The Real Reason New Coke Disappeared

On a warm sunny day there's nothing like cracking open a cold Coca-Cola. Whether you enjoy the bubbly carbonated drink with a burger and fries or popcorn at a movie, there's nothing quite like it. As much as everyone loved Coke, though, Pepsi was gaining popularity through its "Pepsi Challenge" campaign in the 1970s and early 1980s, according to History. In these ads consumers would take blind taste tests and were surprised to find they actually liked Pepsi more than Coke. When Coca-Cola decided to do their own internal taste test, they found the same results. Executives became convinced they needed to change the soda's flavor to gain favor with the public.

So in 1895 Coca-Cola announced it was swapping out their well-known recipe for a new type of soda, dubbed New Coke, according to CBS News. However, the public balked at the change and the new flavor, and the decision quickly led to protests, petitions, and calls. In fact, History reported that the company was fielding 8,000 angry phone calls a day. One angry customer wrote to the company, "I don't think I'd be more upset if you were to burn the flag in our front yard," and at one protest a group who named themselves "Old Cola Drinkers of America" poured New Coke down sewer drains. The company soon realized it had underestimated consumers' emotional attachment to the brand. In the market research they had done, they never asked how shoppers would feel about a new recipe replacing the other.

Coke called it quits with New Coke after just three months

Realizing their error, less than three months after New Coke debuted, executives decided to put the original Coca-Cola back on the shelves. 35 years later, New Coke is seen as one of the worst marketing mistakes of all time. However, the press that was garnered from the blunder at the time ultimately led to an increase in sales and helped the company reclaim its number one status in the beverage market — beating out Pepsi once again (via CBS News). New Coke even made a comeback in 2019 because of the television series Stranger Things, according to The Coca-Cola Company. Season 3 of the show took place in 1985 and they wanted to recreate the iconic flop. Coca-Cola released a limited number of 12-ounce cans of New Coke containing the exact recipe from the '80s.

"I often think about the fact that if we did New Coke today, it would break the internet," Vice President of Coca-Cola, Jaideep Kibe told Food & Wine. "Some people think of 1985 as an epic failure. Others think it's marketing genius because what it did was it strengthened consumers' connection to the real thing in some ways."