams–and its edgy packaging, the drink quickly became a favorite among high school students, IT professionals, news junkies, and people looking for a little pep in their step. It also coincided with the popular trend towards extreme sports, a fact not lost on Coca-Cola, which promoted the drink relentlessly at skateboarding events and even hockey rinks.
Surge became so popular that a brief period it overtook Coca-Cola and Pepsi as the number one soda in the nation. Then, suddenly, it was gone. Nobody knows why, and those who do aren’t talking (as this story goes to press, Coca-Cola representatives have yet to return phone calls from Racketmag). But in reality, Aimee’s addiction runs longer, much longer.
Twelve years, to be exact.
“I have been a fan since the 4th or 5th grade. The very beginning. As a teenager, I drank Surge on a regular basis.”
Aimee’s not the only one, either. Her closest friends also got the habit, too–dating back to the pop’s installation in store shelves–and so do their associates. In their heyday, they used to cruise the streets, looking for nearby groceries or convenience stores that carried the cola, a pre-teen version of “Trainspotting.”
The Surge fanatic even recalls one incident where she downed can after can of the drink, like alcohol. Her friends even invented a mixed drink of sorts, a combination of Surge, Mt. Dew and assorted candies, called interestingly enough, “Surge Happy Hyper Drink.”
“My mom and I still talk about it” she says. “It’s one of our ‘Surge’ moments.”
The trouble for Aimee began when her local store in Marion, Virginia began removing Surge from their aisles, replacing it with the dreaded Mountain Dew. As supplies dwindled, the teenager and her friends found themselves driving further and further out to get their fix, stopping in dangerous, out of the way areas where their needs would be meet, until Surge was no more.
Then came Surge withdrawal.
Across the nation, Aimee’s story was replicated a thousand fold. As her cravings went un-sated, millions of loyal American teens underwent the same process. Betrayed by Coca-Cola, they switched to other brands.
According to Professor Melissa Caldwell, a cultural anthropologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz, such incidents are not uncommon.
“Any product has the potential do develop a loyal following,” She said via email from Berlin, Germany. “It is important to remember that taste preferences are a big factor here. But taste is never strictly a physiological response.”
Yet something unusual happened in the Case of the Missing Soda. Out of the ashes of Surge a new movement has emerged, one predicated on the belief that Surge should return to its rightful place on store shelves. Aided by the Internet, and the growing trend in retro foods, bloggers and activists are arguing their case in the mainframes saying that Surge or a reasonable facsimile thereof should be instated by Coke. The grassroots effort has since evolved into savesurge.org, and since the site’s creation legions of believers have been successful in including forcing Coke to rethink its position on Surge.
While it hasn’t been completely successful, savesurge.org (and its successor, vaultkicks.org) has been crucial in the development of Vault cola, a soda similar in appearance and taste to Surge, with twice the caffeine as Surge. Even Surge is enjoying something of a comeback, being featured on everything from retro candy websites to grassroots blogs. Such resurgences are rare, but not unusual.
“Many products experience a rebirth of sorts.” Caldwell says. “Some of this is driven by supporters, and some of this is carefully planned by marketers.”
As for the 23 year old single professional, she hasn’t forgotten her love of Surge. Just recently, she purchased a Surge wall clock, and two toy taxis with the Surge logo on them.
For her part, Caldwell remains unmoved by the rise and fall of Surge. Yet one thing is certain, it isn’t the first brand to experience bumps in the road, and it won’t be the last.
“Consumption is always a means to create, maintain or affirm identity. It is rarely, if ever, a neutral, pragmatic activity.”