It was 25 years ago, April of 1985, that arguably the most revered name in American business and product merchandising made a monumental and embarrassing mistake.
The Coca-Cola Company had done its homework. Blind taste tests across the United States had validated the new formula and flavor. Tested not only against rival Pepsi but “old” Coca-Cola as well, New Coke was rated superior. So the company began an advertising blitz, introduced the new-fangled version of its lead product, and waited for the outcome with high hopes. What a disaster!
There was an initial sales jump brought about by the ad campaign and the customer curiosity it created. If it was so good, my wife and I wanted to taste it. Yuk! We didn’t like it. And we wondered aloud whether our dislike was of the new formula or just a reaction to the fact that something we had liked for so long was no longer what we expected from a product named Coca-Cola. I’m not sure we know the definitive answer for that question to this day.
Since Coca-Cola didn’t consult us about the matter, there must have been lots more people who had an immediate and strong distaste (pun intended) for New Coke. Little protest groups sprang up. Then the most significant thing of all happened: sales started dropping and the company’s bottom line was affected.
Faced with mounting public resistance, the Coca-Cola Company did the unthinkable. Company leaders admitted making a mistake. Its president went on national television to admit it. In less than three months after introducing the much-ballyhooed New Coke, Classic Coke was returned to the public.