Are the NRCC and NRSC Selling New Coke?

One of the stranger episodes in corporate marketing history occurred in 1985 when the Coca-Cola Corporation decided to alter the secret formula of its flagship product.

Maybe Republican Party leaders could stand a review.

Coke was more than just an iconic brand. Coke invented Santa Claus as we know him today. The hourglass Coke bottle’s silhouette identified the product universally. So sacrosanct was the Coke name that the brand line consisted of a single product until Diet Coke was introduced in 1982, 96 years after Coca-Cola’s market debut.

Concerned by Coke’s loss of market share to arch rival Pepsi, Coke’s marketing gurus gave in to the taste tests and focus groups by releasing New Coke in 1985. New Coke matched the sweeter crowd appeal of Pepsi. It was designed to compete head-to-head for the Pepsi Generation.

But the Coca-Cola Corporation had not counted on the resentment of a hard-core nucleus of consumers to the absence of their familiar Coke from store shelves and soda fountains:

Despite New Coke’s acceptance with a large number of Coca-Cola drinkers, a vocal minority of them [estimated to be 10-12% of Coke drinkers] resented the change in formula and were not shy about making that known ….

Due to the strong backlash, Old Coke, newly dubbed “Coke Classic”, was returned to market less than three months after the launch of New Coke. Eventually New Coke disappeared from store shelves.

And Classic Coke emerged a stronger brand than before.

The lessons?

  • Ignore your most passionate customers at your peril.
  • Don’t trust focus groups. People in focus groups are easily swayed.
  • Don’t compete by trying to be more like the competition.
  • Recognize your mistakes quickly, take your lumps, and concentrate on the brand.