“New Coke” almost spelt the end for the Coca-Cola empire in 1985. They changed the flavour of Coke and the American public were not having it!
In probably the worst marketing decision of the 20th century, Coca-Cola tinkered with the recipe they had stuck to for the previous 99 years. The result, New Coke, was alleged to be a hit in research markets, with less of an acidic bite and more of a sweet, syrupy flavour – more like Pepsi.
Coke was certain its refined taste would lead to a dramatic increase in the liquid-sugar market share. They were wrong. Fans revolted, stockpiling original Coke and selling it at a markup. Thousands of calls and letters flooded the company’s Atlanta headquarters. Company spokespeople tried damage control in the press, their flop sweat practically staining newspaper pages.
New Coke wasn’t a peripheral product, but a replacement for what would come to be known as “Classic” Coke, inciting a burst of negative feedback. Consumers had an emotional investment in the drink.
79 days after their initial announcement, Coca-Cola executives once again held a press conference on 11 July 1985 – this time to announce a mea culpa and the return of the original formula, which hardly had time to gather dust in its Atlanta bank vault, under the label “Coca-Cola Classic.”
“Our boss is the consumer,” Coca-Cola president Donald Keough said. “We want them to know we’re really sorry.” The news was so momentous that television networks broke into normal programming with special reports.