While it seems impossible that it has been a quarter century since it happened, it is indeed the 25th anniversary of the introduction New Coke.
An online search for "New Coke" + "blunder" yields over 40,000 results. It's a case study taught in business schools as a cautionary tale. But in those heady days of April 1985, Coke thought it had a hit move on its hands.
It's easy to blame Coke for for a product roll-out that, in retrospect, was tremendously ill advised. Yet, it had its reasons.
A Coca-Cola survey obtained by Beverage Digest in 1985 demonstrated that of nearly 200,000 respondents, 55% preferred New Coke while only 45% chose the 99-year-old recipe. A shocker that faith in focus-grouping might be disastrous.
Maybe New Coke had a chance. Maybe the focus group was right. But just months later, momentum was picking up and there was no turning back.
Newspapers, which had been objective at the launch, smelled blood in the water by July of that year, and a media feeding frenzy ensued, spelling death for the project. A sampling of the histrionics, from the July 11 issue of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
"Thursday, July 11, in the year of our Lord, 1985, is a date that will forever ring in history as the day the hostage crisis finally ended. And it was not scruffy Shiites with terminal 5 o'clock shadow who broke the happy news to a swarming and frantic international press. It was a troika of dapper officials of The Coca-Cola Co. who caused joy from sea to shining sea with their announcement that the hostage, original-formula Coke, had been [freed]."
Good grief. One paper, ahead of its time really, even speculated on the possibility that New Coke was a viral marketing ploy. Twenty-five years later and the New Coke catastrophe has become the corporate blunder we love to mock.
Think about it: There were no casualties. It did not result in collateral damage like sweeping layoffs. It also demonstrated the power of the consumer in the brand relationship. There really was no true loser, making it a feel-good disaster. And in a way, it led to a stronger, more focused, dare we say humble Coca-Cola brand which, after being shown the folly of its ways, proceeded to kick butt.
The branding lesson in all of this? If you're going to fail, fail in the most preposterous, spectacularly iconic possible fashion. Fail big or go home. Someday, America will love you for it... as long as you're successful again.