There are two things I believe about my grandmother: She loves Pepsi, but she loves Tab more. It’s why I’m so sad to know that Coca-Cola killed it. A Coca-Cola company executive might as well have broken into her home and slapped the Tab right out of her hand, because Tab is officially dead now.
The Wall Street Journal has reported that, after 60 years on the bottom shelf of the soda aisle, Coca-Cola’s first-ever diet soda has been discontinued. No longer will it be found at off-the-beaten path gas stations along Highway 5, or buried deep in the Walmart soda aisle. So much for all those working women like my grandmother who loved it, and built careers drinking it! Its demise, according to Coca-Cola, comes as part of a mass culling of the brand’s “underperforming” beverage offerings, including Zico coconut water, Odwalla juices, and many of its diet options.
Yes, Tab was a diet soda, but more than that, it was a woman’s diet soda. When it was introduced in 1963, Coca-Cola went to great lengths to convince the skirt suits and blushing maidens of America that at last, a drink was made with them in mind. Early commercials boasted of the drinks ability to keep girls and women trim so they could be a “mind sticker” for the men in their lives, who lacked object permanence and forgot what their girlfriends and wives looked like when they weren’t around. (Or another, hotter person came along.)
Just listen to this lovely jingle: “Don’t you want to have a good shape? He wants you with a good shape. Shape with Tab!” The benefits to drinking this iron-flavored sugar-free cola water, according to Coca-Cola, was that it was the “diet” option, designed to keep women skinny by burning holes in their stomach with its saccharin flavor profile, ensuring they couldn’t eat ever again. I’m kidding, obviously, but I never could figure out just what my grandmother loved so much about this stuff.
Early commercials for Tab generally had one thing in common, besides a blatantly obvious sexist marketing streak: Each featured jingles that read now like ASMR-induced mass hypnosis. I almost want to play the audio backward on this one, to see what hidden messages Coca-Cola hid inside for the women of the world:
I’m also particularly fond of this bonkers tagline from a 1984 commercial: “Like a Dior sable, the taste is in the label, so let’s taste new Tab.” The clincher, yet again? It’s only one calorie!
As consumer tastes evolved, however, and Diet Coke blitzed the market in 1982, Coca-Cola switched up Tab’s marketing angle, lest it compete with itself. Instead of the shape-friendly diet drink the brand wanted women guzzling up in the ’60s and ’70s, Tab became a “sassy, hip” drink. This particular commercial illustrates that:
Thankfully, modern women have evolved powerful force fields around our brains to block such blatantly sexist and intrusive forms of advertising. But to all of Tab’s casualties, I salute them, as together they fade into the annals of soft drink history, and feminist pop culture critique.