Twenty-five years ago Friday, Coca-Cola executives stepped up to a podium and
told the world that the old Coke formula was being shelved in favor of
something called "New Coke." As the ads said, you were gonna love
The story of New Coke is still taught in business schools, and not in a good
way. Coca-Cola, anxious to fight off a challenge from Pepsi, had forgotten
its fans' deep psychological connection with the brand. It hadn't asked them
if they would mind if the 99-year-old Coke formula disappeared. The result
was perhaps the biggest marketing blunder of the century.
Within weeks, protests broke out, callers lodged thousands of calls to
Coca-Cola headquarters and shoppers poured New Coke down gutters. After
three months, the company acknowledged its mistake. It reintroduced the "classic"
formula, which remains the top-selling soda in the U.S. New Coke lingered on
through the late 1990s, but the world had passed it by.
Starting this week, Coca-Cola plans to add to its commemoration of the New
Coke episode. Visitors to the World of Coca-Cola in downtown Atlanta can see
a confidential document in which Coca-Cola's marketing research team says
the new formula got high scores in taste tests -- proof that Coke should
strike fast. There's a copy of remarks by then-Chairman Roberto Goizueta,
who marked up the speech the night before New Coke's debut. And there's a
lawsuit from riled fans of "Old Coke."
"That goes to the point of how seriously people felt about this brand,"
said Phil Mooney, Coca-Cola's chief historian. "The story is about a
company that sort of slipped a bit, but recovered quickly. We've learned to
listen more closely to our consumers since then. Hopefully, the legacy of
that has made us sharper and more responsive."
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