New Coke pops... 34 years later
F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote: “there are no second acts in American lives” in 1941. And he has been famously proven wrong (his own reputation a case in point) time and again. The most recent example? New Coke.
Modern marketing’s most ostentatious blunder is back for a victory lap. In the summer of 1985 Coca-Cola changed the formula of its core product and dubbed it New Coke. It was an idea nobody asked for and, it turned out, nobody wanted. New Coke lasted just 79 days on the market before being yanked from shelves, a disaster. A fizzy flop. Until now.
Thirty-four years later, New Coke is back. The beverage giant is celebrating its epic miscalculation with some savvy marketing, in a partnership with Netflix’s sci-fi thriller “Stranger Things.” New Coke will be woven through several episodes of the third season of the original series, bowing on July 4, which is set in the summer of 1985. And as part of the deal, Coca-Cola will bring back the beverage for a limited time.
But first, a history lesson. In 1985, Coca-Cola was gearing up to celebrate its 100th anniversary amid headwinds. Diet Coke, which debuted three years earlier, was a hit as boomers sought out healthier alternatives. Since the end of World War II, Coke had steadily lost market share to Pepsi, especially among younger drinkers. Panic had set in.
“The company was willing to change everything,” Sergio Zyman, the charismatic former chief marketer of Coca-Cola said to Ad Age in 2011. “The only thing left was to change the product or change the advertising.” Insanely, they went with the former. The fallout was as furious as it was fast: The company received more than 40,000 calls and letters, including more than 1,500 calls a day to the 1-800-GET-COKE hotline, according to the historical account “The Real Thing: Truth and Power at the Coca-Cola Company.” Pepsi piled on, joking that Coke had admitted that it is not, in fact, the real thing.
Coca-Cola caved. The company announced the return of the original formula on July 11, an event so auspicious that ABC News anchorman Peter Jennings interrupted “General Hospital” with a special bulletin.
But nostalgia is a balm. Today Coke can laugh at—and monetize—its famous snafu. Today the brand can bask in the retro-cool patina of “Stranger Things.” New Coke is back and we’re … glad? Maybe we’re all in the Upside Down.