COKE'S TASTE, STRATEGY HAD ITS FANS

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CHICAGO-There weren't a whole lot of people back in 1985 who tried new Coke and liked it better than the original. But Advertising Age Editor in Chief Rance Crain was one of them.

"I find I like it better than the old product," Mr. Crain said in his May 23, 1985, column. "It's less harsh on my taste buds without losing the basic Coke taste. And in no way does it approach the sweetness of Pepsi, which I don't happen to like."

Coca-Cola's challenge, he said, was to come up with a taste that was slightly different from either the original or Pepsi, with the goal of keeping current customers and drawing Pepsi drinkers. "In my opinion, Coca-Cola did it," he wrote.

But Rance wasn't alone. Advertising Age asked numerous marketing experts what they thought about Coca-Cola's strategy for a story that ran May 6 of that year. Dennis Long, then Anheuser-Busch president, said: "Coca-Cola knows what it is doing. They don't make any mistakes."

Others were more prescient:

"Coke should have gotten some actual marketplace experience with response to the new formula among current users before rolling the dice and going national. If current satisfied users don't like the new formula, all Coke has done is give them an incentive to now consider Pepsi. You know one of the problems with the `ready-fire-aim' approach to marketing is that once in a while, you shoot yourself in the foot."-Bruce Mason, then general manager of Foote, Cone & Belding, Chicago.

"It's a desecration to tamper with the Holy Grail .... Now they have turned it into a parity product. They destroyed the mystique."-Ian Fawn-Meade, then exec VP-executive creative director, Tracy-Locke, Dallas.

Then there was the quote from Sergio Zyman, at the time Coca-Cola USA's senior VP-marketing: "The final line in the Diet Coke strategy report was, `If we go forward, there is no gracious retreat.' If that was true with Diet Coke, it is more true with brand Coke."

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