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Gaming History You Should Know – The Failure of New Coke January 17, 2021

Posted by Maniac in Gaming History You Should Know, Uncategorized.
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It’s Sunday, time for a new Gaming History You Should Know, a series where we highlight some of the best independently produced documentaries about the history of gaming. Today, we’re going to be talking about one of the biggest failures in the history of capitalism, which had gone on to serve as a stark reminder to all successful companies ever since. That’s right you guessed it, we’re going to talk about the time New Coke was released.

I know what you’re thinking, New Coke is a soda, it has nothing to do with gaming whatsoever, so why are we highlighting it here? Oh my, you sweet dear. Gamers have been drinking soda while gaming since the dawn of the hobby, and while everyone has their own personal preferences (Bawls, Mountain Dew, Pepsi) we cannot dismiss the ongoing success of the Coca-Cola Company, and their line of products including Coca-Cola Classic, Sprite and Diet Coke. In fact, programming god John Carmack was well known for his love of drinking down Diet Coke while working on his games at id Software, and I’m sure he isn’t alone.

Coca-Cola had been a successful company and known as the US’s favorite soda for nearly a century. However, by the 80s, heavy competition was starting to get distributed nationwide. Pepsi, a rival cola, had increased its market share, and many consumers believed that was due to the fact Pepsi tasted better than Coke. Coke, after doing tons of blind taste testing, believed they found a new beverage formula that tasted better than Pepsi, and that new beverage could wipe Pepsi out.

With this new flavor in mind, The Coca-Cola Company announced they would be changing the taste of Coke to this new focus tested soda, and branded it New Coke. Obviously, it didn’t work, and the company reversed course. After its fall, New Coke would go on to be nearly every comedian’s analogy for failure. Some people even assumed it was some nefarious trick pulled by the company to increase sales in the long term by intentionally releasing a bad product in the short term to trick consumers into thinking they may lose out on restocking their favorite beverage. In fact, most people remember that train of thought being the inspiration for a Futurama joke in the episode where the characters visit the Slurm factory.

Was there more to this story? Was it a conspiracy? YouTube icon Company Man, who has discussed everything from the demise of beloved toy stores to the origins of Dippin Dots, produced a fantastic documentary about the origins and the fallout of New Coke. If you’re a fan of Coca-Cola or not, you should totally give it a watch!

Let’s be honest, this whole fight was over personal taste, and that’s subjective. Every person will have their own personal preferences, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, this seemed to be a rare case of EVERYONE universally agreeing they didn’t want Coke to change, and the company had to bow to their consumers’ will.

Did we ever see New Coke again? Yes, in many forms. For a while, cans of New Coke would share store shelf space next to the (now rebranded) Coca-Cola Classic, until its supply ran out. There was a push to bring it back during the 90s, and people might remember seeing bottles of something called Coke II at their supermarket at that time. Due to its poor label design, I incorrectly assumed it was some kind of store brand knock-off and never purchased it but apparently Coke II was New Coke. More recently, Coca-Cola partnered with Netflix to promote Coke during the launch of Stranger Things season 3. The show, if you’re unfamiliar with it, is a period piece and that specific season happened to take place at the same time New Coke launched. While they couldn’t actually SELL New Coke (maybe there was an issue with it being approved by the FDA for sale) they gave it away during many points of that summer, including to people who visited the Atlanta plant.

I actually still have a can of the stuff hanging around somewhere. If there’s a demand, I could do a taste test video of it down the road.