Marketing Strategy

Published: 19th August 2005
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Marketing Strategy 101

When it comes to marketing strategy blunders, pretty much everybody remembers the nosedive failure of New Coke, right? But what most people don't know is the fascinating story behind the story, & the valuable lesson it reveals.

In the early eighties, Coke was about to lose a marketing trump card to Pepsi. Coke's market share had been in free fall since the end of the war, declining from 60% at that time, to just 24% in 1983. Pepsi was about to be able to claim that not only did it taste better than Coke (as proven in blind taste tests), but that it was actually more popular. This would have added even more fuel to Pepsi's already significant marketing momentum.

While Coke was also losing market share to other new market entries, and increasing consumer preference for diet, citrus, & caffeine-free beverages etc., Pepsi's marketing strategy was continuing to win new customers.

Obviously, people preferred the taste of Pepsi! Better taste was the main thrust of their advertising. Why else would anybody drink such an otherwise worthless mixture of ingredients?

This fact was further born out with the runaway success of Diet Coke. Coke actually developed it from the ground up to taste more like Pepsi, rather than simply replacing the sugar content of the original recipe with artificial sweeteners.

All of the facts & evidence pointed to Coke having a taste problem with the original recipe. Coke had in fact been working in secret for years on a new one.

Drawing on the success of Diet Coke, Coke's marketing strategy called for the modification of that recipe to a sugar based drink. They felt they could finally turn the tide by introducing "NEW Coke", based on that formula.

In pre launch blind taste tests, people thought the new Coke tasted sweeter & smoother than the original. Extensive research revealed that people preferred the New Coke to both the original Coca Cola recipe & Pepsi.

Statistically speaking, the taste of New Coke was significantly preferable.

New Coke was the solution, but what to do with the original? If they kept both on the market, it was a sure bet that Pepsi would be able to claim that it was more popular than both, at least for a time! And a marketing strategy that called for the promotion of a new & an old Coke would only confuse the public & dilute the brand.

The original recipe was dropped.

So what happened when new Coke was introduced?

It bombed completely, & utterly! Here's the brilliant tag line that they used to introduce it. "The Best Just Got Better, Coke Is It!" Gee, that looks like a winner.

People hated the new Coke, many without even having to taste it. And they were incensed that the original had been "stolen" from them.

One hundred years, & countless millions of dollars in advertising had made Coke Cola a part of people's very identity. Drinking Coca Cola wasn't about taste at all.

It was about mental association.

Emotional Opium!

The act of raising that funny looking spiral bottle to your lips. The cane sugary fragrance that followed. The sharp carbonated bite that set your throat a blaze with each vigorous swig. For many people, it was anchored deeply to fond, albeit sometimes even imaginary memories.

Coke had no choice but to bring back the original recipe, amid a huge fanfare of publicity, as though it were the second coming.

What a hullabaloo about nothing. Sugar water.

For god's sake!

If nothing else, this story should prove to you once & for all that it's not what you do that counts, it's what you say & how powerfully you say it. And, that your customer's buy, or don't buy, for all kinds of seemingly irrational reasons. What's critically important is not your product, but how your marketing strategy relates ownership of that product to your buyer's beliefs, feelings, & desires!

It also demonstrates that "me to" can be a very dangerous marketing strategy.

While huge companies like Coke can afford to blow through billion dollar advertising budgets like there's no tomorrow, as a Guerrilla marketer, I urge you to avoid expensive frontal assaults & one-upmanship like the plague.

Be creative instead, & seek to outflank the enemy!


Daniel Levis is a top marketing consultant & direct response copywriter based in Toronto Canada. Recently,

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