In April 1985 the Coca-Cola Company introduced a new formula for their flagship product, Coke. Called “New Coke,” it was a public relations disaster and within months the company reverted back to their beloved formula. But what if history were different? What if Coca-Cola handled the release of New Coke like many of today’s Catholic leaders handle the current crisis in the Church?
Meeting of top Coke executives
CEO: So, it’s been three months since New Coke was introduced – how’s it going?
Mr. Eldridge, VP of Operations: Not so good. We’re getting a lot of complaints. People seem to like the old formula better.
Mr. Newmann, VP of Marketing: Well, it takes time for people to accept change. I’m sure after a while people will start to embrace it – after all, all our experts have told us this is the way to go!
Mr. Eldridge: I don’t know – it seems like most regular people want to go back to the old formula.
Mr. Newmann: Well, the latest research clearly states that New Coke is the future and will bring Coca-Cola into the modern world.
Mr. Eldridge: It doesn’t seem like our customers agree.
Mr. Newmann: Well, there is always resistance whenever there is change. But we can’t go back to pre-New Coke days – that would be turning back the clock.
CEO: I agree with Mr. Newmann – visionary companies like Coca-Cola don’t move backwards. Let’s stick with New Coke.
CEO: Tell me some good news, people.
Mr. Eldridge: I’m not sure if there’s…
Mr. Newmann (interrupting): New Coke is really taking the world by storm, sir! People are starting to ask for new formulas for all our drinks: Mello Yellow, Diet Coke, Sprite…
Mr. Eldridge: But our sales are down dramatically, and Pepsi’s are up.
Mr. Newmann: Don’t be so negative, Mr. Eldridge, New Coke is the wave of the future. Just the other day the Washington Post was praising us for our bold moves to reshape the beverage industry.
Mr. Eldridge: Didn’t you hear me? Our sales are down dramatically – it’s clear the people don’t like New Coke!
CEO: That’s enough Mr. Eldridge. We need to be positive and understand the importance of what we’re doing here – we must look with joy and hope to a new and exciting future! Sure, making such a major change might ruffle some feathers, but the worst thing we could do is go backwards. On with New Coke!
CEO: It’s been a year since we introduced New Coke; let’s have a status report.
Mr. Newmann: Things couldn’t be better, sir. We are being praised by all the experts for our commitment to New Coke.
Mr. Eldridge: Things couldn’t be worse, sir. Our sales have tanked. 20% of our workforce has left because they are so disillusioned, and we had to slash another 30% because of our decreased revenues.
Mr. Newmann: Don’t listen to him, sir. I don’t know why he’s always so negative. We really are in a springtime for our company. We’re no longer bound to our old formulas and can reshape the company in a modern way. I propose that we change the formula for ALL our drinks!
Mr. Eldridge: What? Are you crazy!?
CEO: That’s a great idea, Mr. Newmann. In two months I want every drink we offer to have a new, modern formula.
Mr. Newmann: I’ll get right on it, sir.
CEO: The new drinks have been on the market for a few weeks – what’s the response?
Mr. Newmann: Great, sir! Every business journal is lauding our visionary leadership, and universities are starting to teach your management techniques as standard in their business schools.
Mr. Eldridge: But no one is actually buying the drinks! We had to lay off another 20% of the staff – if we keep this up, there won’t be a company anymore!
Mr. Newmann: Okay, perhaps we do need a change.
Mr. Eldridge: Finally! So when can we get Old Coke back on the shelves?
Mr. Newmann: Old Coke? I think you misunderstand me – I suggest that we introduce another new formula to Coke – make it “New New Coke!”
Mr. Eldridge: What? But New Coke is only a little over a year old – and you want to introduce another new formula?
Mr. Newmann: New Coke is outdated now – that’s why sales are down. The solution, clearly, is to introduce a newer, fresher formula. That will bring our customers back.
CEO: Great idea, Newmann. Let’s get a new, new formula out on the streets ASAP!
CEO: So, how is “New New Coke” doing?
Mr. Eldridge: As I suspected, it’s…
Mr. Newmann (interrupting): Excellent, sir! There is really a groundswell of support for “New New Coke.” People were obviously tired of New Coke, and they will definitely embrace this new product.
Mr. Eldridge: Actually, sales have fallen even faster than they did when we introduced New Coke. At this rate, the only people drinking our beverages will be in this room, and I’ve switched to Bourbon. I really think we should consider going back to Old Coke.
CEO & Mr. Newmann: (gasp!)
Mr. Newmann: What are you, a reactionary? Why would we go back to such a time as Old Coke? We are marching into the 21st century, and you want to go back to the Dark Ages!
CEO: Newmann is right. We need to stay the course and continue to lead the beverage industry into the future.
CEO: Your reports?
Mr. Newmann: Everything is awesome, sir! Based on what I read in the papers and see on TV, we have never been more popular. True, we had to shut down 10 of our factories, but that is just a sign of the times – nothing we could do about it.
Mr. Eldridge: We had to shut down those factories because no one is buying our drinks! Why can’t you guys see that our changes aren’t helping, they’re hurting?
Mr. Newmann: Nonsense, Eldridge. It’s clear what we need to do.
Mr. Eldridge: Please don’t say that we need to change the formula again…
Mr. Newmann: That is exactly what I am going to say! “New New Coke” is old-fashioned – none of the young people identify with it. We need to introduce “New New New Coke!”
CEO: Another excellent idea, Newmann! Get right on that.
CEO: I’m looking at these sales reports, and they don’t look so good.
Mr. Eldridge: That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you!
Mr. Newmann: Yes, sir, they don’t look that great, and I know the reason why.
Mr. Eldridge: Finally!
CEO: What is the problem, Newmann?
Mr. Newmann: The problem is Mr. Eldridge.
Mr. Eldridge: What?!
Mr. Newmann: Mr. Eldridge is holding us back. He’s always trying to bring back the bad old days of Old Coke, when people were slavishly drinking our product, instead of being open to other beverages, like Pepsi or Dr. Pepper.
Mr. Eldridge: But don’t we want people to drink our product?
Mr. Newmann: See what I mean? Mr. Eldridge, we shouldn’t be trying to proselytize others to Coke. We should allow them to choose their own beverage. After all, what does it matter which one they drink? We can’t be saying that our products are better than others, can we?
Mr. Eldridge: But…
Mr. Newmann: Clearly you need to go, Eldridge.
CEO: I agree. Mr. Eldridge, you’re fired!
(After Mr. Eldridge leaves)
Mr. Newmann: Now, how do you like the sound of “New New New New Coke”?
CEO: I like it…
Eric Sammons is the Executive Director of Crisis Publications. He is the author of eight books, including Deadly Indifference: How the Church Lost Her Mission and How We Can Reclaim It.