In 1985, production costs were up and Coca-Cola's share of the cola market had plummeted. Pepsi was crowing about it to the world, making commercials in which they issued the "Pepsi Challenge" ultimatum to their bitter rival: get with the times or get out of the soda business. It looked like Coke was doomed.
Then Coke executives hatched a plan so brilliant and devious that it was almost maniacal: they would concoct a "reformulated" Coke so foul that it would make everyone long for the original beverage. And then, when the original Coke was reintroduced with much fanfare, its market share would skyrocket.
"New Coke" replaced the original coke on April 23, 1985. Its recipe was identical to its predecessor with three exceptions. First, lemon juice was replaced with kiwi juice. Second, cane sugar was replaced with saccharine. And third, fresh spring water was replaced with -- believe it or not -- Pepsi!
Public outrage was enormous. How dare Coca-cola mess with an American icon! All over the country riots broke out in bottling plants. Delivery trucks were turned over. Whole cases of the "evil new beverage" were violently shaken and simultaneously opened with explosive effect. It was sheer madness.
On April 25, while the country was in a state of lockdown under martial law, Coca-Cola executives announced in a press conference that their product would return to its original formula. In fact, the original product -- now called "Coke Classic" -- was on store shelves within two days, causing the cynical to wonder (correctly) if the new product's failure had been expected.
What consumers didn't realize is that the "original" Coke being put on the shelves wasn't the original recipe at all. Its pure cane sugar had been replaced with corn syrup, lemon juice had been replaced by Country Time Lemonade mix, and it now used cocoa that had been leached of all traces of cocaine. Those few days during which people were forced to drink New Coke had effectively scarred the nation's taste buds, so the taste change caused by cost-reducing ingredients wasn't even noticed.
The reintroduction of Coke was a media event. The product's market share skyrocketed, eventually reaching 95%, much to the dismay of poor, beaten Pepsi. And to this day, most Americans are not even aware how thoroughly we had the wool pulled over our eyes.
Behind the Legend
As with many Coca-Cola legends, this is completely true. Amazing, isn't it?