• Rose Smith

The Marvelous, Nostalgic Failure of New Coke

Photo Source: PxHere

Coke is one of the most ubiquitous sodas in the world. In fact, according to Newsweek, Coca-Cola remains as the most popular soda in the United States. This iconic soda had barely changed its formula since its inception in 1886 (except for the time it got rid of cocaine from its formula.) (History). That is, except for its foray into “New Coke,” a widely remembered and infamous marketing flop.

In the 1980s, Pepsi and Coke were locked in a pitched battle over who was the superior cola (CBS News). While Coke was still holding on to the number one spot, Pepsi was gaining on it and was threatening to take more market share in the soda market. Coke began to brainstorm, and they came up with the idea to change the recipe after nearly a century (Time). The idea of the new soda was to give it a smoother, sweeter taste. They were trying to take the best of both worlds between diet coke and regular coke. On paper, this seemed like a home run. Market researchers and taste tests indicated that consumers had preferred the new formula to both regular Coke and Pepsi. On April 23rd, 1985, Coke officially announced that they were retiring the old recipe in favor of the new Coke recipe.

However, Coke did not receive the fanfare it was expecting. The backlash was both immediate and aggressive. According to surveys, only 13% of consumers liked the new Coke. Hotlines and petitions were being set up across the nation to bring the original Coke back on the shelves (CBS News). Old bottles of Coke were being hoarded and resold for vastly inflated prices (Britannica). The Coke corporation was receiving up to 8,000 calls a day full of angry customers who wanted to see Coke restored to its original recipe. After 77 days, the Coke Corporation relented, and on July 11th, 1985, Coke was brought back as Coca-Cola classic, and the new Coca-Cola was sold as New Coke. New Coke would be sold for a number of years, and in 1992, it would be renamed Coke II. However, the sales of Coke II remained quite small in comparison to its original drink, and it was eventually discontinued in 2002. New Coke did make a small surprise reappearance in 2019 as a promotional campaign related to the Netflix show Stranger Things, a show that was set in the 1980s (The New York Times).

New Coke is hailed as one of the biggest marketing flops of the 1900s. While the formula switch made sense at the time, New Coke was met with immense pushback. Marketers and executives had underestimated the sentimental attachment that people had to the original Coca-Cola. One might even wonder if it took the disappearance of Coke for people to realize how much they loved and missed the original recipe in the first place. Some have argued that this whole debacle actually strengthened Coke’s place as the number one cola in the long term, even leading some to theorize that this was Coke’s plan all along (Britannica). No matter what, New Coke remains a staple of marketing history 80s pop culture.

Rose Smith is the blog editor of Twenty-two Twenty-eight. When she isn’t writing about the world around her, she is often found listening to music, watching movies, and going on walks with her dogs.

You can find her on Instagram here and on Twitter here.