How Coke is Using Nostalgia and Camp to Reimagine One of Their Biggest Failures

“New Coke” – a painstaking campaign from Coca-Cola in 1985 that attempted to reformulate the soft drink for modern palettes – is considered one of the worst failures in the company’s history. It was pulled from shelves just a month and a half after its debut, after receiving an unprecedented volume of complaints from consumers.

Fast forward to 2019, when “Stranger Things” is one of the most popular shows on television, and also happens to be steeped in 80s nostalgia. Now, Coca-Cola is cobranding a limited run of New Coke with the Netflix series, hoping to hop on the “old is new again” bandwagon.

But why would Coca-Cola want to remind people of their biggest public misstep? It largely has to do with a recent shift in B2C marketing culture. Social media tends to reward brands that can successfully pull off a surreal and ironic tone, as this kind of messaging demonstrates that the company doesn’t take itself too seriously and shows an understanding of the new generation’s famously abstract and even eerie sense of humor.

For example, consumers on social media today don’t really want to hear Denny’s telling them to come in and try a Moons Over My Hammy – they respond much more positively to the diner chain tweeting about marijuana edibles on 4/20, a concept that would have been inconceivable for a national brand ten years ago.

Introducing New Coke to Millennial and Gen Z consumers allows Coca-Cola to turn their past mistake into a modern show of irony. 2019’s New Coke is sold with a wry smile and a wink – “We know this isn’t very good, isn’t it so funny how we thought that this was going to be a great move for the brand?”

The culture and climate of 2019 is arguably perfect for a release like this. With camp sensibility quickly becoming mainstream, a limited-run campaign that evokes a “who cares, this is fun!” attitude could be great for the brand. If camp – and the new generation’s sense of taste altogether – is about blending the high and the low, the serious and the silly, then surely a marketing scheme that combines great success with dramatic failure could make for a winning strategy.

It’s Dadaism in a can, and it’s available May 23 at www.cokestore.com.

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