The Coca Cola Company is promoting a limited offering of 1985’s “New Coke” to coincide with the new
Netflix “Stranger Things” season set in the same year.
The mid 80’s was a time when Pepsi was gaining on Coke’s dominant market share in the soft drink
industry. For years, Pepsi had been tweaking its formula to improve customer acceptance and they had
begun to “win” blind taste comparisons with Coke. Pepsi had a sweeter taste and when consumers were
asked to choose, Coke drinkers were forced to acknowledge preference for the PepsiCo product.
Pepsi was engaging in an all-out “Take the Pepsi Challenge” campaign that included media promotions
and blind taste tests wherever people gathered in public; racing events, malls, fairs, etc. (Yes, people
used to gather at malls.) They sponsored a series of road races called the Pepsi Challenge where
thousands of runners would run alongside briefly, and then way behind, the likes of Bill Rodgers in capital
cities all across the land. Pepsi and water was offered at the finish line.
To casual observers, it seemed over hyped and overdone. Coke drinkers were Coke drinkers and Pepsi
drinkers were wrong. It seemed much ado about nothing and Pepsi would soon move on to another
campaign and Coke drinkers could simply hope that Coke would be offered more times than not and
when given a choice, Coke would always be an option.
But apparently the Suits in Atlanta were panicking. Behind the scenes they were secretly developing
formulae that would compete with the sweet fizzle taste of Pepsi. They were preparing to abandon one
of the most successful and beloved products in response to an ad campaign. They were clever about it
too. They employed their go to pitch man Bill Cosby to throw their rival off the trail with “Coke and a
Smile” Cosby telling us that Pepsi had too sweet a taste for a truly refreshing cola drink.
Then Bam! New Coke was launched. It was sweet, it competed with Pepsi in blind taste tests- and it was
awful. People hated it. In addition to the flavor change, many other features touted by loyalists were
lost as well. Numismatists claimed that the new formula didn’t offer the proper acidity to clean pennies,
users claimed medicinal features of the previous recipe were not present in the new concoction. Coke
had to hire additional telephone operators to handle the thousands of phone calls coming in to demand
the return of the classic flavor. It was a debacle.
Coke responded. Coca Cola Classic was launched as a separate brand alongside Coke II, until Coke II was
quietly pulled from the market at the dawn of the new millennia. (Removal of cocaine from its formula
heralded the dawn of the last millennia, but that’s for another post.) All was forgiven and Coke’s flagship
brand continues to outsell Pepsi.
I’m not sure if the move with Netflix helps Coke but if it does, look for IBM to bring back the PC Jr. or
maybe Ford will offer us a limited edition Edsel.
Just remember if you don’t buy the crap they sell you, they will quit producing it, unless you get
nostalgic.

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