2011-12-07 / Editorials

Other Voices

New not always better
Mitch Clarke

About 27 years or so ago, a group of business people sat in the executive offices of a skyscraper in downtown Atlanta for a brainstorming session.

“I’ve got a great idea!” one person blurted out.

“Let’s hear it,” the others said.

“Let’s take the bestselling soft drink in the world, perhaps the world’s most recognizable brand,” the person said, “and let’s completely change the way it tastes.”

Heads around the table nodded in agreement.

“It’s ingenious,” one person said.

“We’ll make millions,” another said.

And thus was born New Coke. It was not ingenious, and I doubt it made millions for anyone. In less than three months, it was gone, replaced by the original formula.

Truth be told, it was one of the biggest marketing blunders in American business history.

And now, here they go again.

I bought Coca-Colas at the grocery store the other day. The cans were white. White.

I’m sorry, but Coca- Cola should always come in red cans. The familiar red can is one of the most recognizable icons in the world. When I saw white cans, I had to look back at the box they came in to make certain I had bought the right drink.

The idea behind the white cans was to promote a conservation fund to help protect polar bears’ Arctic habitat, which is being threatened by global warming. Nothing wrong with that. Coke is donating up to $3 million for the effort.

“I can see the letters to the editor now,” one of our reporters said when he learned I was writing a column about the white cans. “The Times is against saving polar bears.”’

That, of course, just isn’t true. I don’t have anything against polar bears. In fact, I like polar bears. I’ve only seen them on TV and at zoos, but I think they are beautiful animals.

Shoot, I’d even own one, except that Glory, the black and white springer spaniel who lives at my house, wouldn’t be happy and the fact that it’s probably against some sort of civic ordinance to have a polar bear in a residential area.

So this isn’t antipolar bear rhetoric. Protecting their habitat is a worthwhile cause.

But I’m just disappointed at marketing executives who want to change popular, successful products so that they are no longer recognizable to the consumers who have long been loyal to the brand.

I’m convinced the same person who dreamed up white Coca-Cola fans is the same person that decided to dress my beloved Georgia Bulldogs in Power Ranger uniforms for the first game of the season.

Coca-Cola has a long history of tweaking the look of its cans, especially during the holidays. The cans have featured Santa, snowflakes and, yes, even polar bears. But the cans were always red.

I can’t help that I’m a traditionalist. I especially appreciate tradition in those iconic things in my life.

Coca-Cola is the official soft drink of my family. My grandmother drank one from a sixand a-half-ounce bottle every morning of her life. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t drink Cokes.

I realize the color of a soft drink can isn’t the country’s biggest issue. But if Congress isn’t going to address our problems, why should I? And, it turns out, there are a fair number of people in my office who like the new look.

Apparently, though, I’m not the only one who doesn’t like it. The white cans were supposed to remain on store shelves until February. But Coca- Cola announced late last week that it is switching back to red cans this week, just one month after the white cans were introduced.

That’s good news. Because just like Georgia didn’t look like Georgia in those uniforms, Coke doesn’t look like Coke in a white can.

What’s next? Turning McDonald’s Golden Arches green for St. Patrick’s Day?

Mitch Clarke is executive editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays. Read previous columns at gainesvilletimes.com/ mitch. Follow him on Twitter @MitchTimes.

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