This Day In History: April 23

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On April 23, 1985, The Coca-Cola Company announces that it is changing the formula of its signature soft drink for the first time in 99 years. The short-lived, sweeter New Coke, as it is called, debuts to a consumer backlash that pundits call the marketing blunder of the century.

Coca-Cola, which had been the world’s bestselling soft drink, had been facing increasing competition from rival cola Pepsi, and the company wanted to re-energize the brand. In blind taste tests, consumers generally preferred New Coke over Pepsi and the original Coke. But, consumers had a sentimental attachment to their beloved brand and reacted very negatively to New Coke. The company was flooded with up to 8,000 calls a day from dissatisfied consumers and received some 40,000 complaint letters. CEO Roberto Goizueta got a letter addressed to “Chief Dodo, The Coca-Cola Company.”

The soda company quickly got the message and brought back the original formula less than three months after New Coke launched. On July 11, 1985, 79 days after the release of New Coke, Coke’s original formula returned to market, rebranded as Coca-Cola Classic. It quickly regained its status as the dominant cola.

In 1995, the soft drink giant held a meeting for the 10-year anniversary of New Coke. Goizueta, then chairman and CEO, put a positive spin on the failure at the meeting and called New Coke a case of “taking intelligent risks.”

“We set out to change the dynamics of sugar colas in the United States, and we did exactly that—albeit not in the way we had planned,” Goizueta said.

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