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PepsiCo shoots for the stars with Starry

February 2023

This is a self-funded case study using our innovation testing solution.

The carbonated beverage category is no stranger to heated competition, with the back and forth between the world’s two biggest manufacturers and their hero sodas (Coca-Cola and Pepsi) routinely making headlines.

But there’s another rivalry which has been bubbling away over the last few decades. Chasing the lemon-lime soda segment’s market leader, PepsiCo have worked tirelessly to land on a proposition with the potential to take the battle up to Sprite. Sierra Mist was supposed to be the answer; however, after facing numerous challenges (including a name change/identity crisis), its comparatively trivial market share saw PepsiCo recently decide to wind down the brand.

Enter Starry, PepsiCo's latest offering. With its bright and in-your-face approach, Starry is targeting trendy, health-conscious Gen Z-ers. It promises a crisp and refreshing taste, with the added health benefit of being caffeine-free.

In a world where ‘another soda brand’ isn’t high on consumers’ priority lists, does Starry have what it takes to put a dent in the category leader’s dominance? We put it to the test to see whether it truly “hits different”. To assess an entirely new brand’s in-market potential, we look at 2Cs (instead of our regular 3):

  • Captivate: Be emotive; stand out and grab attention.
  • Compel: Be motivating; drive behavioral change.


Entering with high hopes of cutting through in an already crowded market, PepsiCo couldn’t quite reach the stars with Starry. Despite the promise of a product that was ‘bright, optimistic, and rooted in culture and fun’, the reality instead was that most people viewed it as uninspiring. It subsequently failed to generate a great deal of excitement.

Rather than original, people instead perceived it to be just another lemon-lime soda — some even going as far to state the obvious (that’s it’s a “Sprite knock-off”). Just as concerningly, the name itself caused some division, with only half of people finding it appealing.

Starry PepsiCo - Innovation Testing - Captivate


While people felt the drink would be refreshing (a constellation prize, if you will), Starry failed to align itself with key category benefits and consumption occasions. Despite being caffeine-free and offering a sugar free variant, little about the proposition suggested it was genuinely different from competitors. As a result, overall predisposition toward Starry was weak.

Starry PepsiCo - Innovation Testing - Compel

What are the learnings for marketers?

The path to new innovation success is littered with obstacles, particularly in established categories where a small handful of brands dominate the market. The evidence shows more than a quarter of all packaged goods launches fail. With years of communications helping craft sophisticated, deeply ingrained memory networks, dethroning the likes of Sprite, 7Up, and Mountain Dew is no small feat.

But here’s the thing: it’s not impossible… if the right levers are pulled. Whether you’re a die-hard Byron Sharp disciple (and believe distinctiveness is the only thing that matters) or a more astute and level-headed marketer (who appreciates that setting yourself apart and being a little different can nudge behavior), what’s universally agreed upon is that a new launch must bring something fresh to the table. In the words of one person: “who needs another lime soda?”. Therein lies the crux of the problem for Starry.

To stand out in an established category, originality is key for a new entrant. Fundamentally, Starry doesn’t surprise and delight, nor does it break any category conventions. Little consequently prompted people to err away from more familiar sodas. For Starry, that point of difference could have come from many things, such as a unique flavor twist, benefits, ingredients, or positioning — the list is long.

But ultimately, positioned as it currently is, Starry is considered a mere copycat, with little to indicate that it has staying power. Without a shift in strategy, we fear Starry — like its predecessor — may fade away into the Sierra Mist.

Starry PepsiCo - Innovation Testing - Activation Potential
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