An iconic American company infuriated even the most loyal of its customers 30 years ago — all in the name of cost-cutting.
Coca-Cola announced on April 23, 1985 that it would discontinue its beloved Coca-Cola in favour of a new product that millions derisively called “New Coke.” The experiment did not last very long.
New Coke was a disaster from the start.
It came across to many as an irrational reaction to the surge in sales of Pepsi-Cola.
Pepsi was enjoying popularity after successful marketing campaigns such as the “taste test challenge” and “Choice of a New Generation” featuring stars like singer Michael Jackson.
Coca-Cola was 99-years-old at the time. The company told the media it was adjusting its formula for modern tastebuds. New Coke beat Pepsi in a battery of taste tests, executives insisted.
Author Constance L. Hays who wrote “The Real Thing: Truth and Power at the Coca-Cola Company,” found what may have been the real motivation behind the change.
“The new formula would save Coke about $US50 million per year because it cut back on some of the most costly ingredients,” a group of Pepsi chemists told Hays. “Coke turned its back on the very thing that made it great.”
New Coke was sweeter and lighter, according to a Time magazine review written by food critic Mimi Sheraton.
“New Coke seems to retain the essential character of the original version … It tastes a little like classic Coca-Cola that has been diluted by melting ice,” Sheraton explained.
Late night host David Letterman joked: “Coke’s decided to make their formula sweeter, they’re going to mix it with Pepsi.”
Coke drinkers formed various groups in protest. They called Coca-Cola and sent letters.
“Coke drinkers rose up in righteous indignation, demanding their old soft drink back,” author Hays wrote in her book, which many consider to be the authoritative account of the Coke II/New Coke debacle.
The company to brought back the original Coke less than three months later. News of the about-face came from ABC anchor Peter Jennings, who interrupted the long-running daytime soap opera “General Hospital” to break the story.
Original Coke was called Coca-Cola Classic while New Coke kicked around in various forms, including Coke II, until it was ultimately killed off in 2002.
Coca-Cola’s mistake is still taught in business schools around the country.
Anyone looking to relive it can find it for sale on eBay.
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