April 1985: It was one of the biggest marketing blitzes America had ever seen: Coca-Cola, the most popular and recognizable soft drink in the world, was changing its hallowed formula for the first time in nearly 100 years. Enter New Coke, a sweeter version of the original Coca-Cola flavor. Considering the big business involved in such a bold move, the introduction of the relaunched soda pop was major news, eliciting this CBS News report.
The move was based on a series of blind taste tests which found that more people like the sweeter version of Coke, which was allegedly just the Diet Coke formula doused in corn syrup. The ad campaign for the drink pulled in stars like '80s boy band New Edition, and "AI" celebrity Max Headroom, to feature in commercials.
Despite the hype and an initial uptick in sales (due in large part to mass giveaways, pop drinkers' reaction to New Coke was fast and decisive: nope. The company was deluged by people complaining about New Coke, claiming to have received more than 40,000 letters and phone calls at the company's Atlanta headquarters.
One Coke fan, Gay Mullins, was inspired to start the Old Cola Drinkers of America, a grassroots organization started to demand Coca-Cola return to its original flavor. He launched petitions and passed out pins with the New Coke logo crossed out.
"We're bringing it back, the original taste of Coca-Cola returns as Coca-Cola Classic and soon America will have a real choice: the new taste of Coke or the original taste of Coca-Cola Classic," said Donald Keough, Pres. Coca-Cola Company, at a July 11 press conference. Less than three months after the launch of New Coke, Classic Coke was back.
"Well I think we've won," said Gay Mullins at the time (via CBS News). "I think the Coca-Cola Company, if in fact they start producing the old Cola, we've won."
Just last year, Coke reintroduced New Coke with a limited edition tie-in to Netflix TV show, Stranger Things: “When Netflix told us Season 3 was going to be set in the summer of 1985 – with the tagline that ‘one summer could change everything’ – that rang so true for us,” said Oana Vlad, director of Coca-Cola Trademark, Coca-Cola North America. “The summer of 1985 did in fact change everything for us with the introduction of New Coke, which was also arguably one of the biggest pop culture moments of that year.”