PepsiCo has all but declared victory in a battle that makes the Cola Wars look like a pillow fight, and experts in the field of crisis communications say the company preserved its reputation against syringe hoaxes.
But they warned it still could tarnish its carefully crafted public relations halo in the days ahead.
The cola company reacted to the rash of complaints almost perfectly, said American University Professor Susanne Roschwalb, an expert in public relations and crisis communication.
Last Monday, when it became clear that the syringe incidents were not going to be confined to Washington state, Pepsi pulled together a team of experts that Roschwalb said is the first move in any crisis.
About a dozen people gathered from production and manufacturing, scientific and regulatory affairs, and legal and public relations staff, said spokesman Andrew Giangola.
The group began working around the clock; some slept at the office, while others got home long enough for a shower, a change of clothes and a nap.
Meetings, like sleep, were catch-as-catch-can, Giangola said. "It wasn't like, 'It's 3 o'clock, time to have a meeting.' It was more like we would see each other wherever the Chinese food or pizza were located."
The company did not hire outside crisis consultants, Giangola said. "We feel there's no reason to pay consultants a thousand dollars an hour to teach us something we know."
The company decided to go directly to the media, especially the electronic media, because, he said, "Electronic media speaks in headlines."
Somers, N.Y.-based PepsiCo put Craig Weatherup, its president for North American operations, on a virtual media blitz by Tuesday to describe the company's manufacturing processes and to warn about criminal penalties for filing false claims.
Through it all, the company portrayed itself as the biggest victim of the tampering crisis.
On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration and Pepsi delivered a one-two punch.
FDA Commissioner David A. Kessler announced that not a single case of tampering had been confirmed.
And Pepsi released a stunner as its daily satellite video feeds to TV news: video from a Denver store's surveillance camera that Pepsi officials say showed a woman slipping a syringe into a can.
Reports dropped off, Pepsi officials say. They declared the crisis over.
Yet even as the case appears to be winding down, the company has replaced its victim role with a more characteristic corporate swagger that could end up hurting the company, say some experts in public relations.
The company's declaration of victory may well be premature, they said.
Two incidents show the new attitude.
On Monday, Pepsi will run full-page advertisements in 200 newspapers around the country, including The Washington Post.
The ad reads: "Pepsi is pleased to announce ... nothing. As America now knows, those stories about Diet Pepsi were a hoax. Plain and Simple. Not true." It ends with an invitation: "Drink All the Diet Pepsi You Want."
Also, in an interview with the Associated Press, Pepsi spokesman Giangola called the decisive Colorado video "the soft drink industry's Rodney King Video."
The advertisement is "brilliant," said Gail Baker Woods, chairman of the journalism department at the University of Missouri-Columbia. "When you get a lemon, turn it into lemonade."
On the other hand, Woods is offended by the Rodney King reference.
"In Rodney King's case we were talking about somebody possibly getting killed, racism, police brutality -- serious social ills. Soft drinks don't even hit the scale," she said.
The potential for offense, especially within the black community, is enormous, Woods said. "They may lose everything they gained by that one comment."
Giangola said that the statement was merely an "off-the-cuff" remark made in a blur of interviews.
"In a crisis," AU Professor Roschwalb said, "the people responsible are on duty around the clock. About the third or fourth day, exhaustion sets in. They're human beings."
All of America soon will have an opportunity to see just how tired Team Pepsi got.
On Monday, ABC's new news magazine, "Day One," will show the inner workings of the crisis group. "You're going to see us, warts and all, Monday night," Giangola said.
The company has not released figures showing whether Pepsi's share of the $47 billion-a-year soft drink market suffered during the syringe flap.
Pepsi brands account for about 32 percent of the total, behind Coca-Cola's 41 percent.
1982: Seven Chicago-area people died after taking cyanide-laced Extra-Strength Tylenol, manufactured by McNeil Consumer Products, a unit of Johnson & Johnson.
1986: Rat poison was found in Contac, Teldrin and Dietac in Orlando, Fla. and Houston, all made by Menley & James Laboratories. A man who tried to manipulate the stock of the company was convicted in the case.
1986: Glass fragments were reported found in baby food made by Gerber Products in different parts of the country.
1986: Two people were killed in Washington state after taking Bristol-Myers Squibb's Extra-Strength Excedrin, which had been laced with cyanide.
1990: Perrier mineral water was pulled from shelves around the world after traces of the chemical benzene were found in some bottles shipped to the United States, Canada, West Germany and Denmark.
1991: Two people died in Washington state after taking cyanide-laced Sudafed capsules, manufactured by Burroughs Wellcome Co.