In an attempt to lure back old customers, restaurants and companies regularly introduce new menu items or new flavors. Most of these are successful with consumers because they have been thoroughly researched and tested by companies before they are made available to the buying public. Despite this testing process, however, there are still some food items or flavors that are so unpopular with consumers and they fail so badly as a product that they become infamous.
One of the most well-known marketing flops happened in 1985 with New Coke, a soft drink designed to replace the original Coca-Cola flavor. In the early 1980s, Pepsi and Coca-Cola were the two biggest soft drink companies in the world. They were in fierce competition with each other, trying desperately to show consumers that their soft drink was better. The Coca-Cola Company tested several new flavors and found that people consistently preferred a sweeter tasting soda to any other drink. As a result, the Coca-Cola Company’s CEO (chief executive officer) decided that the sweeter soda would replace the existing Coca-Cola formula.
Many Americans, however, immediately started to loudly complain about the new drink. The Coca-Cola Company received over 1,500 furious telephone calls every day. The Coca-Cola Company actually hired psychiatrists to talk to upset customers because they were so angry and sad over the change. Angry customers led by a man named Gaye Mullins tried to sue the Coca-Cola Company in court while some Americans were buying old Coca-Cola drinks from overseas where the new drink had not yet been introduced. People in some parts of America were so enraged that they held protests and emptied bottles of New Coke into the street.
So many people were upset about Coca-Cola’s new drink that the company decided only three months later to revert to the old Coca-Cola drink formula and taste. On July 10, 1985, the Coca-Cola Company announced that it would bring back the old Coke and rebrand (rename) the drink “Coca-Cola Classic” or “Coke Classic”. Politicians declared the announcement an historical moment in American history and thousands of customers phoned the Coca-Cola Company to express their support for the decision. The Coca-Cola Company gave its first case of Coke Classic to Gaye Mullins.
Even today, business experts and historians are fascinated by this incident. Even though the Coca-Cola Company had carefully tested and performed experiments with New Coke before introducing it to consumers, the new drink was still very unpopular. In short, what did Coca-Cola do wrong? It seems the company simply did not understand consumers’ deep emotional and historical attachment to the drink. Some people believe that Coca-Cola did nothing wrong and that the new drink did not taste bad. Clearly Coca-Cola had become such an important part of American culture by 1985 that changing the drink was a traumatic experience for which its loyal customers were unprepared.