Marketing Tips: Better to Be Brisk and Slapdash (Coke VS Pepsi)

A Coca-Cola empty bottle washed up on the beach

New Coke, the greatest failure of the century in marketing

Coke VS Pepsi, this was a very important issue when I was a kid with a limited budget. In the early 1980’s PepsiCo launched a big marketing offensive, like aggressive comparative advertising, using Michael Jackson for advertising, etc. As that seemed to work well, I remember many forward kids switched from Coke to Pepsi in Japan. In 1985, in order to strike a blow back, Coca-Cola launched a long-awaited product after careful preliminary market research. It was a “New Coke” which is later judged to be the stuff of legend in the marketing field as the greatest failure of the century. Why did the failure happen? Was that a failure, to begin with?

New Coke can be judged as a big success

On 23rd April 1985, Coca-Cola launched New Coke and withdrew the old Coke from store shelves. As aresult, all the Coca-Cola offices received endless calls of complaint. Some weeks later, they finally decided to return the old Coke to the market, giving a new name “Classic Coke.” If we only focus on this as a promotion for New Coke, the promotion is considered as the greatest failure of the century, but we should not overlook that the promotion triggered enthusiasm about the old Coke. It was so furious that many people made angry calls to Coca-Cola offices to get back the old Coke. Depending on the point of view, the promotion looks like a big success.

Dining chairs upholstered with grayish blue fabric, and round tables. They make some set on the wooden floor in a herringbone pattern.

No one knows if a new product will be successful

Donald Keough, then President of Coca-Cola, said “Some critics will say Coca-Cola made a marketing mistake. Some cynics will say that we planned the whole thing. The truth is we are not that dumb, and we are not that smart.” As he passed away some years ago, nobody knows the truth now. What makes it clear is that it is almost impossible to see through the result of new product sales, even for such a big company as Coca-Cola, even after careful preliminary market research. How could we do that better?

From this view point, what we’ve been doing is not a bad move. I know there’s a risk of making many commercial flops, by rapidly and continuously developing products without preliminary market research. However, we can give the impression that we are a furniture manufacturer full of a fighting spirit and rapid product development ability, hopefully.

A corporate logo, the letters of C and H are combined to look like a tree in a circle

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.