firestorm ended with the return of the original formula, now called
Coca-Cola classic®, a few months later. The return of original
formula Coca-Cola on July 11, 1985, put the cap on 79 days that
revolutionized the soft-drink industry, transformed The Coca-Cola
Company and stands today as testimony to the power of taking intelligent
risks, even when they don't quite work as intended.
"We set out to change the dynamics of sugar colas in the United
States, and we did exactly that -- albeit not in the way we had
planned," then chairman and chief executive officer Roberto
Goizueta said in 1995 at a special employee event honoring the 10-year
anniversary of "new Coke."
"But the most significant result of 'new Coke' -- by far,"
Mr. Goizueta said, "was that it sent an incredibly powerful
signal ... a signal that we really were ready to do whatever was
necessary to build value for the owners of our business."
The story of "new Coke" is widely recalled, but the context
is often forgotten. In 1985, The Coca-Cola Company's share lead
over its chief competitor, in its flagship market, with its flagship
product, had been slowly slipping for 15 consecutive years.
The cola category in general was lethargic. Consumer preference
for Coca-Cola was dipping, as was consumer awareness. That changed,
of course, in the summer of 1985 as the consumer outcry over "new
Coke" was replaced by consumer affection for Coca-Cola classic.
The fabled secret formula for Coca-Cola was changed, adopting a
formula preferred in taste tests of nearly 200,000 consumers. What
these tests didn't show, of course, was the bond consumers felt
with their Coca-Cola -- something they didn't want anyone, including
The Coca-Cola Company, tampering with.
The events of the spring and summer of '85 -- pundits blasting
the "marketing blunder of the century," consumers hoarding
the "old" Coke, calls of protests by the thousands --
changed forever The Coca-Cola Company's thinking.
At the 10-year anniversary celebration, Mr. Goizueta characterized
the "new Coke" decision as a prime example of "taking
intelligent risks." He urged all employees to take intelligent
risks in their jobs, saying it was critical to the company's success.
Many of the employees there that day had worked for the company
in 1985 and remembered the thousands of calls and consumer complaints.
Calls flooded in not just to the 800-GET-COKE phone line, but to
Coca-Cola offices across the United States. By June 1985, The Coca-Cola
Company was getting 1,500 calls a day on its consumer hotline, compared
with 400 a day before the taste change. People seemed to hold any
Coca-Cola employee -- from security officers at our headquarters
building to their neighbors who worked for Coke -- personally responsible
for the change.
Mr. Goizueta received a letter addressed to "Chief Dodo, The
He often said he was more upset that it was actually delivered
to him! Another person wrote to him asking for his autograph --
because, in years to come, the signature of "one of the dumbest
executives in American business history" would be worth a fortune.
the taste change was announced, some consumers panicked, filling
their basements with cases of Coke®. A man in San Antonio, Texas,
drove to a local bottler and bought $1,000 worth of Coca-Cola. Some
people got depressed over the loss of their favorite soft drink.
Suddenly everyone was talking about Coca-Cola, realizing what an
important role it played in his or her life. Protest groups -- such
as the Society for the Preservation of the Real Thing and Old Cola
Drinkers of America (which claimed to have recruited 100,000 in
a drive to bring back "old" Coke) -- popped up around
the country. Songs were written to honor the old taste. Protesters
at a Coca-Cola event in downtown Atlanta in May carried signs with
"We want the real thing" and "Our children will never
When the announcement of the return of "old" Coca-Cola
was made in July 1985, those hoarding as many as 900 bottles in
their basements could stop their selfimposed rationing and begin
to drink the product as they always had -- as often as they'd like.
That July day, the story that the "old" Coca-Cola was
returning to store shelves led two network newscasts and made the
front page of virtually every major newspaper. Consumers applauded
the decision. In just two days after the announcement of Coca-Cola
classic, The Coca-Cola Company received 31,600 telephone calls on
the hotline. Coca-Cola was obviously more than just a soft drink.