On This Day

new coke, new coke unveiling
Associated Press
Coca-Cola executives Robert C. Goizueta and Donald R. Keough toast with cans of New Coke at the beverage’s unveiling, April 23, 1985.

On This Day: Coca-Cola Releases “New Coke”

April 23, 2011 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On April 23, 1985, Coca Cola took aim at Pepsi by switching to a sweeter formula, but public outcry brought traditional “Classic Coke” back within three months.

Marketing Debacle Revives Coke’s Popularity

The competition bewteen Coca-Cola and rival Pepsi intensified in the 1980s, after Pepsi unleashed its signature advertising campaign: blind taste tests in which participants said they preferred Pepsi to Coke.

Since the early 1970s, Pepsi’s market share had grown, while Coke’s inched downward. “Coke had image and substance problems,” write Michael Bastedo and Angela Davis. “Which was the easier problem to solve? Image. How did Coke solve it? By working on substance.”

Coca-Cola embarked on its own taste tests to develop a more crowd-pleasing formula, conducting them with the “secrecy of a military operation,” according to MSNBC.

In blind tests involving 200,000 people, 55 percent of the consumers preferred the taste of a revamped, sweeter formula, later marketed as “New Coke,” over that of regular Coke. The company decided to completely replace traditional Coca-Cola with New Coke to avoid dividing Coke’s soda market any further.

But the public rebellion was overwhelming. “Fiddling with the formula for the 99-year-old beverage was an affront to patriotic pride and perhaps more,” Time says.

By July 10, the company gave in, bringing back old Coke under the title of “Classic Coke.” Ironically, the massive marketing flop revived public loyalty to traditional Coca-Cola, sparking an upsurge in sales and bringing Coke back to supremacy over Pepsi. Coca-Cola quietly changed the name of New Coke to Coke II in 1990, and the drink is all but nonexistent today.

“In many ways, the Great Coke Debate revealed something about the current state of the American psyche,” writes Time. “In a world of ceaseless change, people cling desperately to the known and the given.”

Analysis: Marketing Debacle or Ingenious Plan?

Snopes says the claim that Coca-Cola introduced New Coke to “rekindle interest in the original drink” is false. “We defend our icons, and Coca-Cola is as American an icon as there’s ever been,” Barbara Mikkelson writes in Snopes.

Another rumor holds that Coke used New Coke so it could change the recipe of the original Coke from cane sugar to high fructose corn syrup without anyone realizing the difference. But Snopes says Coke did not replace cane sugar to change the taste, but because it was cheaper. People were drinking Coca-Cola with high fructose corn syrup before New Coke came out; they were just unaware.

Reference: History of Coca-Cola

The Coca-Cola Company Web site presents the 125-year history of the drink, created in 1886 by John Stith Pemberton, an Atlanta pharmacist who produced the syrup, mixed it with carbonated water and sold it for five cents a glass.

The blog Coca Cola Ads provides a number of links to YouTube videos of old Coca Cola advertisements, as well as photos from ad campaigns.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines