Bill Cosby Promotes Coke, Stranger Things Have Happened

With all the instantaneous data available to us today, sometimes we need to be reminded of what the data doesn’t always tell us and how important that can be. This morning’s marketing news provides a great example.

The buzz this morning was about Coca-Cola’s decision to bring back, for a limited time, its failed New Coke to tie in with the upcoming season of Netflix’s “Stranger Things” series, which is set in the 1980s. New Coke appears prominently in some of the new season episodes and, according to the New York Times, Netflix has reached an agreement with Coke and 75 other brands to help spread the word about its hit series. Some other product tie-ins include H&M and Baskin-Robbins.

For those not familiar with one of the biggest marketing mishaps of all-time, Coca-Cola reformulated its flagship product in 1985 because it was losing ground to Pepsi, and in blind taste testing, consumers preferred the flavor of Pepsi to that of original Coke. New Coke was created and tested better against Pepsi and original Coke. After New Coke was launched, consumers rebelled, and Coca-Cola quickly rushed to get the original Coke back on the shelves, featuring an advertising campaign that starred Bill Cosby, who was a spokesperson for Coca-Cola at the time.

In order to keep the testing of New Coke under wraps for obvious reasons, the company didn’t tell consumers that the product they were tasting New Coke against was traditional Coke, or Coke Classic as it was labeled when it was quickly brought back. To say that Coca-Cola didn’t grasp the emotional connection that consumers had to the original Coke is an understatement of epic proportions. To this day, the decision to replace the original Coke with New Coke is one of the biggest marketing mistakes of all-time.

We have tools to track sentiment about brands, and those tools can help us understand some of the emotional connections that people have, but they’re not infallible and in many cases, shallow. Sure, it’s more efficient to send a survey or use an online tool, to take the pulse of a brand, but sometimes you need to go deeper and take the time to really understand the emotions behind beliefs and behavior.

Coca-Cola will be making 500,000 cans of New Coke available this summer in conjunction with the new episodes of “Stranger Things,” and as strange as things can get, I wouldn’t look for Bill Cosby to be a part of any of it.