Misunderstood: The Saga of New Coke Part II
Welcome to Part II of The Saga of New Coke. If you missed Part I, then just click here. When you are all caught up, then continue reading for the exciting second part of our story. Like last time, check out the classic soda commercials at the end of today’s installment.
On April 23, 1985 the Coca-Cola Company announced its intentions to introduce a brand new, reformulated Coca-Cola to the American public, dubbed Coke, and the systematic phasing out of the original formula. The new slogan was, “The Best Just Got Better”. What should have been a glorious day about Coke came up flat, so to speak. Coca-Cola CEO Robert Goizueta was ill-prepared for an event like Coke’s giant press conference and didn’t handle the media’s probing questions very well. When asked about New Coke’s flavor, he simply responded, “[It's] smoother, uh, uh, yet, uh, rounder yet, uh, bolder … it has a more harmonious flavor.” In reality, the formula change made original Coke taste more like Pepsi, and made it a true full-calorie version of Diet Coke. Due to Goizueta’s lack of poise, all who attended that press release left with much doubt about the prospects of Coke’s new flavor, which, not surprisingly, would affect the news stories written about New Coke in its first 30 days.
That New Coke was a complete failure from day one is the common misconception. By and large, people really liked the new formulation and continued buying Coke in their usual amounts. Where the discourse began was in the Southeast, where Coke was originally formulated and sold back in the late 1800s. People were reacting to the fact that Coke was changed, not to the bad taste of New Coke. Most of the protestors didn’t even drink soda, much less Coke; they just didn’t like the idea of Coke changing something that apparently meant something to them. The interesting thing is, if Coke, before the change, would have meant enough to these people to buy it, then the company wouldn’t have changed the formula in the first place. It’s your classic Catch-22. Due to the extremely vocal minority, it became “chic” to bash New Coke. Protestors were so vocal about not liking New Coke that anyone who did like the new formula would be scared to say so. These “coke crazies” as I call them, formed a group called Old Cola Drinkers of America which lobbied The Coca Cola Company to reintroduce the original formula. They even tried to levy a class action lawsuit against Coke (wha-huh?!) but the case was thrown out by a judge (sometimes the legal system works). People continued to be so outraged at the new formula that they were trying to obtain cases of original Coca-Cola from overseas as New Coke had not been introduced over there yet. The Coca-Cola Company was at a loss for the huge debacle they had created for themselves.
Despite the chaos in the Southeast, sales of New Coke everywhere else were doing very well…at first. After July, however, the sales starting leveling off. Coke executives were scared that peer pressure against New Coke was affecting the sales numbers. What to do? Well, naturally, they panicked and hastily set out to re-introduce the original formula of Coca-Cola. On July 10th, Peter Jennings broke into normal television to inform the world that Coke was bringing back the original flavor of Coke, now dubbed Coca-Cola Classic. The founders of Old Cola Drinkers of America were given the first cases.
At first, sales after the re-introduction of Coke Classic showed Pepsi gaining more market share, but by the end of the year, Coke Classic outsold New Coke and Pepsi. While Coke did reach number one again after re-introducing Coke Classic, recent research into sales that year have shown that the quiet introduction of Cherry Coke that same year was really the reason for Coke’s resurgence. Regardless, by the end of 1985, Coke was back on top of the cola wars.
More Fun cola commercials:
1. The classic I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke commercial on the mountaintop.
2. Local TV News story from 1985 about the release of New Coke.
3. Classic Pepsi commercial with Cindy Crawford.