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Changing Your Corporate Brand? Lessons from the 80s.

Updated: Jun 13, 2021

What do Coca-Cola and Rachel Dolezal have in common? Both pissed-off a lot of people by changing their brand...

New Coke Branding Fail
Reinvent brand image

Branding helps influence how a product (person, place, or thing) is viewed or perceived to be. Product branding emphasises qualities or advantages so that potential buyers associate those qualities with the product. It's not an overnight process. Branding takes time, creativity, and persistence for these messages to stick.

Brand messaging must also be accurate and reflective of the product itself. A Volkswagen bug may resemble a Porsche but that doesn't mean it performs like one.

Brand reputation, brand marketing

Messaging + Consistency + Credibility + Repetition + Time = Brand Development

Reputation + Familiarity + Appeal + Interest + Demand = Branding Objectives

Branding takes place at every step of the marketing process. Brand messages are used on websites, advertisements, social media, events, promotional collateral, email marketing, and across all marketing channels.

But before you decide to change a brand it pays to do research first. Make sure you understand your audience and what they associate your product(s) with. A brand refresh may sound great in the boardroom but could end up being a disaster.

Coke and Porsche experienced this first-hand in the 1980s. These two examples stick with me and happened long before my interest in product marketing.


Perhaps the biggest branding fail of all time came from the Coca-Cola Company. Coke had built a brand so powerful that even the product taste was secondary to its image. Pepsi and Coke have been competing for cola supremacy since the 1970s. Although Coke was the leader of the cola-wars, but in the 1980s Pepsi's rise in popularity worried executives at Coca-Cola. Marketers at both companies tried to top the other and created a healthy rivalry. The old guard (Coke) versus its trendy young rival (Pepsi).

Then in the 1980s Pepsi hit a home run with its Pepsi Challenge. The Pepsi Challenge was a blind taste test comparing Coke to Pepsi. Pepsi was the clear winner of the challenge. Coca-Cola executives duplicated the test and confirmed that the majority of cola drinkers preferred the taste of Pepsi over Coke.

Coca-Cola executives panicked and did the unthinkable. They decided to change the century-old Coke recipe so that it tasted exactly like Pepsi. New Coke was born, and lives on in infamy as the worst branding mistake of all time.

There was more to Coke than the taste. Soda drinkers had developed a nostalgic association with Coke. Coke induced memories of cruising the strip, soda fountain dates, and drive-in movie theatres.

They spent millions of dollars on advertising and marketing New Coke. But no matter how hard they tried, it soon became clear the public would never adopt its new flagship product. In an effort to backtrack, Coke introduced Coca-Cola Classic, but eventually cut their losses and dropped the "Classic" altogether. Coca-Cola recovered, but the financial damage of New Coke could not be undone.


A lesser known branding blunder came from Porsche. In the 1980s, Porsche was looking to appeal to a wider demographic than the luxury car market. Enter the poor man's Porsche, the 914.

Marketing and branding

The poor-man's Porsche didn't go over well with its core customers. Rich, slightly balding, middle-aged men everywhere were upset. How dare they make a car for the common man (or woman).

Porsche learned that its core customers valued the premium price tag. They wanted Porsche cars to be expensive. The brand represented a social status like country clubs and Rolex watches. Porsche eventually dropped the 914 model.

Jon Mullett, freelance B2B marketing

B2B digital marketing, lead generation, branding, and search engine optimization

Mullett Marketing, Fort Collins, CO.

TAGS: Branding, Brand Development, New Coke, Poor Man's Porsche, Marketing Channels

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