If you were around in the 80s you might remember New Coke. It wasn’t around too long, but people still remember the frenzy around its release.
And this summer, the drink no one – ourselves included – thought would see the light of day again, returns. That’s right, 34 years after its short-lived launch, New Coke is making a comeback thanks to Netflix’s Stranger Things 3.
Set in 1985, the series continues its wave of strong 80s nostalgia, this time including one of the era’s biggest pop culture moments: our infamous change to the
So, with New Coke’s Netflix debut now upon us – and our pop-up arcade bringing helping bring Stranger Things fever to the UK – we’ve dug up the archives to present the full story behind the controversial flavour change of the 80s...
Best laid plans
In late 1984, a storm was brewing; enthusiasm for cola in general was lagging, while consumer preference for
Roberto Goizueta, then chairman and chief executive officer of
According to his right-hand man, public relations legend, Harold Burson, Roberto’s background shaped his plan of action. “I think what influenced Roberto the most was that he was a chemical engineer. He was in charge of the technology,” Harold said. “And just like a carpenter thinks a hammer and a nail can solve every problem, he thought jiggling the formula was the right solution.”
Unfortunately, not all brilliant ideas hit the mark. As Roberto would later recall at an employee event honouring the 10-year anniversary of New Coke: "We set out to change the dynamics of sugar colas in the United States, and we did exactly that – albeit not in the way we had planned.”
A few blind spots
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see that New Coke was the product of two quite big mistakes. For one, we failed to take into account consumers’ deep emotional connection with our product.
While a blind sip test of more than 100,000 consumers nationwide favoured New Coke over the original, what the studies didn’t show was the emotional bond people felt with their Coke. Add to this the fact that we struggled to describe the new taste in our marketing, and you’ve got a (literal) recipe for disaster.
Ah yes, the press conference. The big reveal of the “New taste of Coke” was planned for Tuesday, April 23, 1985 at a high-profile press conference in New York, but we were beaten to the punch. Beverage Digest leaked the news the Friday before, so by the weekend the story had reached the mainstream media – and it didn’t quite have the impact we intended.
What happened next would be remembered as one of the biggest cultural moments of the 80s, and will go down in the annals of marketing infamy.
New Coke hits shelves, customers hit back
Back in 1985 America was very much united over one thing: New Coke couldn’t replace the great taste of original
The launch of New Coke unleashed an avalanche of complaints: we received a barrage of bad press, lawsuits, tens of thousands of letters from passionate fans pleading
Our dedicated employees were bombarded with questions and complaints from friends and neighbours. And not even delivery drivers were safe, as Phil Mooney (who retired as Coke’s chief archivist in 2013) remembers: “The ones who really took it on the chin were the delivery drivers. Those poor guys took a beating every single day!”
Desperate times call for desperate measures
From coast to coast, panic was widespread; there were protesters, loyalist clubs, and ‘Original Coke’ scalping. As we quickly discovered, we had a passionate fan-base who would do anything to get their hands on our original product. Stockpiling ‘old coke’ became so widespread that a black market was created for cases of original of
You just can’t beat the best
Turns out you just can’t beat the great taste of
We faced the music head-on and quickly withdrew New Coke from the market.
Less than three months after launching the reformulation, we announced the return of “Classic” Coke. Don delivered the news to the public via a prime-time TV commercial. It was news that brought the nation to a standstill – or at least caused TV anchor Peter Jennings to interrupt General Hospital to make the announcement.
Colossal blunder or marketing genius?
After our announcement, sales for original
Lynn Henkel, who was Manager of Consumer Affairs for The
Some cynics might have you believe that this was all part of a grand plan, but that was never the case. As Don Keough’s now-iconic retort put it: “we’re not that dumb and we’re not that smart.”
After all, just shy of 80 days on shelves isn’t exactly a win by anyone’s standards.
Coca-Cola classic prevails
We always thought New Coke would create a stir, just not quite in the way it panned out.
Today we continue to live by the lessons learnt from the New Coke debacle. It was a sobering lesson in humility, one which demonstrated that the
Find comfort knowing that