On the 23rd April 1985 the Coca-Cola Company introduced “the new taste of Coca-Cola”, when they replaced the original Coca-Cola formula with a new version. Marking the first major formula change in 99 years, ‘new Coke’ is widely heralded as one of the biggest marketing failures in history. However, the short-term problems arising from its introduction were far outweighed by the sales boost achieved when the company reintroduced the old formula as ‘Coca-Cola Classic’.
The new formula was introduced as a response to Pepsi’s increasing market share, where by 1983 Pepsi was outselling Coke in American supermarkets. This prompted Coke executives to begin ‘Project Kansas’ – secret research and development focused on reformulating the drink to challenge the sweeter taste of Pepsi. Taste tests were overwhelmingly positive and, even after the new formula was introduced to the market place, surveys suggested that the majority of drinkers liked the new taste. However, a small but vocal minority spoke out against it.
As criticism emerged in the press, it became clear to Coca-Cola executives that the issue was not a problem with the introduction of the new formula but the fact that it completely replaced the old one. When the company reintroduced the old formula three months later, there was a surge in sales of ‘Coca-Cola Classic’. In the words of marketing Vice-President Sergio Zyman, rather than being a marketing failure, “New Coke was a success because it revitalized the brand and reattached the public to Coke.”