After decades of losing market share to the ‘Pepsi Challenge’, Coca-Cola found a new formula for their 99-year-old product which consistently came top in nationwide blind tastings. On April 23 1985 at New York’s Lincoln Center, the company proclaimed the birth of ‘New Coke’. Henceforth, production of original Coca-Cola would cease, and ‘New Coke’ would be the standard bearer of the Red and White in what the marketing division called ‘the beverage landscape’. The announcement sparked a furor, and within a few days the decision to discontinue original Coke was denounced as ‘the biggest marketing blunder of all time’.
In their ivory towers at Atlanta, Coke’s blinkered executives had forgotten what Coke meant to American culture. In the 1930s a Pulitzer Prize-winning Kansas newspaperman had described the carbonated fizz as the ‘sublimated essence of all America stands for – a decent thing, honestly made …’ and nobody blinked when the Coke company hung out a sign for the Apollo astronauts reading ‘Welcome back to earth, home of Coca-Cola’. More insensitively, after telling the world for years that Coke was ‘the real thing’, the company was now saying it wasn’t. On the street it was considered a national disaster: Coke ads on screen at the Houston Astrodome were booed; original Coke was hoarded, or sold at Prohibition-style prices; Coca- Cola delivery men were literally assaulted by irate housewives; and in Seattle New Coke was dumped publicly in the sewers.
After 77 days, original Coke was brought back as ‘Classic Coke’. The Coca-Cola company lost millions in research and advertising costs, but gained three times as much in free advertising of the highest quality. Indirectly, New Coke eventually restored the company to its present unassailable position at the top of the ‘beverage tree’ – which conspiracy theorists say is what ‘they’ planned all along…
When: April 23 1985
Where: Lincoln Center, New York City, USA
Toll: None (apart from a few bruised delivery men)
You should know: The best verdict on the New Coke affair came from Pepsi-Cola’s CEO Roger Enrico, who wrote. by the end of their nightmare, they figured out who they really are. Caretakers. They can’t change the taste of their flagship brand. They can’t change its imagery. All they can do is defend the heritage they nearly abandoned in 1985.’