New Coke launches… and flops (1985)

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America’s taste just got better

New Coke launches... and flops

The year was 1985. Ronald Reagan was working on his second term in office, and Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union — but that isn’t the Cold War we’re concerned with right now — it was the height of the Cola wars.

In the years following WWII, Coke had 60% of the market share and was the quintessential American soft drink. However, things change, and by the mid-80s Coke’s share had dropped to less than 25% thanks to intense competition from Pepsi. Then-CEO Roberto Goizueta realized that while the newly-introduced Diet Coke would be the choice of health-conscious baby boomers in the years to come, they were losing ground with younger drinkers, who preferred the sweeter taste of Pepsi.

To make a long story short, after extensive market research, focus studies, and taste tests, Coke came up with what would come to be known as “New Coke.” Though it was never the drink’s official name, it replaced the original, tried-and-true formula that had been Coke’s signature for a hundred years.

New Coke was released April 23, 1985, and production of the original formula was halted that same week.

Alas, New Coke’s run lasted just 77 days. After intense public backlash, the company relented and once again fired up production of the original formula, selling it as “Coca-Cola Classic,” alongside New Coke (which, in fact, would go on to be renamed Coke II and survive until 2002).

Interestingly, by the end of 1985, Coca-Cola Classic’s sales were far outpacing those of Pepsi — or of any other Coke product — leading some industry and business experts to claim New Coke had been nothing more than a marketing and publicity stunt. Whatever the reason or rationale, New Coke went on to become a punchline, a misfit pop culture icon, and a symbol of the ’80s.

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And speaking of symbols of the 80s, here’s a 1985 commercial for New Coke featuring New Edition — back when presumably the only Coke singer Bobby Brown liked was the cola. – AJW

New Edition introducing New Coke

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