Taking risks is a big part of winning the hearts of consumers, and even brands as big as Coke have to take risks every now and then. Sometimes the risk pays off, other times, it doesn’t. Let’s take a look at what happened in April 23, 1985, when Coca-Cola decided to take a huge risk when it introduced the “New Coke” formula.
The 1980s posed several challenges for Coca-Cola Company. For the last 15 years, the shares of its flagship product were slowly slipping. The market was lethargic, consumer preference was dipping, and consumer awareness was in danger. In other words, all the panic buttons were being pushed.
Coca-Cola responded to this challenge by introducing a “New Coke,” a formula that resulted from taste tests of around 200,000 customers. This was a very risky move, considering that the classic formula for the world’s most popular soft drink has by that time existed for 99 years. They wanted to make sure that it was a formula that customers preferred over the original Coke and even over its biggest competitor, and they had blind taste tests to prove it.
On paper, it seemed fine. But the consumer outcry that followed was one that Coca-Cola Company never expected, and it will definitely forever live in Marketing infamy.
Once the “New Coke” was introduced, calls and complaints flooded Coca-Cola Company’s consumer hotline. Protest groups popped up and songs were written. Consumers not only sent thousands of letters to make their voices heard, they also panicked and filled their basements and homes with the original Coke. They didn’t know what on Earth Coca-Cola was thinking, but they did know that parting with their favorite Coke was NOT an option.
The consumers’ emotional attachment to the original formula is something that Coca-Cola underestimated, because while the taste of the “New Coke” is probably better, it’s no longer just about taste. Coke is more than just a soda. For 99 years, it has managed to make its way to the hearts of its consumers, and this familiarity and even nostalgia is something you shouldn’t mess with.
Marketing Blunder Or A Stroke of Genius?
Three months later, Coca-Cola brought back the classic Coke alongside the new one, selling them with separate Marketing campaigns. Consumers were not only relieved, they showed their support and love for the classic. Sales surged, and the dominance and leadership of Coca-Cola was restored in the soda market. Eventually, the “New Coke” was phased out.
People still remember the “New Coke” as one of the biggest Marketing blunders in history, but it may also be a stroke of Marketing genius. In 1995, then Coca-Cola Company Chairman and CEO Roberto Goizueta said, “We set out to change the dynamics of sugar colas in the United States, and we did exactly that — albeit not in the way we had planned.”
No matter how you look at it, the “New Coke” definitely stirred the emotions of what was then a lethargic soda market. At the end of the day, the risk paid off.