New Coke versus Old Coke
In 1985, after 99 years with essentially the same taste, Coca-Cola decided to switch to a new, high-fructose corn syrmp, to make Coke taste sweeter and smoother--more like its arch rival, Pepsi. This historic decision was preceded by a top-secret $4 million survey of 190,000 people, in which the new formula beat the old by 55 percent to 45 percent. What Coca-cola apparently neglected to take into account was that many of the 45 percent who preferred old Coke did so passionately. The 55 percent who voted for new Coke might have been able to live with the old formula, but many on the other side swore that they could not stomach new Coke.
Coca-Cola's announced change provoked outraged protests and panic stockpiling by old-Coke fans. soon, Coca-Cola backed down and brought back old Coake as "Coke Classic." A few synics suggested that Coca-Cola had planned the whole senario as a clever way of getting some free publicity and causing, in the words of a Coca-Cola senior vice-president for marketing, "a tremendous bonding with our public." For 1985, new Coke captured 15.0 percent of the entire soft drink market and Coke Classic 5.9 percent with Pepsi at 18.6 percent. In 1986, new Coke collapsed to 2.3 percent, Coke Classic surged to 18.9 percent, and Pepsi helf firm at 18.5 percent.
In 1987 The Wall Street
Journal commissioned an interesting survey of 100 randomly selected
cola drinkers, of whom 52 declared themselves beforehand to be Pepsi partisans,
46 Coke Classic loyalists, and 2 new-Coke drinkers. In the Journal's
blind taste test, new Coke was the winner with 41 votes, followed by Pepsi
with 39 and Coke Classic with 20. Seventy of the 100 people who participated
mistakenly thought they had chosen their favorite brand; some were very
indignant. A Coke Classic drinker who chose Pepsi said, "I won't lower
myself to drink Pepsi. It is too preppy. Too yup. The New Generation--it
sounds like Nazi breeding. Coke is more laid back." A Pepsi enthusiast
who chose Coke said, "I relate Coke with people who just go along with
the status quo. I think Pepsi is a little more rebellious, and I have a
little bit of rebellion in me."
In 1990, Coca-Cola relaunched new Coke with a new name--Coke II--and a new can with some blue color, Pepsi's traditional color. Coca-Cola executives and many others in the soft drink industry remain convinced that cola drinkers prefer the taste of new Coke, even while they remain fiercely loyal to old Coke and Pepsi--a loyalty due perhaps more to advertising campaigns than to taste. Given the billions of dollars that cola companies spend persuading consumers that the cola's image is an important part of the taste experience, blind taste tests may simply be irrelevant.