For more than 30 years, Coca-Cola Company’s “New Coke” recipe has been shorthand for a marketing failure.
Now, the beverage company is facing its past mistake and using it to play on consumers’ nostalgia: It’s offering the retracted recipe for a limited time, in partnership with Netflix’s “Stranger Things.”
— The Coca-Cola Co. (@CocaColaCo) May 21, 2019
Released in April 1985, New Coke was the Atlanta-based company’s attempt to regain market share that it was losing to other drinks. The new recipe didn’t make any fans, causing a huge backlash among drinkers of the original. It took just three months after the release for Coca-Cola to announce it would reintroduce the old drink that summer, dubbing it Coca-Cola Classic. Stranger Things season 3 is set during the summer of 1985.
“New Coke quickly became an example of misgauging consumer demand and remains a punchline three and a half decades later,” USA Today reported.
Unlike the product launch in 1985, Coca-Cola is releasing less than 500,000 cans of New Coke.
Starting Thursday, the soft-drink company is selling a bundle online that contains two cans of New Coke and a limited-edition “Stranger Things” glass bottle of either Coca-Cola or Coke Zero. New Coke will also be available this summer in “Stranger Things”-themed vending machines that Coca-Cola is placing in certain cities as well as in a giveaway at the company’s World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta.
To extend its branding partnership, Coca-Cola is selling cans of its classic recipe and Coke Zero with “Stranger Things” designs. It also made a commercial featuring several of the show’s characters, which will play in select theaters:
— Coca-Cola (@CocaCola) May 21, 2019
No money has been exchanged for the partnership. “Stranger Things’” creators were adamant that they would have included the New Coke failure in the show’s third season anyway, and the classic product has been featured more than 10 times in previous episodes.
However, the marketing move will benefit both Netflix and Coca-Cola.
“The partnership with Coke gives Netflix the opportunity to reach a massive audience via one of the most recognizable brands in the world in a deeply authentic way,” said Netflix Head of Global Partner Marketing Barry Smyth.
It also opens opportunities for Netflix to partner with marketers without selling traditional ads.
The beverage campaign comes as Netflix tries to ramp up its corporate partnerships to recruit even more people to its streaming service.
Netflix confirmed to The Hill that H&M and other retailers will sell clothes that replicate what the “Stranger Things” characters wear. Baskin-Robbins will serve new flavors in reference to the show’s Scoops Ahoy ice cream parlor.
These corporate partnerships give Netflix a way to promote its product without interrupting shows with commercials.
For Coca-Cola, the decision to lean into its previous marketing failure has helped it appear more transparent and authentic, while also appealing to consumers’ nostalgia.
Bringing New Coke back is a way for Coca-Cola to “not take ourselves too seriously,” Stuart Kronauge, president of Coke’s sparkling business unit and senior vice president of marketing for Coca-Cola North America, told CNN Business. And it wasn’t easy to recreate the product: Coca-Cola had to reach into its archives to get the design of right, and dig through its vault to recover the recipe.
“Maybe a while ago we wouldn’t have done this,” Kronauge said. “But we’re changing and trying to innovate in ways that are beyond traditional new products. This is a cultural innovation.” Coca-Cola recently partnered with Disney Parks & Resorts on custom designs for Coke products being sold at Disney’s new “Star Wars” theme park, “Galaxy’s Edge.”
The decision goes against Coca-Cola’s previous PR and marketing strategies.
The catastrophic 1985 reformulation of Coca-Cola had an enduring impact on the beverage company, deepening a culture of caution that became known as New Coke syndrome. Chief Executive James Quincey, who took the top job in 2017, has been pushing his staff to shake off that fear of failure and take more risks. In February, the company introduced its first new flavor of Coca-Cola in more than a decade.
As the phrase “New Coke” trended on Twitter following Coca-Cola’s announcement, consumer sentiment was mixed. Though some Twitter users who saw New Coke’s failure as it happened in 1985 were quick to say that they weren’t excited to try the beverage for a second time, others said they’d buy it anyway—and younger consumers clamored to try the recipe.
This is such a cool idea – taking a massive brand fail from the past and integrating it in an authentic way with a Netflix show: New Coke, from 1985, makes comeback with 'Stranger Things' https://t.co/BZt9hluAoC #newcoke #cocacola #StrangerThings3 #marketing pic.twitter.com/iXNfs0FA5m
— Bradley Ridler (@bradridler) May 21, 2019
USA Today reported:
The beverage giant is playing this tie-in just right, says New York City-based branding consultant Allen Adamson.
“The challenge today for any brand is to break through and to create some energy and some buzz and to try to get a little sizzle in the marketplace,” he said. “This is a way to do it behind a product that tasted great, but (didn’t) have the authenticity front. It’s a different time and a different place.”
There’s no downside to Coca-Cola reminding people of its giant misstep, because consumers can still get regular Coke whenever they want, Allen says. Plus, it lets people who are curious or nostalgic about New Coke taste it, he says.
What do you think about Coca-Cola’s partnership with Netflix and its decision to bring back its iconic marketing failure?