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Coca Cola’s ‘New Coke’ Disaster and other branding fails

27 Oct 00:00 by Tony Allen

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The Henry Nicholas team are fresh off the back of this year’s Bath Digital Festival and can’t wait to share some of our favourite learnings and insights from the event. One of the sessions we enjoyed was New Frontiers in Digital Creativity featuring designers from leading creative studios who were offering advice on how to craft killer digital experiences.

One of the speakers, Nick Ellis from Halo, talked about how Coca-Cola changing their name and recipe in the 1980s negatively impacted their brand, stating: “A brand is what you and your consumers agree it is.”

This got us thinking more about the Coca-Cola debacle and some other branding disasters that have stood out in recent decades…

‘New Coke’: When market research goes wrong

In April 1985, Coca-Cola announced it would discontinue its original Coke in favour of a new product that many coined as ‘New Coke’. The company had lost market share in the late 1970s and early 1980s and had evidence that taste was a key factor in this. As a result, a massive piece of market research was conducted in the US with almost 200,000 blind product tests conducted.  The results revealed that over half preferred New Coke over the original and huge rival Pepsi.

Trusting the research, original Coke was withdrawn and replaced with New Coke, which proved to be a colossal mistake. Why? The market research was deeply flawed due to the assumption that taste was the sole factor when consumers purchased Coca-Cola. The taste-testers weren’t informed that it was an either/or scenario and were never asked whether they would be happy to forego the original formula for the new recipe. Perhaps most importantly, Coca-Cola didn’t realise the emotional investment people had made with the original Coke brand and how angry they would be when it was taken away. Had Coca-Cola trusted their gut instinct, rather than insisting on using insights to inform their creative direction, the New Coke misstep would have been avoided, and the company would have saved millions.

Gap’s $100 million logo disaster

In 2010, Gap decided the time had come to replace its 20-year-old logo consisting of iconic lettering encased in a dark blue square with something more ‘modern’. What Gap failed to do was announce the rebrand, instead introducing the new logo seemingly overnight. The new look featured the word Gap in a bold Helvetica font with the iconic blue square now fading from light to dark in the top corner. The company was mocked for the change and was forced to reveal the new look was a result of a first-stage crowdsourcing design process. Just six days later, the old logo was reinstated with the rebrand flop said to have cost the company $100 million.

Yorkie Bars ‘Not for Girls’

Sometimes brands make decisions that don’t ruffle too many feathers at the time, but unfortunately see them rearing their ugly head again many years later. When Yorkie launched its £3 million  ‘Not for Girls’ advertising campaign back in 2002, it was considered controversial to some but Nestle’s marketing director at the time Andrew Harrison stated: “Yorkie feels that this is an important element of men's happiness and is starting the reclaiming process of making a particular chocolate just for men."

While there were petitions to boycott the bar, the campaign continued for a further decade before the slogan was dropped in 2011. However, so successful was the campaign that it remains etched into our memories, causing Yorkie’s name to still get dragged into the conversation whenever a brand is highlighted for sexism. An example occurred earlier this month when Kleenex announced their tissues would be renamed ‘Extra Large’ instead of ‘Mansize’ in fear of causing offence. Users on social media were quick to name-check Yorkie as the epitome of sexist branding, proving that, in the internet age, nothing is ever forgotten.

Cardiff City Bluebirds become Red Dragons

Some new football club owners don’t wish to rock the boat in fear of upsetting loyal fans. However, this didn’t seem to be an issue for Vincent Tan. When he took over Cardiff City in 2010, Tan implemented a dramatic change to the club’s identity, changing its logo from blue to red and replacing its famous mascot.  

Cardiff City was synonymous for blue kits and a blue logo, before the club’s beloved Bluebird was replaced a Welsh Red Dragon. To make things even more confusing for fans, Tan allowed the team to keep their original Bluebirds nickname and even kept a small bird at the bottom of the new red logo. Former skipper Mark Hudson, the first Bluebird to score in Cardiff City’s controversial red kit stated that the change “pulled the heart and soul out of the club”. Indeed, the rebrand proved fractious for supporters and, following a relegation, Tan relented, and the club’s logo and kit returned to its original blue.

Stay tuned to the Henry Nicholas blog over the coming weeks to find out more about what got us talking and debating from the Bath Digital Festival. We’re already looking forward to next year’s event!