In the early 80s Coca-Cola Co. was in trouble. The sweeter tasting Pepsi Cola was eating away slowly but surely at Coke's once overwhelming market share. Coke executives decided the time was right for drastic action and a secret working group was formed within the company to develop a response to the Pepsi challenge. The result, New Coke, was launched on April 23, 1985 and was in trouble almost from the time it left the dock.
People felt betrayed that this icon of Americanism would suddenly become subject to the winds of apparently changing tastes. If Coke could be changed what was next? The Statue of Liberty in a mini skirt and leg warmers? Coca-Cola Co reportedly received nearly a half million calls and letters of protest from outraged customers. Editorial writers lambasted the change and even Fidel Castro weighed in with his disgust.
Somebody had to do something or the moral fiber of America itself would soon unravel, so the company announced a mere three months after dumping it that they were going to re-introduce the original formula much to the delight of well meaning people of good standing everywhere. Coke Classic (as it would now be called) was a huge hit when it went back on the shelves in July and by the end of the year New Coke was fading quickly into the mist of marketing blunders (although it lingered on store shelves here and there for some time until it was officially discontinued in 2002).
Coca-Cola Co's stunning reversal on New Coke led many people to conclude that they were being duped by a grand marketing conspiracy. The idea floating around was that Coke executives conspired to introduce a product they knew would be controversial in order to draw attention back to their flagship brand, which had been losing market share. If that was their plan it worked. But most marketing experts tend to think that Coke executives simply blew it.
As one Coke bigwig remarked when asked about a possible conspiracy; "We're not that smart."