Tab Energy: In Memoriam

Author: Conor Morey-Barrett

When I was little I would often crave McDonald’s immediately after watching one of their adverts on television.  “You’re so susceptible to advertising,” my mother would say.  As we get older we assume we’ll outgrow such weaknesses, but I find our susceptibility only becomes more refined.  Case in point, my manic love affair with Tab Energy. 

I first saw it across the fluorescent lit aisle of a convenience store during a late night snack run.  I told myself I was buying it because I was curious about how it tasted. I was curious about the cult appeal of TaB.  But I was really buying it for the can.  I was buying it for the infectious design.  Upon tasting it I realized I had come across the perfect commodity.

The marketing campaign for Tab Energy featured the claim that it tasted like, “liquid Jolly Rancher.”  While I understood this comparison, I felt the taste was more like a pink jellybean.  There were also hints of starfruit.  But differences in taste aside, I would generally describe it as a light candy soda.

As mentioned earlier, the design of the can was a major selling point.  The design firm Turner Duckworth updated the pink diagonal lines of the classic TaB can with a pattern subtly resembling Ben-Day dots.  The can itself was also slimmed out to be identical in shape to a Red Blue.
This combination of neo Pop design and sweet, synthetic nectar was enough to get me instantly hooked.  But there was nothing physically addicting about Tab Energy.  Rather, I was letting myself be taken in by the glamour of the advertising.  Something both retro and futuristic at the same time.  I was living in a totally imagined image and loving it.  I made a note of every store in a 25 mile radius which carried it.  A splash of that magnificent elixir would send me into a brief euphoria.  The taste was literally too good to be true.  It was as if from a fruit that could never exist within nature.  Prepared from test tubes or on an assembly line, yes, but never off a vine or branch.

Hyperreality in soft drinks is nothing new.  I recall seeing a drink simply called red soda once.  At this point I realized that soft drink companies were no longer concerned with marketing flavors which correlated to items from nature.  In the past, a red colored soda or candy signified a strawberry, cherry or raspberry flavor.  Consumers have now come to expect a synthetic, unnatural taste so soda companies no longer have to appeal to the magic of creating a natural tasting flavor through artificial means.  Now it is simply a matter of how good an artificial flavor tastes.  In this respect, TaB Energy was the creme de la creme.

They discontinued Tab Energy about two years ago.  I haven’t touched another energy drink since.  How could I?  Nothing would compare.  As Andy Warhol wrote in Yum, Yum, Yum, “TaB™ is TaB™ and no matter how rich you are, you can’t get a better one.”


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