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I Can See That Change Was Just Too Hard For Us

Friday 27th November 2009

I’m going to talk about Coke for a bit. Bear with me, because there is a point. Apologies if anyone knows the background already.

In the 50s, Coke had over half of the market share. By the 80s, this had dropped to about a quarter, and Pepsi was beginning to outsell it. As a result, Coca-Cola decided to do some taste tests to see which drink people preferred. Pepsi was the most popular, with people saying that they preferred it because it was sweeter. Due to this, Coca-Cola decided to change the recipe of Coke to make it sweeter, and started to test new recipes in blind taste tests alongside “old” Coke and Pepsi. As a result of these tests the company came up with a recipe that was more popular than “old” Coke or Pepsi, and the decision was taken to use this new recipe for Coke.

Coca-Cola decided that rather than sell this as a new variety they would simply replace their current Coke with the new one. They also decided to announce the change and to publicise it (see this rather hilarious news report). Pepsi, by the way, took it as indication that they had won the Cola Wars (I shit you not), and gave every employee a day off work to celebrate.

This is a probably massive oversimplification of what happened, but basically the new recipe wasn’t a success. Despite the fact that most people did indeed prefer New Coke in a blind taste test, there was a massive backlash against the company which eventually led to the old recipe being reintroduced in less than 3 months (it was referred to on the floor of the Senate(!) as “a meaningful moment in U.S. history”). People didn’t like the idea of Coca-Cola, a drink which had (to their minds, at least) stayed constant for decades and decades, suddenly changing.

It’s easy to stick with the familiar. Easy and comfortable. But how do you know if your perception of something is changing your actual experience of it; how do you know if the idea of what Coke is, is changing your taste for it? And whats to say that you wouldn’t actually prefer New Coke if you tried to get used to it?

Of course, the Coke recipe has changed a bit over the years – even before New Coke. I think it’s even varied depending on the region where it’s going to be sold, so that it appeals more to the taste of people there. And the epitaph to the story is that after the original recipe for Coke was re-introduced, sales shot back up. So, was the attempt to introduce the new drink a massive flop, or a really masterful marketing campaign?

(btw, just thought I’d mention, Coke > Pepsi. Fact)

Posted at 3:42 am | Posted In: SleepStuff Tagged:

10 Comments:

hannah

Saturday 28th November 2009, 9:48 pm

A group of people were tested to dicovered whether people preferred Coke or Pepsi. Each person was given two unmarked glasses – one with coke in the other with pepsi. There seemed to be no clear favourite. However, when labels were put on the glasses the results favoured Coke by a huge proportion.

Coke’s marketing > Pepsi’s.

Anonymous

Sunday 29th November 2009, 9:42 pm

I dislike cola drinks of every form.

Flix

Sunday 29th November 2009, 9:52 pm

Ha, that looks like I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t like soft carbonated caramel-coloured drinks. I am not, because coke (that’s always the generic term used, regardless of whether it’s the correct one – no-one ever asks for a JD & pepsi, do they? Or do they?) Anyway, yes, coke/pepsi max/zero/diet doesn’t ever taste nice from where I’m drinking.

Dickie

Sunday 29th November 2009, 10:40 pm

“Coke” is a registered trademark owned by the Coca-Cola company. “Cola” is the generic term.

Flix

Sunday 29th November 2009, 10:48 pm

Exactly the point, people say coke when they mean cola, which means just like biro and hoover, coke has an advantage that pepsi can’t do anything about.

Dickie

Sunday 29th November 2009, 11:38 pm

Yeah, but they’re directly imitiating a successful product, so it’s an advantage that they can’t really complain about :-p

Jenny

Monday 30th November 2009, 12:36 pm

I prefer Pepsi…! Although I tend to steer clear of cola etc in general because tbh I usually prefer water/tea/coffee to anything else (and orange juice, sometimes). Most other things are too sweet.

I do find it interesting, that biro/hoover/coke thing. Can’t think of any other examples though…

Dickie

Wednesday 2nd December 2009, 9:40 pm

Another example: Scalextric :-D

Andy

Tuesday 22nd December 2009, 3:31 pm

Honestly I read this ages ago, I just forgot to comment…

Firstly, I prefer Pepsi, whenever I do drink it, which is very rarely these days.

Secondly, the point about people being unwilling to change from what’s familiar, even if the alternative is objectively better, is one of those annoyingly non-linear hysteresis effects which totally balls up the theoretical underpinnings of capitalism. It totally spears the notion that a company/individual can be successful by innovating and producing a better product!

Dickie

Monday 15th February 2010, 4:00 am

I just realised that I completely forgot to reply to your comment Andy.

People are sometimes willing to change from a familiar thing, it just might take a bit of oomph. The best example I can think of comes from the car industry. Up to the 80s, Mercedes were seen as basically the pinnacle for executive cars. They were extraordinarily well made, contained all sorts of innovations, and just generally a classy product. Start of the 90s, the accountants worked out that if they spent less on building the cars, they’d make more money. But that meant that the build quality went down, and over time that damaged the brand.

At the same time, you had Audi. Audi are comparatively new to that segment of the market, and in the 80s/90s an Audi was no match at all for a Merc or a BMW. Now? Their cars have improved massively over the last 10-15 years, and Audis are seen as just as much an executive car as a Mercedes. In fact, Audi probably has a better image now – because they have/had better products.

Another example: Skoda. Up till the early 90s, they were joke cars, you wouldn’t buy one unless you really had to (literally :p). Then Volkswagen bought them, and the cars steadily became better and better. Now, they have a really good reputation, and that’s built on the fact that they sell good products.

Those are 3 that spring to mind, but I’m positive there are countless other examples. No doubt brand loyalty does exist (and it’s slightly different for food/drink than it is for cars, I admit), but it’s still possible to innovate and get success.

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