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If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
The time-tested adage appears to be the lesson from Coca-Cola’s disastrous introduction of “New Coke." Except in 1985, Coca-Cola indeed thought its signature brand was broken.
Although Coca-Cola remained the world’s best-selling soft drink, rival Pepsi-Cola continued to gain market share in the 1970s and early 1980s, thanks in part to its aggressive “Pepsi Challenge” campaign in which consumers taking blind taste tests were surprised to learn they preferred the flavor of Pepsi. To the shock of Coca-Cola, internal taste tests yielded the same results. Company executives grew convinced that its soda’s taste—not its rival’s advertisements targeting the “Pepsi Generation”—was the reason for its declining market share.
Since its introduction in 1886, Coca-Cola’s secret recipe had been tweaked several times—such as when changing sweeteners from cane sugar to beet sugar to corn syrup—but its taste had remained constant. While the company was developing the unique formula for Diet Coke, which was introduced in 1982, it found in top-secret taste tests that a sweeter version of the concoction beat not only Pepsi, but the classic version of Coke. Executives decided to make a risky change.
READ MORE: How the ‘Blood Feud’ Between Coke and Pepsi Escalated During the 1980s Cola Wars
Coca-Cola bets everything on New Coke
On April 23, 1985, Coca-Cola Company chairman and CEO Roberto Goizueta stepped before the press gathered at New York City’s Lincoln Center to introduce the new formula, which he declared to be “smoother, rounder, yet bolder—a more harmonious flavor.” The press, however, said what Goizueta couldn’t admit: New Coke tasted sweeter and more like Pepsi.
Had it been an opera, the Lincoln Center performance would have been a tragedy to devoted fans of Coke’s original formula. Rather than divide its market share between two sugar sodas, Coca-Cola discontinued its 99-year classic recipe and locked Formula 7x away in an Atlanta bank vault with the intention that it never again see the light of day.
“Some may choose to call this the boldest single marketing move in the history of the packaged-goods business,” Goizueta said. “We simply call it the surest move ever made.” Coca-Cola president Donald Keough echoed the certainty: “I’ve never been as confident about a decision as I am about the one we’re announcing today.”
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New Coke falls flat
While Goizueta and Keough toasted each other with cans of New Coke, the news was already beginning to fall flat. On the New York Stock Exchange, shares of Coca-Cola dropped, while those of its rival rose. Pepsi gave its employees the day off and declared victory in full-page newspaper advertisements that boasted, ‘‘After 87 years of going at it eyeball to eyeball, the other guy just blinked.’’
New Coke left a bitter taste in the mouths of the company’s loyal customers. Within weeks of the announcement, the company was fielding 5,000 angry phone calls a day. By June, that number grew to 8,000 calls a day, a volume that forced the company to hire extra operators. “I don’t think I’d be more upset if you were to burn the flag in our front yard,” one disgruntled drinker wrote to company headquarters. At protests staged by grassroots groups such as “Old Cola Drinkers of America,” consumers poured the contents of New Coke bottles into sewer drains. One Seattle consumer even filed suit against the company to force it to provide the old drink.
The outrage caught Coca-Cola executives by surprise. They had hardly made a rash decision unsupported by data. After all, they had performed 190,000 blind taste tests on U.S. and Canadian consumers. The problem, though, is that the company had underestimated loyal drinkers’ emotional attachments to the brand. Never did its market research testers ask subjects how they would feel if the new formula replaced the old one.
READ MORE: How McDonald's Beat Its Early Competition and Became a Fast Food Icon
Coca-Cola Classic returns
Seventy-nine days after their initial announcement, Coca-Cola executives once again held a press conference on July 11, 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,” 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.
Coca-Cola Classic quickly outsold New Coke and within a few months had returned to its position as the top-selling sugar cola, ahead of Pepsi. The company rebranded the new formula “Coke II” in 1990 before it was eventually abandoned in 2002. In spite of the blowback, Coca-Cola emerged from the fiasco with its market position actually strengthened as consumers rediscovered their attachment to the iconic brand. (Moreover, in 2019, Coca-Cola actually re-released a very limited run of New Coke.)
“The simple fact is that all the time and money and skill poured into consumer research on the new Coca-Cola could not measure or reveal the deep and abiding emotional attachment to original Coca-Cola felt by so many people,” Keough admitted. The blunder was so colossal that some thought it must have been an intentional marketing gimmick. “Some cynics say that we planned the whole thing,” Keough said. “The truth is we’re not that dumb and we’re not that smart.”
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In April 1985, the Coca-Cola Company introduced a new formula for its Coca-Cola soda, known informally as New Coke. It was renamed Coke II in 1992,  and was discontinued in July 2002.
|Manufacturer||The Coca-Cola Company|
|Country of origin||U.S.|
|Introduced||April 23, 1985|
May 23, 2019 (limited re-release)
|Discontinued||July 10, 2002 (original run)|
By 1985, Coca-Cola had been losing market share to diet soft drinks and non-cola beverages for several years. Blind taste tests indicated that consumers seemed to prefer the sweeter taste of rival Pepsi-Cola, and so the Coca-Cola recipe was reformulated. The American public reacted negatively, and New Coke was considered a major failure.
The company reintroduced the original Coke formula within three months, rebranded "Coca-Cola Classic", resulting in a significant sales boost this led to speculation that the New Coke formula had been a marketing ploy to stimulate sales of the original Coca-Cola, which the company has denied.  The story of New Coke remains influential as a cautionary tale against tampering with a well-established and successful brand.
Coca Cola Brand Failure
Think of a brand success story, and you may well think of Coca-Cola. Indeed, with nearly 1 billion Coca-Cola drinks sold every single day, it is the world’s most recognized brand.
Yet in 1985 the Coca-Cola Company decided to terminate its most popular soft drink and replace it with a formula it would market as New Coke. New coke was a Coca cola brand failure story. To understand why this potentially disastrous decision was made, it is necessary to appreciate what was happening in the soft drinks marketplace. In particular, we must take a closer look at the growing competition between Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola in the years and even decades prior to the launch of New Coke.
The relationship between the arch-rivals had not been a healthy one. Although marketing experts have believed for a long time that the competition between the two companies had made consumers more cola-conscious, the firms themselves rarely saw it like that. Indeed, the Coca-Cola company had even fought Pepsi-Cola in a legal battle over the use of the word ‘cola’ in its name, and lost.
Outside the courts though, Coca-Cola had always been ahead. Shortly after World War II, Time magazine was already celebrating Coke’s ‘peaceful near-conquest of the world.’ In the late 1950s, Coke outsold Pepsi by a ratio of more than five to one. However, during the next decade Pepsi repositioned itself as a youth brand.
This strategy was a risky one as it meant sacrificing its older customers to Coca-Cola, but ultimately it proved successful. By narrowing its focus, Pepsi was able to position its brand against the old and classic image of its competitor. As it became increasingly seen as ‘the drink of youth’ Pepsi managed to narrow the gap.
In the 1970s, Coke’s chief rival raised the stakes even further by introducing the Pepsi Challenge — testing consumers blind on the difference between its own brand and ‘the real thing’. To the horror of Coca-Cola’s longstanding company president, Robert Woodruff, most of those who participated preferred Pepsi’s sweeter formula.
In the 1980s Pepsi continued its offensive, taking the Pepsi Challenge around the globe and heralding the arrival of the ‘Pepsi Generation’. It also signed up celebrities likely to appeal to its target market such as Don Johnson and Michael Jackson (this tactic has survived into the new millennium, with figures like Britney Spears and Robbie Williams providing more recent endorsements).
By the time Roberto Goizueta became chairman in 1981, Coke’s number one status was starting to look vulnerable. It was losing market share not only to Pepsi but also to some of the drinks produced by the Coca-Cola company itself, such as Fanta and Sprite. In particular the runaway success of Diet Coke was a double-edged sword, as it helped to shrink the sugar cola market. In 1983, the year Diet Coke moved into the number three position behind standard Coke and Pepsi, Coke’s market share had slipped to an all-time low of just under 24 per cent.
Something clearly had to be done to secure Coke’s supremacy. Goizueta’s first response to the ‘Pepsi Challenge’ phenomenon was to launch an advertising campaign in 1984, praising Coke for being less sweet than Pepsi. The television ads were fronted by Bill Cosby, at that time one of the most familiar faces on the planet, and clearly someone who was too old to be part of the Pepsi Generation.
The impact of such efforts to set Coca-Cola apart from its rival was limited. Coke’s share of the market remained the same while Pepsi was catching up. Another worry was that when shoppers had the choice, such as in their local supermarket, they tended to plump for Pepsi. It was only Coke’s more effective distribution which kept it ahead. For instance, there were still considerably more vending machines selling Coke than Pepsi.
Even so, there was no getting away from the fact that despite the proliferation of soft drink brands, Pepsi was winning new customers. Having already lost on taste, the last thing Coca-Cola could afford was to lose its number one status.
The problem, as Coca-Cola perceived it, came down to the product itself. As the Pepsi Challenge had highlighted millions of times over, Coke could always be defeated when it came down to taste. This seemed to be confirmed by the success of Diet Coke which was closer to Pepsi in terms of flavour.
So in what must have been seen as a logical step, Coca-Cola started working on a new formula. A year later they had arrived at New Coke. Having produced its new formula, the Atlanta-based company conducted 200,000 taste tests to see how it fared. The results were overwhelming. Not only did it taste better than the original, but people preferred it to Pepsi-Cola as well.
However, if Coca-Cola was to stay ahead of Pepsi-Cola it couldn’t have two directly competing products on the shelves at the same time. It therefore decided to scrap the original Coca-Cola and introduced New Coke in its place.
The trouble was that the Coca-Cola company had severely underestimated the power of its first brand. As soon as the decision was announced, a large percentage of the US population immediately decided to boycott the new product. On 23 April 1985 New Coke was introduced and a few days later the production of original Coke was stopped. This joint decision has since been referred to as ‘the biggest marketing blunder of all time’. Sales of New Coke were low and public outrage was high at the fact that the original was no longer available.
It soon became clear that Coca-Cola had little choice but to bring back its original brand and formula. ‘We have heard you,’ said Goizueta at a press conference on 11 July 1985. He then left it to the company’s chief operating officer Donald Keough to announce the return of the product.
The simple fact is that all the time and money and skill poured into consumer research on the new Coca-Cola could not measure or reveal the deep and abiding emotional attachment to original Coca-Cola felt by so many people. The passion for original Coca-Cola — and that is the word for it, passion — was something that caught us by surprise. It is a wonderful American mystery, a lovely American enigma, and you cannot measure it any more than you can measure love, pride or patriotism.
In other words, Coca-Cola had learnt that marketing is about much more than the product itself. The majority of the tests had been carried out blind, and therefore taste was the only factor under assessment. The company had finally taken Pepsi’s bait and, in doing so, conceded its key brand asset: originality.
When Coca-Cola was launched in the 1880s it was the only product in the market. As such, it invented a new category and the brand name became the name of the product itself. Throughout most of the last century, Coca-Cola capitalized on its ‘original’ status in various advertising campaigns. In 1942, magazine adverts appeared across the United States declaring: ‘The only thing like Coca-Cola is Coca-Cola itself. It’s the real thing.’
By launching New Coke, Coca-Cola was therefore contradicting its previous marketing efforts. Its central product hadn’t been called new since the very first advert appeared in the Atlanta Journal in 1886, billing Coca-Cola as ‘The New Pop Soda Fountain Drink, containing the properties of the wonderful Coca-plant and the famous Cola nuts.’
In 1985, a century after the product launched, the last word people associated with Coca-Cola was ‘new’. This was the company with more allusions to US heritage than any other. Fifty years previously, the Pulitzer Prize winning editor of a Kansas newspaper, William Allen White had referred to the soft drink as the ‘sublimated essence of all America stands for — a decent thing, honestly made, universally distributed, conscientiously improved with the years.’ Coca-Cola had even been involved with the history of US space travel, famously greeting Apollo astronauts with a sign reading ‘Welcome back to earth, home of Coca-Cola.’
To confine the brand’s significance to a question of taste was therefore completely misguided. As with many big brands, the representation was more significant than the thing represented, and if any soft drink represented ‘new’ it was Pepsi, not Coca-Cola (even though Pepsi is a mere decade younger).
If you tell the world you have the ‘real thing’ you cannot then come up with a ‘new real thing’. To borrow the comparison of marketing guru Al Ries it’s ‘like introducing a New God’. This contradictory marketing message was accentuated by the fact that, since 1982, Coke’s strap line had been ‘Coke is it’. Now it was telling consumers that they had got it wrong, as if they had discovered Coke wasn’t it, but rather New Coke was instead.
So despite the tremendous amount of hype which surrounded the launch of New Coke (one estimate puts the value of New Coke’s free publicity at over US $10 million), it was destined to fail. Although Coca-Cola’s market researchers knew enough about branding to understand that consumers would go with their brand preference if the taste tests weren’t blind, they failed to make the connection that these brand preferences would still exist once the product was launched.
Pepsi was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the first to recognize Coca-Cola’s mistake. Within weeks of the launch, it ran a TV ad with an old man sitting on a park bench, staring at the can in his hand. ‘They changed my Coke,’ he said, clearly distressed. ‘I can’t believe it.’
However, when Coca-Cola relaunched its original coke, redubbed ‘Classic Coke’ for the US market, the media interest swung back in the brand’s favour. It was considered a significant enough event to warrant a newsflash on ABC News and other US networks. Within months Coke had returned to the number one spot and New Coke had all but faded away.
Ironically, through the brand failure of New Coke loyalty to ‘the real thing’ intensified. In fact, certain conspiracy theorists have even gone so far as to say the whole thing had been planned as a deliberate marketing ploy to reaffirm public affection for Coca-Cola. After all, what better way to make someone appreciate the value of your global brand than to withdraw it completely?
Of course, Coca-Cola has denied that this was the company’s intention. ‘Some critics will say Coca-Cola made a marketing mistake, some cynics will say that we planned the whole thing,’ said Donald Keough at the time. ‘The truth is we are not that dumb, and we are not that smart.’ But viewed in the context of its competition with Pepsi, the decision to launch New Coke was understandable. For years, Pepsi’s key weapon had been the taste of its product. By launching New Coke, the Coca-Cola company clearly hoped to weaken its main rival’s marketing offensive.
So what was Pepsi’s verdict on the whole episode? In his book, The Other Guy Blinked, Pepsi’s CEO Roger Enrico believes the error of New Coke proved to be a valuable lesson for Coca-Cola. ‘I think, by the end of their nightmare, they figured out who they really are. Caretakers. They can’t change the taste of their flagship brand. They can’t change its imagery. All they can do is defend the heritage they nearly abandoned in 1985.’
The 80s cant be wrong . New Coke. Photograph: Coca-Cola
The big one. The mother of all big ones.
On 23 April 1985, in response to worrying market gains by Pepsi, Coca-Cola announced that its famous product, “the real thing”, with its revered secret formula, had been changed in the US and Canada into something “New!” The company did not call this sweeter drink “New Coke”, but everybody else did, and pretty soon it was clear they resented it, especially in the southern US. Within three months, Coca-Cola had reversed all its fanfare and reintroduced the old drink as Coca-Cola Classic. New Coke became Coke II, which lingered in parts of the US until 2002, when it was stopped entirely.
Coke drinkers were furious.
As Goizueta and Keough celebrated and toasted each other with their New Coke in hand, Coca-Cola’s shares were dropping as PepsiCo’s rose. Coca-Cola was getting angry calls and letters by the thousands, at one point fielding 8,000 phone calls a day.
“I don’t think I’d be more upset if you were to burn the flag in our front yard,” one disgruntled drinker wrote to company headquarters.” At protests staged by grassroots groups such as “Old Cola Drinkers of America,” consumers poured the contents of New Coke bottles into sewer drains. One Seattle consumer even filed suit against the company to force it to provide the old drink.”
Why Coca-Cola’s “New Coke” was one of the biggest marketing mistakes in history
In the 1980s, the “Cola Wars” was at its peak. Coca-Cola held its dominance as the desirable soda, but Pepsi was making an upward climb in competition. At the height of the war, Coca-Cola made what became known as one of the biggest marketing mistakes to take place.
The Pepsi Challenge, introduced in 1975, invited consumers to conduct blind taste tests between Coke and Pepsi. The tests surprisingly showed that a significant amount of people preferred Pepsi over Coke because of Pepsi’s sweeter taste. In years to follow, Coca-Cola lost market share to Pepsi, causing the company to make a decision that caused an uproar of backlash.
Coca-Cola introduced “New Coke” in 1985 in hopes of giving their product the sweeter taste consumers enjoyed from Pepsi. Though this marketing campaign was meant to direct attention away from Pepsi and back to Coke, it ended up causing controversy. Coke fans were furious, which Pepsi took as an opportunity to increase their sales. The riddance of the original Coke was short-lasting, and its return was welcomed three months later under the name of “Coca-Cola Classic.” The company still hoped that “New Coke” would eventually overpower the original recipe, but it never did. It continued being sold, to no advantage, until its discontinuance in 2002.
So what were the mistakes Coca-Cola made?
For one, in efforts to maintain its dominance, Coca-Cola lost sight of what its product stood for. In its earliest years and throughout its entirety, Coke represented the traditions of the older generations and symbolized friendship and unity. Pepsi, on the other hand, appealed to the younger generation and kept in movement with the fast-paced change youth encouraged. When Coca-Cola came out with “New Coke,” it was a marketing strategy hoped to capture the hearts of the younger generations in the way Pepsi did. In doing this, Coca-Cola forgot their initial and most loyal consumers, which were those from the older generations.
For two, while Coca-Cola compared their new product to Pepsi, they never compared it to the original recipe. If consumers were presented with an opportunity to do a taste test between the original Coke and the “New Coke,” the preferences may have been very different. Having that input would have given Coca-Cola a clearer perspective of what their consumers actually wanted.
Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wisconsin) July 12, 1985
The top three officials of Coca-Cola Co. said Thursday that they are bringing back the recipe that made Coke the world&rsquos most popular soft drink because they &ldquoclearly misread&rdquo the public&rsquos attachment to it.
They denied that the return of the old formula was prompted by a failure of the 11-week-old new formula or that the return of Coca-Cola Classic was planned all along.
&ldquoWe&rsquore not that dumb, and we&rsquore not that smart,&rdquo Donald Keough, president of Coca-Cola Co., said at the company headquarters with Chairman Roberto C. Goizueta and Coca-Cola USA President Brian Dyson. Around the country, people who bottle and distribute Coke greeted the old formula with a relief, disagreement and cynicism.
&ldquoWe&rsquove had quite a lot of concern, a lot of calls at the plant,&rdquo said John Kayajan, president of the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Cape Cod, Mass. But Kayajan and other Massachusetts bottlers said the new Coke surpassed the old Coke&rsquos popularity in the state, and Kayajan predicted: Goizueta sips an old Coke.
&ldquoThe new will prevail here.&rdquo
&ldquoI think it&rsquos all a publicity stunt on the part of the company,&rdquo said Mike Bruzzio, who checks shipments at the bottling plant in Newark, NJ. &ldquoThey got all that publicity and made the people go cuckoo for Coke.&rdquo
&ldquoIf you want to know the truth, I think they were going to do this from the beginning,&rdquo said Bill Roth, Coke&rsquos district sales manager in Newark. The old formula for Coke, which remained fundamentally unchanged for 99 years, was replaced in April with a taste the company said was &ldquosmoother, bolder and rounder.&rdquo
But cola drinkers rebelled. Groups formed to lobby for the return of the old formula, and Coke received thousands of telephone calls and letters.
On Monday, Coke&rsquos leaders decided to market the old formula again, and the decision was announced Wednesday.
&ldquoOur company attained the position it enjoys by watching consumers, listening to consumers and giving consumers what they want,&rdquo Goizueta said.
Dyson said the best product the company can make will continue to be sold under the Coca-Cola label. Coke Classic &mdash like diet Coke, Cherry Coke, caffeine-free Diet Coke and caffeine-free Coke &mdash will be a product extension.
OK Soda launched in 1993 and was completely gone by 1995. In fact, the drink failed so quickly that it never went completely national, and Coca-Cola decided to cancel the whole project just seven months after its release.
It was backed by an unconventional marketing campaign that tried to be wholly transparent, ignoring the taste of the drink, and purely promoted the "feeling."
Fans stayed with OK Soda after it was discontinued. Various internet communities kept OK Soda going, and people collected a lot of the brand's advertising and other assorted paraphernalia associated with it.
What Was Pepsi’s Response During All This?
They obviously loved all this and took advantage of the situation. They would point out in ads that Coke had dropped that ball and new Pepsi drinkers understood why they had made the right choice by avoiding New Coke. The funny thing is that Pepsi actually didn’t pick up that much of the new market. The understanding was that people were more upset by the withdrawal of the old formula than the taste of the new. It really wasn’t the taste that was the issue in this whole debacle as people generally liked it. It all comes back to the nostalgia factor and taking away something that has had a mainstay in a persons life. Nothing makes people panic more than getting used to something and then having it taken away.
years ago today, Coca-Cola made its worst mistake
This feature, The Way It Was, resurfaces and explores past stories from the CBS News archives. If there's a topic you'd like to see, leave a suggestion in the comments section or send us a tweet at @CBSEveningNews.
When an athlete is great, he or she is called the Michael Jordan of his or her sport. When a new product launch is a disaster, it is called the "New Coke" of its industry.
That negative association emerged 30 years ago Thursday, on April 23, 1985, when Coca-Cola Company announced a change to its nearly century-old secret formula. The new Coke would have a smoother, sweeter taste -- similar to Diet Coke, but sweetened with corn syrup. Market researchers and pollsters were sure it'd be a hit.
"This has got to be the boldest consumer products move of any kind of any stripe since Eve started to hand out apples," said Jesse Meyers, publisher of Beverage Digest, in 1985.
"I believe it'll do for brand Coca-Cola what Diet Coca-Cola did for the diet market," added Coca-Cola bottler Bobby Pidgeon.
Coca-Cola was number one at the time, but Pepsi was gaining ground and cutting into Coke's precious market share. In the fierce cola wars of the 80s, new Coke was no shot across the bow. It was meant to be a direct hit.
"These two products, Pepsi and Coke, have been going at it eyeball to eyeball, and in my view the other guy just blinked," said former PepsiCo CEO Roger Enrico in 1985.
The Way It Was
Blinked Coke did, and in that moment it was blind to what was about to happen.
"I think the new Coke is too sweet, I like the old Coke better," said a woman.
A poll showed that only 13 percent of soda drinkers liked the new Coke. The pop was a bust of epic proportions. Pepsi took full advantage by launching a commercial featuring a girl who asked: "Somebody out there tell me why Coke did it? Why did Coke change?"
Fans weren't upset -- they were angry. So passionate were Coke drinkers that they launched grassroots campaigns across the country to force Coca-Cola to bring back the original Coke.
"It was the people against the corporation -- only in America," reported CBS News' Bob Simon in 1985. "Coke said it was committed, so were the people. In California they collected signatures, in Seattle they set up a hotline."
One protest group in particular gained national attention. The "Old Cola Drinkers of America," headed by Gay Mullins, was relentless in its pursuit to have the original Coke return. They set up petitions, provided pins with new Coke crossed out, and spoke to the media about their mission.
Gay Mullins, president of the Old Cola Drinkers of America, holds a six-pack of the original formula Coke which is being brought back to the market as Coca-Cola Classic, in Bellevue, Wash., July 24, 1985. Mullins was promised the first delivery by the company. AP
Eventually the pressure from the fans and the press became too much. Coca-Cola showed signs of cracking when it launched a commercial featuring Donald Keough, the longtime president of the Coca-Cola Company in 1985.
"We're bringing it back, the original taste of Coca-Cola returns as Coca-Cola Classic and soon America will have a real choice: the new taste of Coke or the original taste of Coca-Cola Classic," said Donald Keough, Pres. Coca-Cola Company.
"Well I think we've won," said Gay Mullins. "I think the Coca-Cola Company, if in fact they start producing the old Cola, we've won."
Donald Keough, the former president of the Coca-Cola Company, announces the return of old Coke during a press conference on July 11, 1985 CBS News
The victory was made official on July 11, 1985 when Coca-Cola held a press conference to officially announce the return of the old Coke - and to admit it had made a mistake.
"The simple fact is that all of the time and money and skill poured into consumer research on a new Coca-Cola could not measure or reveal the depth and abiding emotional attachment to original Coca-Cola felt by so many people," said Keough.
For the record, the drink wasn't actually called "New Coke," it was Coke with the word "new" on the can but the product took on the name with the public. Eventually the soft drink fizzled out.
Its legacy is one of mockery, often appearing atop lists of "Epic, Embarrassing Product Failures." But the truth is the 77-day fiasco that followed the launch may very well have been a blessing in disguise, perhaps even a good mistake. It taught Coca-Cola a valuable lesson that the company continues to draw from.
A Coca-Cola spokesperson told CBS News this week:
"Thirty years ago, we introduced New Coke with no shortage of hype and fanfare. And it did succeed in shaking up the market. But not in the way it was intended. When we look back, this was the pivotal moment when we learned that fiercely loyal consumers -- not the Company -- own Coca-Cola and all of our brands. It is a lesson that we take seriously and one that becomes clearer and more obvious with each passing anniversary."
Why was White Coke so controversial?
According to Atlas Obscura, Zhukov was not only the most decorated Russian general officer in history he was also a massive fan of Coke.
After World War II, General Dwight D. Eisenhower gifted Zhukov the drink in Germany. Zhukov loved it immediately, and he wanted more of it! What was the issue? Why did his love for the soft drink have to be kept such a big secret? To put it simply, Coca-Cola was seen by the USSR — and people all around the world — as a symbol of American patriotism. To drink Coke was to love and honor everything Americana. So, he came up with a clever workaround.
According to Thrillist, Zhukov eagerly contacted President Harry Truman to get his Coke fix. He requested a clear version of the drink so that it resembled vodka, a widely popular spirit in Russia. Truman then got in touch with James Farley, the chairman of the Board of the Coca-Cola Export Corporation. The company successfully satisfied Zhukov's craving. Coke chemists concocted an innovative, one-of-a-kind recipe by removing the caramel color but retaining the classic cola flavor. To further disguise the beverage, it was shipped in straight bottles adorned with the Soviet Union red star.
Behold! White Coke — perhaps the strangest limited edition product the soft drink giant has ever created. And talk about the impeccable timing of this scheme . Coca-Cola didn't officially arrive in the Soviet Union until 1985. Zhukov had died 11 years prior (via Mental Floss).