“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 their 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.