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The Blog and Pony Show

Schifino Lee - 12:59 pm April 23, 2010

4/23/85 A date that will live in branding infamy

Posted in Advertising, Branding, Misc Fun

Today is the 25th anniversary of the most spectacular failure in the history of brands. New Coke officially began its 77-day life span on April 23, 1985.

The truth is New Coke consistently beat old Coke and Pepsi in taste tests. It sold well and even recaptured brand share for the Atlanta-based beverage maker.

In response to the evolving taste of a population getting younger, Coca Cola decided to reblend its classic formula with high fructose corn syrup to produce a sweeter beverage.  Archrival Pepsi Cola was sweeter than Coke and consistently beat Coke in blind sip tests. Bill Cosby was able to claim for his employer that Coke was America’s preferred pop because blind taste tests of whole servings (not just sample sips) favored Coke. The back and forth claims of the bottling behemoths was dubbed the Cola Wars. As Pepsi was creeping up in market share, the heads of Coca Cola decided that a new cola able to beat all others in taste tests would assure the company’s continued dominance.

In other words, Coca Cola cried uncle. By creating the new flavor to replace the old, they as much as admitted that Pepsi was better.  Pepsi declared victory in the Cola Wars and sucked a lot of momentum out of the introduction.

The truth is New Coke consistently beat old Coke and Pepsi in taste tests. It sold well and even recaptured brand share for the Atlanta-based beverage maker.

Coke of course did extensive testing before the roll out and while they discovered overwhelming preference for the taste of the drink, they also discovered that a portion of loyal Coke imbibers—10-12%—said they would give up Coke completely rather than drink the new blend. When the traditional formula was replaced, this percentage of Coke drinkers became irate. It wasn’t the name they were loyal to, it was the pop, and they wanted it back.

Between the pressure from Pepsi, the revolt of the loyal and the continued media attention, Coca-Cola gave in and put the old formulation back into production as Coke Classic.

Now the momentum was back with Coke. People came flooding back to the great old drink. 1985 ended with Coca Cola firmly on top of the soft drink world where it has continued to be ever since.

Although the debacle made the company look stupid, it also humanized it. People fought a huge corporation and the people won. Whether or not it had a better product, Coca Cola definitely became the better brand.

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