New Coke – worst marketing idea ever. Don’t repeat it.

May 12, 2009 at 10:20 am Leave a comment

How many of you remember this?

Most people agree that this was the worst marketing idea ever. After all, how many other marketing blunders are actually on Wikipedia because of their significance? Yet this is exactly what happened back in 1985, when Michael Jackson and the Pepsi Generation were all the rage. Coca-Cola found itself in a dogfight with Pepsi, and they were losing market share rapidly. Instead of acting like the industry leader — assessing the situation, taking advantage of their market presence, coming up with a game plan, and executing on the plan — they decided to do something a little… different. They changed the 100 year-old formula of their flagship product and renamed it New Coke. All the Jello-flavored smirks of Bill Cosby couldn’t undo the damage from this fatal error in judgment.

Beware the Law of Unintended Consequences. Instead of Coca-Cola gaining traction and buzz from this huge announcement, Pepsi was able to capitalize on the change by announcing it had won the cola wars. They claimed that Coke knew it couldn’t win, so it stopped competing and created a new product instead. A lot of people believed that, and after a very short-lived bump in popularity New Coke continued Coca-Cola’s slide in market share until they brought back the old Coke, which they curiously called Coke Classic (probably because pride didn’t allow them to fully admit they were wrong).

What’s the lesson here? Well, hindsight is always 20/20, so I won’t belabor the point any longer. However, it’s important to stay true to your company, your products, your strengths, and your mission. If you have a marketing consultant or new marketing director that wants to come in and rebrand your company, ask the question “why?” Be critical in your assessments and judgments. Take the time to understand the situation and make the best decision based on sound knowledge and a prudent vetting of ideas.

There’s an old saying: act in haste, repent at leisure. Even Bill Cosby can’t argue with that logic.

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Entry filed under: Best Practices, Branding, Leadership & Management, LinkedIn, Marketing, Marketing Campaigns, Messaging, Strategy. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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