A History Lesson With Booze ®

The Pemberton

This week back in 1985, Coca-Cola unveiled the infamous “New Coke.” It’s widely considered one of the biggest marketing disasters ever.

CANADA - JULY 11: Glad It's back: Michelle Gahwiler's tastes buds celebrated when she heard the old taste of Coke will be back. The other stuff tasted like Pepsi; the 11-year-old Cambridge girl said about the new formula. Coke announced it will sell both kinds just 78 days after launching the new formula. (Photo by Dick Darrell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

The History Lesson

This week back in 1985, the Coca-Cola company unveiled New Coke. The world’s biggest marketing blunder — helped save one of the world’s biggest brands.

Back in the ‘80s, sales of Coca-Cola were, well, flat. Old folks were switching to diet sodas, and young people were switching to super-sweet Pepsi. Desperate, Coke decided to change its cola recipe for the first time in 99 years. They called the top-secret project “Operation Kansas.”

Months of research later — success! The company hit upon a new, sweeter formula: basically Diet Coke spiked with corn syrup. Sound awful? It wasn’t. In thousands of blind taste tests, people loved it! More than Pepsi. Even more than original Coke.

So on April 23rd, 1985, Coke’s top brass proudly unveiled their new baby. Old Coke would cease production immediately, they said, and New Coke would take its place. Then they sat back and waited for the customers to roll in.

Except they didn’t roll in. Instead, they got insanely angry. Crowds at the Houston Astrodome booed New Coke ads off the jumbotron. Coke HQ fielded half a million hate letters. Donald Keough, Coke’s President at the time, says one woman phoned him, weeping tears of rage. Even though she hadn’t had a Coke in decades.

Three months later, Coke brought back the old recipe. And sales skyrocketed. Nostalgia for Coke — was apparently more important to people than its actual flavor. In fact, the comeback was so huge, some say marketers planned the whole fiasco. To which Coke’s Donald Keough says quote, “We’re not that smart, and we’re not that dumb.”

The Booze

The Pemberton

created for the DPD by Cara Laudino, bar manager at Miller
restaurant, Atlanta, GA:

In a rocks glass, add:

  • 1 oz. rye whiskey
  • 3/4 oz. Carpano Antica vermouth
  • 1/2 oz. Fernet Branca
  • ice

Stir and top off with 2 oz. of Coca-Cola. The corn-syrupless Mexican variety. Garnish with a twist of orange peel and sip. An excellent curative for the vapors, an imbalance of humours, or “tired blood.”