Claim: Coca-Cola’s original diet cola drink, TaB, took its name from an acronym for “totally artificial beverage.”
Origins: Diet soft drinks are another household product so ubiquitous that few of us recall a time when they were not a firmly-established item of consumer culture. Nonetheless, they’re older than most of us probably think, having originated in the 1950s, an era in which Americans were noted far more for enjoying the affluence and prosperity of post-war life than for being particularly health-conscious.
Royal Crown Cola (formerly Nehi) takes credit for the invention of the first diet soft drink with its development of
into the 1960s, however, “the bulging waistline and middle-age spread” took on “the proportion of a national disaster,” consumers (particularly women) became more calorie-conscious, and a prominent survey indicated that 28% of the population was watching its weight. When Royal Crown began to promote
Major soft drink companies had initially eschewed diet sodas for fear of injuring their existing business in sugary drinks, but by the early 1960s the diet drink market had grown sufficiently large that they could no longer ignore it. In 1962,
But why “TaB”? The name doesn’t conjure up images of something delicious and refreshing to drink (one couldn’t even guess from the name that this product was something to drink), nor does it suggest something that would appeal to health-conscious, calorie-counting consumers. If anything, what the word “tab” was likely to bring to the minds of American audiences in the early 1960s was a key on a typewriter, or possibly actor
When TaB was introduced, Coca-Cola was not about to dilute the tremendous value of its brand name by identifying as “Coke” something that was distinctively not Coca-Cola, so suggestions that the new drink be called Diet Coke were dismissed as “heresy” by
Agreeing that the name of their new diet soda should be short and easy to remember,
Packaging designer Robert Sidney Dickens Inc. gave the beverage name its familiar capitalization pattern (“TaB”) in the logo they designed for the drink. The initial idea was to render the name TAB in all uppercase block letters, but Dickens felt that exaggerating the top arm of the “T” would make the name more memorable, so the “A” was reduced to lower case to allow more horizontal room but was heavily swirled to still grab viewer attention.
TaB has changed a bit since the early 1960s: a small amount of sugar was added in 1969 after cyclamates were banned in the United States, caffeine-free TaB was introduced in 1983, a saccharin-aspartame version of the Tab formula was produced in 1984, and Coca-Cola even tried to neutralize competing
TaB was largely supplanted by Diet Coke in the 1980s and became increasingly difficult to find. (Indeed, one has to do a fair bit of searching to locate any information about the original TaB beverage on
if TaB fans can’t find the original soda at their local stores, they can always order it through online vendors.
Last updated: 23 April 2015
Allen, Frederick. Secret Formula. New York: HarperCollins, 1994. ISBN 0-88730-672-1 (p. 320). Diehl, Bill. “Coca-Cola’s Project Alpha.” Atlanta Magazine. May 1963 (p. 36). Pendergrast, Mark. For God, Country, and Coca-Cola.
New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1993. ISBN 0-684-19347-7 (pp. 277-278). The New Yorker. “Project Alpha.”
14 March 1964.
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