In what could be a repeat of one of the worst blunders in marketing history, Coca-Cola is launching a new version of a famous brand. This time, they are reformulating Coke Zero. From the sounds of it, the change will be minor. However, it will remind everyone in the marketing profession of the New Coke launch from 1985.
But is it as risky? What do you think?
The launch of New Coke in 1985
Even I was still a teenager when New Coke launched.
Let’s revisit 1985 for a moment. Coke was losing share to Pepsi who was making gains throughout the 1980s on the backs of the Pepsi Challenge that highlighted their sweeter, preferred taste compared with Coke.
Plus, Pepsi found its advertising magic with “The taste of a new generation” TV ads featuring Michael Jackson at his height. Here is their 1984 spot.
To view the video, click on the arrow button.
Coke’s response was to create a better, sweeter version of Coke. All their taste tests showed it beat both Pepsi and Coke. However, there were some signs the most loyal Coke drinkers did not want a new version. Essentially, the rest of the story is where a bit of mythology starts and ends.
We all love the New Coke story because of the mystique of how things worked out.
They went ahead with New Coke in 1985. Yet, after significant consumer opposition, the Coke Classic was reintroduced after 77 days. Their share trajectory turned around, with Coke winning the back half of the 1980s. Some conspiracy theorists even suggested the lunch of New Coke was a stunt. When Sergio Zyman, VP of Marketing at the time, was asked if it was intentional, his response closed the door saying, “No one is that smart, and no one is that dumb.”
Is new Coke Zero as risky as New Coke?
No. The situation and circumstances are different. The category has been in decline for the past few years, so carbonated beverages are not front-page news (if we still have s front page). And, the 2021 version of Coke Zero does not have the depth of passion compared with the insane brand fans of Coke from the 1980s.
All the marketers will over-react. And, all the Twitter experts will over-react.
But, the risk is relatively low. They have already been using this new flavor in Europe for the past few months, and the taste difference is negligible. Plus, the new Coke Zero packaging (below) looks fantastic. I’ll say this works a little. What do you think?
I expect this will likely give Coke Zero a slight jolt in a declining category
To read our story on the lessons from the best Coke ads of all time, click on the button below.