What Was Coke II?

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The story of New Coke is an oft-recited parable in the marketing world. Scared by Pepsi's rise and the success of the "Pepsi Challenge," Coca-Cola retooled their formula and introduced a newer, sweeter beverage in 1985 called "New Coke." "Old" Coke was completely removed from the market, and consumers aired their outrage at this debacle to the tune of 400,000 phone calls and letters sent to the soft drink manufacturer.

Less than three months after New Coke's unveiling, old Coke was reinstated as "Coca-Cola Classic" and all was right in the world. Americans returned in droves to the supermarket and picked up the old recipe they forgot they loved so much. Given the massive participation and swift results, the efforts to get old Coke back can be considered one of the most successful protest movements in U.S. history, a fact that is equal parts depressing and perfect.

Some say this was all a ruse by Coca-Cola to whip the public into a frenzy and generate new demand for an old product. This is unlikely, considering the company's commitment to New Coke. CEO Roberto Goizueta was still attached to the beverage and, when announcing the old recipe's return, stated that bottlers would have access to concentrates for New Coke and Coca-Cola Classic—the amount each was produced would be at their discretion. Coca-Cola Classic immediately outsold New Coke ten to one, and few bottlers ever re-ordered the New Coke concentrate again.

The company still harbored hope for the new recipe and they market tested it again as "Coke II" and formally re-released it in 1992 as part of the product line. But why were they so married to this total failure of a product? While never formally admitting it, New Coke (and Coke II) was supposedly cheaper to produce. According to The Real Thing: Truth and Power at the Coca-Cola Company, shortly after New Coke was released in targeted markets, Pepsi had their chemists examine the formula. They found that it contained fewer flavored oils and vanilla and that "the new formula would save Coke about $50 million a year because it cut back on some of the most costly ingredients."

The different name didn't help, and Coke II was produced by fewer and fewer bottlers until it was killed off for good in 2002. Occasionally, unopened bottles will pop up on eBay, but don't bother buying one for a taste test. Coke II tasted just like New Coke: sweet and a little flat.

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July 29, 2014 - 9:30am
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