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The Pepsi Challenge has been an ongoing marketing promotion run by PepsiCo since 1975. It is also the name of a cross country ski race at Giant's Ridge Ski Area in Biwabik, Minnesota, an event sponsored by Pepsi.
The challenge originally took the form of a taste test. At malls, shopping centers and other public locations, a Pepsi representative sets up a table with two blank cups: one containing Pepsi and one with Coca-Cola. Shoppers are encouraged to taste both colas, and then select which drink they prefer. Then the representative reveals the two bottles so the taster can see whether they preferred Coke or Pepsi. The results of the test leaned toward a consensus that Pepsi was preferred by more Americans.
In 1981, Pepsi ran a "Pepsi Challenge Payoff" contest that would hand out a large prize to anyone who could gather Pepsi bottle caps that spelled out the word "challenge". Each bottle cap had a single letter beneath it. The letter "A" was the rarest, making it challenging to win the prize.
The Pepsi Challenge returned for the American reality television show The X Factor in 2011. On the show's website, the public can vote for some songs that will be sung by the show's contestants. The voting polls usually close five days prior to the specific live show that would feature those songs.
During Season 1, a major technical problem with the voting of the songs was discovered the night before the Pepsi Challenge was originally going to take place. The five contestants (Melanie Amaro, Marcus Canty, Rachel Crow, Josh Krajcik, and Chris Rene) only had twenty-four hours to choose another song that would get them to be in the final four. As a result, the Pepsi Challenge would take place in the Week 8 performance show. Because of this, the contestant eliminated in Week 7, Rachel Crow, never got to perform the song chosen for her.
In his book Blink, author Malcolm Gladwell presents evidence that suggests Pepsi's success over Coca-Cola in the "Pepsi Challenge" is a result of the flawed nature of the "sip test" method. His research shows that tasters will generally prefer the sweeter of two beverages based on a single sip, even if they prefer a less sweet beverage over the course of an entire can.
When the preference in blind tests is compared to tests where cups are labeled with arbitrary labels (e.g., S or L) or brand names, the ratings of preference change. Scientific findings do support a perceptible difference between Coca-Cola and Pepsi, but not between Pepsi and RC Cola.
The band Negativland lampooned Pepsi and the Pepsi challenge on their 1997 album Dispepsi. Several Pepsi commercials were sampled from the era of the Pepsi Challenge featuring Bill Cosby and Michael J. Fox.