On This Date In 1985 Coca-Cola Became New Coke But Not For Long — Here's What Happened

Everyone knows Coca-Cola. It's one of the most iconic, global brands. Chances are, you can still picture those adorable polar bears and penguins from their late 2000s Christmas marketing campaign, and you've seen the famous glass bottles on more than one billboard in your lifetime.

While Coca-Cola is known for its genius marketing, and its unstoppable word of mouth press, the company tripped up big time in 1985. They completely botched an attempt at a rebrand that most people remember, even today.

On April 23, 1985, Coca-Cola announced they'd changed the formula of their ultra-popular drink. You may be asking why: why would such an iconic, widely praised soft drink change the formula that made it so famous? It's the question that nearly ruined the Cocoa-Cola reputation in '85 and made "New Coke" one of the shortest-lived drinks in beverage history.

New Coke
Coca Cola Company President Donald R. Keough and Roberto Goizueta toast each other with cans of "New Coke", which the company switched to after 99 years of the previous formula. Intense consumer dissatisfaction led to the re-introduction of the old formula as "Classic Coke" within three months. The failure of New Coke is widely regarded as one of the worst marketing blunders ever. Bettmann/Getty

Coca-Cola had kept its famous formula for 99 years (think about that: it began in the late 1800s) before flipping the script to debut New Coke. There was a reason for the brand's attempted facelift.

Apparently, Coca-Cola's monopoly on the beverage world had been gradually slipping for about 15 years, according to their own website. The climbing rival was Pepsi, which was gaining more and more of the market share.

It's because Pepsi was great at marketing. They'd launched a campaign that showed a blind taste test of both Pepsi and Coke, according to the History Channel. Most tasters preferred Pepsi, and that led the advertisements.

Launching New Coke seemed, to the company, like a way to pump new blood into the veins of the internationally-praised drink. It would attempt to win back the hearts of American consumers.

But Coca-Cola's failure was clear almost instantly. There was national outrage about the taste, and general concern as to why the brand would reformulate the drink that made them famous. New Coke quickly became a joke. And people made a huge show of it, some even emptying cans into the sewers.

The biggest backfire: New Coke "tasted more like Pepsi" according to the History Channel. It was such an immediate failure that the day New Coke was announced, Pepsi gave their employees the day off.

It wasn't that New Coke tasted bad...it was that the company's customers were so loyal to the original Coca-Cola, they felt entirely betrayed by a total rebrand. Imagine your favorite beverage, skincare product or boxed mac and cheese telling you they've totally changed their formula, effective immediately, and you'd never be able to buy the original again. That's what sparked the outrage. Coca-Cola effectively pulled the comfort away from their loyal sippers and left them unwilling to accept the brand's attempts to level up.

It only took 79 days until the company resumed making Coca-Cola Classic. New Coke didn't die there, though. The beverage's name was changed to Coke II, and it sold until 2002. It was never as successful as the classic version, though.

Shockingly, that wasn't the end of it. New Coke made a brief appearance on shelves again in 2019 in partnership with Netflix series Stranger Things. The show, which is set in the 80s, used cans of the mocked drink as props, so the company followed with a swift, super limited relaunch.