Patio Diet Cola was a brand of diet soda introduced by Pepsi in 1963. It was created in response to Diet Rite Cola. Fitness promoter Debbie Drake was Patio Diet Cola’s spokesperson; the drink was also marketed as a soda alternative for diabetics.
In 1964, Patio released orange, grape, and root beer flavors. This flavor line was not meant to compete with brands like Orange Crush, but rather fill out the line. Patio sodas were available in the cold-bottle market: grocery and mom-and-pop stores. Advertising for Patio was comparatively scarce; at the time, bottlers were regionally franchised, and related advertising was necessarily local.
In 1964, Patio diet cola became Diet Pepsi. The newly branded diet soda was advertised alongside Pepsi, with the tagline “Pepsi either way”, which replaced the slogan “Dances with flavor”. Most of the remaining Patio line of flavors were phased out by the early 1970s, while a few survived until the mid 1970s.
In popular culture
The creation of an advertising campaign for Patio was a featured plot of the third season of the AMC television series Mad Men. In “My Old Kentucky Home”, the advertising agency hired an Ann-Margret look-alike. In “The Arrangements”, they notably used a take-off of Ann-Margret’s opening number from the film Bye Bye Birdie for their television commercial.
How Patio cola changed the world of fizzy drinks
Fifty years ago Diet Pepsi was first marketed, trying to fix a link in consumers’ minds between sugar-free fizzy drinks and weight loss. But today, the very term “diet” on food and drink almost seems a little retro.
The product featured in the first few episodes of series three of the advertising agency drama, and is a point of dispute between Sterling Cooper staff members when PepsiCo reject a television commercial based on the film Bye Bye Birdie.
Patio was a real product and the year after its introduction in 1963 it was rebranded as Diet Pepsi. But Pepsi’s move into diet drinks was inspired by an unusual source.
A soft drink produced for diabetic patients at New York’s Jewish Sanitarium for Chronic Disease in the early 1950s called No-Cal ballooned in popularity, far beyond the customer base its maker expected. It turned out more than half the people buying No-Cal weren’t diabetic – they were just watching their weight.
This caught the attention of Royal Crown, a cola maker, which introduced Diet Rite Cola in 1962. Their product was marketed towards the calorie-conscious as a dietetic product. The strategy worked – in three years, sales of diet drinks increased fivefold. Pepsi was forced to act.
But PepsiCo was not sure there was a big enough market for their diet drink, or that it would be successful. So they hedged their bets. They released the drink, but avoided connecting it to their main Pepsi brand, worried a potential failure could tarnish the brand they had spent years building. When they recognised the fad for diet food and drink wasn’t disappearing, they renamed Patio.