Power Players

Netflix's 'Stranger Things' revives New Coke. Here's how the failed soda cost Coca-Cola millions in 1985

The Coca-Cola Company

The third season of Netflix's massively popular "Stranger Things" made its streaming debut on Thursday, giving viewers a healthy dose of '80s nostalgia.

Last month, Netflix and Coca-Cola announced that the series' third season would include a cross-promotion for New Coke, the beverage giant's product offering that launched in 1985 — the same year that the show's current season is set — and was almost immediately deemed as a major marketing misstep.

The new season of "Stranger Things" includes scenes of characters enjoying New Coke. Coca-Cola also made a number of New Coke "limited-edition" offerings available for purchase online and in certain U.S. cities.

New Coke's marketing flop

While Coca-Cola is hoping to turn things around with some nostalgia-based marketing, many consumers of a certain age might recall New Coke's original debut in 1985 as a total flop.

In attempt to boost sales and compete with it's biggest rival, Pepsi, Coca-Cola tweaked its classic formula to create a slightly sweeter flavor. Unfortunately, customers threatened boycotts and Coca-Cola's own bottling partners were reluctant to distribute New Coke products.

TIME magazine food critic Mimi Sheraton also panned New Coke's taste, which she described as "a little like classic Coca-Cola that has been diluted by melting ice." And Pepsi's then-president, Roger Enrico, went on to mock New Coke, calling it "the Edsel of the 80s" — in reference to one of Ford's biggest auto blunders.

Coca-Cola reverted back to the soda's "classic" formula a little less than three months later.

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In the 1990s, Coca-Cola rebranded New Coke as "Coke II," but then entirely discontinued the drink in 2002. Now, for the first time in nearly two decades, it's available again — but only for a limited time as part of the promotional tie-in with "Stranger Things."

Win some, lose some

Coca-Cola never revealed how much money it lost from its short-lived New Coke blunder, but The New York Times reported that, in addition to the $4 million it spent on research and marketing, the company lost roughly $30 million due to unsold New Coke inventory.

But a few good things did come from the New Coke flop. For instance, the blunder has since been taught in business schools as a cautionary tale for failed marketing campaigns.

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There's also evidence to suggest that the fiasco bolstered Coca-Cola's bottom line by reinvigorating consumer interest in the company's classic soda recipe. By the end of 1985, the original Coca-Cola version outsold both New Coke and Pepsi. According to The New York Times, Coca-Cola's beverage market share had increased by 9% over the summer of 1985, versus Pepsi's 4% spike.

As Sergio Zyman, Coca-Cola's former head of marketing, said in a 1999 interview with SKI magazine, "Yes, it infuriated the public, cost a ton of money and lasted only 77 days before we reintroduced Coca-Cola Classic. Still, New Coke was a success because it revitalized the brand and reattached the public to Coke."

New Coke...with a touch of nostalgia

Though New Coke failed, the product still managed to leave a lasting impression on popular culture, which is why Netflix and the creators of "Stranger Things" wanted to feature the product in the show's latest season.

"New Coke was always going to play a role this season," the Duffer Brothers, the series' creators, told The New York Times. "It was one of the first ideas in our Season three brainstorm. It was the summer of '85, and when you talk about pop culture moments, New Coke was a really big deal. It would have been more bizarre to not include it."

It won't be surprising if Coca-Cola's cross-promotion with Netflix turns out to be a success, especially given how well "Stranger Things"-related products have done in the past.

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