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In the face of a declining market share and losing out heavily to Pepsi Cola the senior management of Coca Cola commissioned a major market research exercise. The results indicated that consumers wanted a sweeter flavour either sugar-based or using artificial sweetener.

But the research didn’t suggest that a new recipe should totally replace the existing one. As ill-conceived as it may now seem, the company’s management decided to do just that. Out went the old recipe and in came the new one: “New Coke” was launched onto the market in April of 1985.

Despite lavishing hefty sums on an advertising blitz, the new product was a resounding flop. Worse there were demonstrations, threats of legal action, and boycotts particularly in the South Eastern states where Coke was first bottled. America’s legion of soft drink aficionados simply despised the new formula. Worse yet, the public demanded – loudly – that the “old” version of Coke be returned to the shelves.

Officials for the cola giant got the message and three months after it was removed from sale announced that the original recipe – now renamed “Classic Coke” would return to the shelves.

Privately company officials conceded that they had erred in halting distribution of the “classic” version of the drink. However, they refused to admit that releasing New Coke was a mistake. Indeed, even though American consumers reviled it, the company kept New Coke in circulation, albeit in cans and bottles that identified the drink simply as “Coke. Until 1992, when it was officially renamed Coca-Cola II. In due time Coke Classic reverted to being just Coke.

Many who tasted the reintroduced formula were not convinced that the first batches really were the same formula that had supposedly been retired that spring. This is partially true because Coca-Cola Classic differed from the original formula as all bottlers who hadn’t already done so were using high fructose corn syrup instead of cane sugar to sweeten the drink.

So, a bit of a marketing disaster even though the Coca Cola Company did pick up market share. One wonders how much better they would have done if they had introduced “New Coke” alongside the original. I doubt we will even know.

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