In 1985, the launch of New Coke was an unmitigated disaster for one of the world’s iconic brands, a failed experiment that inspired a customer revolt and became a punchline synonymous with bad corporate thinking.
In the afterglow of nostalgia, however, New Coke is an essential piece of 80s pop culture, one that The Coca-Cola Company will bring to life as part of a unique cross-promotional activation with Netflix’s hit series Stranger Things.
Starting tomorrow, May 23 at 5 p.m. EST, Coke will release a limited amount of New Coke, made using the original recipe, as part of a bundle package that also includes a Stranger Things-branded Coca-Cola and Coke Zero Sugar glass bottle. Each bundle includes two 12 oz. cans of New Coke and will be available exclusively through CokeStore.com/1985
New Coke will also be available in select cities in Stranger Things-branded vending machines inspired by the show’s “upside-down” dimension, which will dispense product for free. The first machine will launch tomorrow in New York. Visitors to World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta will also have a chance to receive New Coke cans as a gift, as will customers who make a purchase of $19.85 or more at the Coca-Cola Store in Las Vegas.
The tie-in will also be promoted via a video ad that will run online and in select cinemas starting this Friday. The clip, directed by Stranger Things creators the Duffer Brothers, will feature characters from the show drinking New Coke at a move theatre.
The collaboration with Coke hinges on the Netflix show’s setting and themes; set in the mid-1980s, Stranger Things follows the adventures of a group of young friends caught up in a supernatural conspiracy in their small Indiana town. The show, which will release its third season in July, features large and small nods to 80s pop culture throughout, and has generated a large fan base that has helped the franchise expand to licensed comics, books, video games and even its own Lego set.
According to Coca-Cola, Netflix contacted the soda giant to discuss how it could “authentically integrate” New Coke into the third season of the show, which takes place during summer 1985. Following a visit by Netflix to Coke’s archives in Atlanta to “study New Coke packaging, memorabilia, [and] advertising,” the soda company decided to go further by resurrecting the ill-fated brand. That process involved everything from replicating the exact shade of “Coke Red” on the can label to sourcing ingredients and getting approval to produce concentrate.
“Ultimately, we looked around the room and said, ‘Why wouldn’t we do this?’” said Oana Vlad, director of Coca-Cola Trademark for Coca-Cola North America, according to the company. “No one would have ever thought we’d produce New Coke again after what happened in 1985, but we all agreed that if we wanted to partner with Netflix and Stranger Things in a truly culturally relevant way that would resonate with our fans – and theirs – then we had to make the New Coke story come to life.”
For the last 34 years, New Coke was a chapter of company’s history that it would just as soon rather forget. Introduced by CEO Roberto Goizueta during a press conference in April 1985 as “the most significant soft-drink marketing development in the company’s nearly 100-year history,” New Coke was backed by a marketing blitz and by taste test data that showed consumers preferred it over the old recipe. Yet despite Goizueta’s claim that it was the “surest move ever made,” the product suffered an intense backlash; according to Mark Pendergrast’s definitive history of The Coca-Cola Company, For God, Country and Coca-Cola, by the beginning of June 1985, the company was receiving 8,000 calls per day complaining about the new line. In response, Coke reintroduced the soda’s original formula as Coca-Cola Classic just 79 days after the launch of New Coke.
The collaboration with Stranger Things gives Coke a high profile stage on which to spin one of its biggest ever corporate blunders into a meta pop culture moment that shows consumers a more playful side.
Michael Burdett, Coke’s principal scientists for global category development, said reviving New Coke via Stranger Things was a way to show “we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
“One of our growth behaviors is celebrating and learning from failure, and New Coke – for better or worse – is known as a failure,” he said.
At the very least, according to Vlad, the brand knows its consumers still have strong feelings about its “classic” formula.
“New Coke taught us that our fans are extremely passionate about our brand and great taste,” Vlad said. “That passion has helped propel Coke to the iconic brand it is today and encourages us to continue to do big things to connect with our fans. It’s not about a ‘mistake’… it’s what we learned and the incredible cultural resonance of Coca-Cola.”