New Coke vs. Coca-Cola Classic: 30 Years Later

Author: Karla Fletcher | March 4, 2016

If there is one thing we know, it’s following the adage: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If there is no evidence of a real problem, don’t create a problem that isn’t there, just to fix it.  In the early 1980’s, the Coca-Cola/Pepsi rivalry reached an all-time high when a blind taste test revealed consumers preferred the sweeter taste of Pepsi to the crisp, refreshing taste of Coca-Cola.  In efforts to combat their worst fears of losing a large demographic, Coca-Cola executives and directors decided to change what some consider the largest institution in soft drinks.

On April 23, 1985, Coca-Cola introduced the all-new reformulated recipe, New Coke, which was the first change to the recipe in its 99-year history.  With a sweeter taste, Coca-Cola was prepared to go toe-to-toe with its rival, Pepsi. Millions upon millions of advertising dollars were poured into marketing this “revolutionary” soft drink. New Coke popped up on the shelves of grocery stores and corner markets across America.

Then the unexpected happened.

An unforeseen backlash took place. Loyal Coca-Cola customers revolted against the new product. Customers formed grassroots campaigns, started phone hotlines, wrote Coca-Cola executives, and created petitions in efforts to have Coke return to its original recipe. A poll revealed that only 13% of soda drinkers liked New Coke as opposed to 59% who liked the original recipe. In July of 1985, Coca-Cola president Donald Keough released a statement saying they were bringing back the original taste of Coca-Cola, now as Coca-Cola Classic. “The simple fact is, that all of the time, and money, and skill poured into consumer research on the new Coca-Cola could not measure or reveal the depth and abiding emotional attachment to original Coca-Cola felt by so many people.”

Now, 30 years later, Coca-Cola still carries the logo and taste with them, understanding the value in keeping their timeless and classic recipe, just that, classic. As marketers, we can dwell and focus on statistical research; however, we cannot neglect the voice of the consumer. Coca-Cola is an institution for many, which is important as our world continues to move at the speed of light. There are times when we have to “rebrand”, “refocus”, or “re-invent” ourselves and our clients. However, Coca-Cola proves that when it comes to classics, it’s better to leave well enough alone.

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