Old Coke, New Coke, Woke Coke, Broke Coke

By the time the Cola Wars really heated up in the 1980s, Coca-Cola had perennially enjoyed the upper hand over Pepsi in a rivalry that dated to the dawn of the twentieth century. In 1975, however, Coke began to feel threatened by Pepsi, due to a marketing ploy -- “the Pepsi Challenge.” It was a blind taste test to show that “more people preferred Pepsi over Coke.”

Interestingly, this wasn’t just a gimmick. Internal research at Coca-Cola confirmed that when the brand association was extracted from the equation, “consumers preferred Pepsi,” with its “sweeter, more syrupy flavor.”

In one of the most famous business decisions in modern history, Coca-Cola reacted to what they believed to be consumer sentiment in 1985. People were “in love with the notion of Coca-Cola, but they weren’t necessarily drinking Coca-Cola” to the extent they had been before. So, it changed the signature formula of the drink to taste more like Pepsi, with the new concoction becoming known as “New Coke.”

It was a move that has been described as both a “colossal business blunder” and an “unintended stroke of marketing genius.” Coke fans were immediately outraged, and Pepsi was delighted to be “The Choice of a New Generation,” a slogan that persisted into the 1990s. Coke was the past, and Pepsi was the future, my generation was told.

And yet, it simply didn’t work out that way.

The public backlash against Coke was fierce. Former employee and archivist Phil Mooney says that he couldn’t give “New Coke” away, with friends rejecting even samples, saying “give me the original Coke back!” What senior leadership didn’t understand at the time, he says, was the “deep psychological attachment people had to Coca-Cola. We heard stories about how Coke was with them on their first date, or during World War II.”

Ed Hays, now the Chief Technical Officer of Coca-Cola, recalls that “New Coke also showed that people craved -- and still crave -- a degree of certainty, familiarity and comfort in a world that changes so quickly and so dramatically.”

Within three months after the launch of “New Coke,” the original formula, known as “Coca-Cola Classic,” was reintroduced, and it took the world by storm. People wanted to “taste the beverage again,” and not “just feel good about” the Coca-Cola brand, writes Becky Little at History.

In 1985, Coca-Cola executives opted to alter the company’s product to satisfy what they believed to be the progressive tastes of Americans. In the end, it was Americans’ loyalty to the company’s corporate brand that saved them from its executives’ decision to make sweeping changes to its product for the sake of perceived “progress.”

There’s still a clear leader in the space of sugary soft drinks, and it remains Coca-Cola. But as Daniel Greenfield observes at FrontPage Magazine, Coke currently owns “a majority share of a declining market.” To address this crisis, Coca-Cola’s current executives have opted to alter the corporate brand in order to satisfy what they believe to be the progressive political desires of Americans, and it doesn’t appear that there is even a remote possibility that Americans’ loyalty to the product alone could ever save Coke from this stupid decision.

North America may be the biggest soft drink market in the world, but consumption of the sugary stuff has been on a steady decline in recent decades, and none are drinking less of it than the demographic that Coke is desperately trying to reach with its recent political posturing.

As anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to American culture should easily recognize, it’s not effete, health-conscious, coastal leftists that have been bolstering Coke’s market capitalization these past decades. But somehow, is it possible that internal corporate research has suggested to a few poor decision-makers at Coca-Cola that its embarrassing prostrations toward effete coastal leftists are the path to more people drinking Coke?

I have difficulty believing that. More likely, as Daniel Greenfield observes, Coke is destroying the pro-America brand association that it had been building for over a century because “it’s afraid” of the political forces aligning against it.

And who can blame them? Democrats like Michael Bloomberg in New York have been arguing for government-imposed limitations on sales of large-size sodas for over a decade now. Blue states like California tax soft drinks so highly that one can’t help but buy fewer of them, regardless of the taste. And it really doesn’t matter which cola company gets a contract with AMC Theaters or Cinemark next year, because the same people who think your soft drink should be smaller and taxed more heavily by the government are also the people who think that you shouldn’t be allowed to sit next to others in the movie theater if there’s an immeasurably small fraction-of-a-percent chance that someone may get sick by your doing so.

And yet, Coca-Cola abandoned its brand, signifying its woke virtues in order to forge an alliance with that group of people?

In February, Coca-Cola announced a quota for attorneys it would hire, saying that 15-percent of billable hours of service would be provided by “black attorneys,” which is larger than their demographic representation in America. Then, famously, employees at Coca-Cola were encouraged, on company time and the company dime, to “be less white,” which ostensibly means to be less “defensive,” “arrogant,” and “ignorant.” Most recently, the company injected itself into American politics in a manner that would have been unthinkable just a decade ago. Coke openly aligned itself with the Democratic Party, spreading propaganda on its behalf in order to signal its opposition to Georgia’s legislation meant to protect election integrity in future elections.

This isn’t the 80s. This time, the degree to which Coke has offended its consumers runs much deeper than our taste buds. Back then, American consumers forgave Coke for its mistakes, focusing on the brand and the fond memories. This time, the schism between Coke and its once-loyal consumers seems much more permanent. One reader’s comments at The Daily Wire stand out:

I have collected Coca Cola memorabilia for many, many years. Since I was a kid. I found them to be very Americana, and looking at my collection always gave me a sense of home. I packed everything all up last month. It was not a great feeling.

He’s not alone. According to a Rasmussen poll, 37-percent of Americans are less likely to buy Coca-Cola products due to the company’s recent political stance. This is counterbalanced, some might suggest, by 25-percent who say they’re more likely to buy Coca-Cola products due to that stance.

However, consider what this means. A smaller number of Americans, who probably don’t really like drinking Coca-Cola at all, happen to love the new Woke Coke’s politics -- though they still likely hate all their corporate profits, and wish that politicians would limit or eliminate sugary drinks as a consumer choice, for the sake of public health. A larger number of Americans probably love Coca-Cola’s American history and the brand, have been loyal customers for years and would prefer that consumers, not government, should decide Americans’ beverage preferences -- but will henceforth avoid buying Coca-Cola products, or even displaying its memorabilia, wherever possible.

Coca-Cola can fire the people responsible for pitching the stupid ideas behind its recent wokeness, as it has, but it’s hard to imagine an outcome where Coke finds anything close to the soft landing that its good fortune, and red-blooded Americans’ goodwill, provided it back the 1980s.

IMAGE: New Coke. YouTube screengrab. 

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