This Is the Biggest Mistake Coca-Cola Has Ever Made, Say Experts
Younger fans of Coca-Cola may not know that the company once came dangerously close to losing its prominent status as the #1 beverage-maker in the world. In 1984, the company made a startling announcement that would end up being remembered as its biggest mistake in history. So what could have possibly been so detrimental to the brand's unrivaled success?
According to the latest episode of Business Movers, a Wondery podcast investigating stories behind successful businesses, the Coca-Cola Company faced swift and intense backlash when it announced plans to change the recipe for Coke on April 23, 1985. At the time, the company's namesake beverage had reigned supreme among soft drinks for almost a century. (Related: Grocery Shortages To Expect in 2021, According to Experts.)
The man behind the plan, new CEO Roberto Goizueta, worried that Coca-Cola was stuck in a rut as competitors like Pepsi gained market share. So, he decided to buck conventional wisdom and mess with a good thing—Coke's signature flavor.
"The best has been made even better," Goizueta said at a press conference announcing the "New Coke." "Some may choose to call this the single-boldest marketing move in the history of the packaged goods business. We simply call it the surest move ever made. Simply stated, we have a new formula for Coke."
The new beverage was sweeter than the old one, which the company claimed was an overwhelmingly popular improvement during taste-tests. However, no amount of confidence or marketing dollars could rescue the move that would soon become a PR nightmare.
Angry Coke customers flooded the company's call centers and mailboxes, demanding answers as to why their favorite beverage was changing. "What in the hell is 'New Coke?' And what was wrong with old Coke?" one caller asked, according to Business Movers.
While most customers hadn't even tried the new product, the backlash was bad enough to force Coca-Cola into reversing its decision a mere 78 days later. Coke's original recipe was restored, and it returned to shelves under a new name: Coke Classic. The decision made headlines across the country.
"Coke is the sublimated essence of all that America stands for. A decent thing, honestly made, universally distributed," wrote William Allen White, a legendary Kansas newspaper editor, more than a century ago. Goizueta should have known that trying to change Coke would be like trying to redefine what it means to be American.