New Coke: 79 Days Results in Marketing Infamy

coca cola

As we’ve heard time and time again – if something isn’t broken, don’t fix it. On Friday, April 23, Coca-Cola will be reminded of this, as they celebrate the 25th anniversary of the launch of “new Coke.”

In 1985, as a response to the enthusiasm surrounding a new beverage company, PepsiCo – Coca-Cola introduced a reformulated product. To put it mildly, the new drink was negatively received, and a public outcry ensued. People began hoarding cases of the original drinks (quickly dubbed “old Coke”). In June 1985, Newsweek reported that savvy black marketers sold “old Coke” for $30 a case and the company’s consumer hotline was getting 1,500 calls a day from upset customers. Protestors even rallied at the corporate headquarters in Atlanta. After a grueling 79 days, the company pulled “new Coke” from the shelves and brought back the original – now labeled “Coca-Cola Classic.”

The “new Coke” example is often at the top of the list of marketing blunders and is used as a “what not to do” case study. And, while it’s easy to fault Coca-Cola (who changes the world’s most popular soft drink in the first place?), the company learned a valuable lesson about brand loyalty. Until “new Coke,” customers didn’t know what they were missing. Suddenly, people realized that a soft drink actually meant something to them. Before the product reformulation, overall consumer preference and brand awareness were slipping. The firestorm surrounding “new Coke” was replaced by affection for Coca-Cola Classic, re-energizing the company. Coca-Cola now knows the power of their brand, which I’m betting is a marketing tool many companies wish they had.

Photo credit: DeusXFlorida