'New Coke': Coca-Cola’s major marketing flop in 1985

When Coca-Cola attempted to revolutionize the multi-billion soft drink industry in 1985, no one predicted the failure and backlash that was to come. 

Coca-Cola announced on April 23 that year that the world’s favorite soft drink, Coke, was going to change. 

A new, improved formula had been concocted by accident during experiments for Diet Coke, the company said, and it was apparently so good that it warranted change after 99 years.

"To my mind, it is the most significant development in our business, some may say in the soft drink industry, since the formulation of the first days for Coca-Cola and the decision to bottle that taste," Robert Goizueta, chairman of Coca-Cola at the time, said during a New York news conference that was televised nationwide by satellite.  

Behind the scenes, market shares for Coca-Cola had been slowly slipping over the years. 

Rumors that people were beginning to prefer the sweeter taste of Pepsi were all but confirmed by the ongoing Pepsi Challenge campaign, in which people picked which soft drink they preferred after a single blind taste test. 

Coca-Cola’s unveiling of Coke's new flavor came with the company’s own mass taste testings and millions of dollars spent on a new marketing campaign. The plan was to roll out the product permanently on May 8. 

But New Coke was not well-received. 

Consumers began hoarding "old" Coke. 

Coca-Cola reported getting over a thousand calls a day with consumer complaints.

Protest groups even popped up around the country, the company said


FILE - A woman petitioning against the new Coca-Cola formula. (Photo by Roger Ressmeyer/CORBIS/VCG via Getty Images)

Eventually, in a stunning reversal, Coca-Cola said it’d make both versions available. It began calling the old version Coca-Cola Classic.

Later, the name of the new taste was changed to Coke II. The product was available for several years in the U.S. before being discontinued in the early 2000s.

RELATED: Coca-Cola launches new flavor created by artificial intelligence

So, what exactly was different with the new flavor? 

It’s never been publicized, and taste testers at the time had as much difficulty putting it into words as did Coca-Cola's chairman Goizueta at New Coke's official press conference: "Uh, smoother, uh, rounder, yet bolder," he said. 

This story was reported from Detroit.