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Food by VICE

Gen-Y Nerds Revived a 90s Soda Because Reality Bites

The nostalgia-thirsty Internet has successfully convinced Coca-Cola to reboot Surge, a bright green, citrus-flavored energy drink of yore.

by Hilary Pollack
Sep 15 2014, 5:50pm

The Internet has won. A small victory, perhaps, but there's no doubt that it won this one. The Internet has spoken, and its voice has successfully convinced Coca-Cola to resume production of SURGE. And it all started with three dudes and a Facebook page.

If you are currently between the ages of 20 and 35, you probably don't need to be reminded of SURGE's legacy. In the days before Sparks and Four Loko (and just as Red Bull was getting its own wings), every American parent, babysitter, and teacher's worst nightmare was SURGE. Debuting right in the cultural sickeningly-sweet spot of 1996, SURGE was drop-kicked into the beverage market as Coca-Cola's answer to Mountain Dew. (In fact, its internal name was said to have been MDK—"Mountain Dew Killer.") Kill Mountain Dew it did not, but it did capture the hearts of gamers, middle schoolers, and future extreme sports enthusiasts of America. When it was finally phased out in 2002, hearts broke in front of PlayStations everywhere.

But in 2011, Evan Carr just couldn't get Surge out of his head. "I was feeling reminiscent about SURGE and wanted to know who else felt the same way about it that I did," Carr, 26, explains in a statement. "There weren't any communities for the brand, but I knew there were other fanatics out there just like me." Carr was right, and probably more right than even he could have predicted. He was soon joined in The SURGE Movement by fellow enthusiasts Sean Sheridan and Matt Winans, and the population of the group began to climb. Soon there were 20,000 members; then 100,000. A fundraiser on the page earned $4,000, which was used to put a desperate plea for a SURGE revival on a billboard near Coca-Cola's Atlanta headquarters. Today, as they celebrate their consumer victory, the page has more than 135,000 likes.

In a way, SURGE won, too—just much later than expected. At the time of its release, most of its target demographic had no disposable income, no households of their own, and no voting power (either with dollars or publicly). Now, Coca-Cola proclaims that "Fans thirsty for a taste of '90s nostalgia—or those who are simply craving a citrus-flavored sparkling beverage with a kick—can rejoice in the news that SURGE is back after a 12-year hiatus." But in reality, something about the soda's enormous and memorable marketing campaign—hours and hours of my teen life were spent watching its grunge-meets-AXE-body-spray ads during TRL and The Sifl and Olly Show—worked so well that it lingered in the minds of adolescents until they were fully formed and employed human beings more than a decade later. The ads were always male-driven and adrenaline-pumped, but still keenly aware of the fact that they were selling soda, and specifically that they were selling soda to nerdy young men—the kind of men who 12 years later would want SURGE back just because it reminded them of simpler times. Surge Movement Facebook page admin Matt Winans wistfully recalls, "I have many fond memories of sitting up late with a SURGE cracked open, playing either Zelda, Goldeneye 64, Super Smash Brothers, or Mario Kart." In a note on The Surge Movement, its moderators state, "Most of us are those same people whose beverage choices were held at the mercy of parents and teachers. We no longer have that obstacle. We buy what we want and we want SURGE!"

In 1996, the year of SURGE's release, the best-selling album was Alanis Morisette's Jagged Little Pill. Culture was so unfailingly sincere that it literally couldn't be ironic if it tried (as evidenced by the failed irony of "Ironic"). For the next three years, the world had a favorite Spice Girl and saw Titanic 12 times together in theaters because they couldn't get enough of Leonardo DiCaprio's cherubic face. We hardly batted an eye when NSYNC were revealed as puppets. But then, sometime after the hilariously overblown Y2K scare and the beginning of the first George W. Bush administration, our collective mood soured and turned cynical. The best-selling album of 2000 was the aforementioned, fluffy No Strings Attached; it was probably no coincidence that the following year, it was Linkin Park's unapologetically self-loathing (everything-loathing, really) Hybrid Theory.

SURGE is a relic of a pre-Atkins diet world, where "carbos," as standard carbohydrates were hilariously redubbed by SURGE's marketing team, were desirable, and where we were carefree enough to happily roll down steep hills in barrels together to prove our devotion to a soda. Maybe this is one version of real comfort food, where artificial citrus has an aftertaste of lost boyhood. Let them feed the rush; life is a scream.

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