A lesson I hope Obama won’t learn from “New Coke”

This year, the world will celebrate the 25th anniversary of both the death and resurrection of the familiar soft drink, Coca-Cola.  On June 25, 1985, The Coca-Cola Company introduced so-called New Coke.  The introduction was met with an unexpected public outcry.  What was hoped for, obviously, was a passionate embrace of a new product.  Instead, the company was assailed by unhappy consumers who began hoarding the original product before it became unavailable.  That unfavorable outcry ultimately resulted in the company returning the original formula to the marketplace on July 11, 1985 renamed Coca-Cola Classic, to stand beside New Coke.  I had the very real privilege of being an employee of The Coca-Cola Company during that time, albeit in their Minute Maid juice division.  Nevertheless, it did afford a bit of an insider’s view of some of what was going on in the minds of the decision makers.  It really was a fascinating process.

The catalyst for New Coke was statistical data that pointed objectively to a decline in market share for the product “Coca-Cola” when compared against a myriad of new beverage options.  This was compounded by the company’s own version of the Pepsi Challenge which did in fact indicate that in blind taste tests, consumers expressed a preference for the sweeter flavor of Pepsi Cola.  The numerical/statistical data seemed to point to an obvious conclusion…change the product to more closely meet consumer taste preferences.  What was never anticipated and therefore measured was consumer reaction to the kind of change that was proposed in replacing a familiar old product that would have celebrated its 100th birthday the following year.  As a result of that uproar, The Coca-Cola Company listened to its customers with a different set of ears, and while the statistical data was unassailable in its accuracy, the unmeasurable emotional attachment to the old product was almost instantly in view, and that is what ultimately won the day. 

There is a lesson to be learned here by President Obama and the democrat party in general.  The numerical/statistical data coming out of the 2008 General Election was conclusive on the surface.  The democrats won majorities in both houses of Congress, as well as the White House.  It would seem that these results indicated a mandate to proceed with their agenda.  And the democrats understood it in that way as well.  They quickly forged ahead with their hard-left policies that resulted in unprecedented spending leading to enormous deficits.  And they moved ahead with the take-over of what were formerly privately held enterprises, such as General Motors and attempted to convert what has been described elsewhere as 1/6th of the U.S. economy to a government controlled system of health care, much like what is present in Western Europe and Canada.

Consumers (voters) expressed their displeasure with these plans.   The so-called Tea Party movement and the raucous Town Hall meetings of the summer of 2009 were not something to be taken lightly, although it would seem that is exactly what the democrats did.  And in the fall of 2009 they continued to press ahead with their unpopular plans.  And by the elections in November of last year, several incumbent democrats were ejected by voters to be replaced by republicans.  And then, most recently, in the special election to fill the Senate seat of the late Edward Kennedy, republican Scott Brown expressly campaigned against the policies of the president and congressional democrats and won by a large margin.  Consumers (voters) were speaking.

But unlike the management of The Coca-Cola Company who were attentive to its customers and brought back the original formula of Coke, democrats and Obama in particular seem completely blind to the expressed preferences of the people who ultimately allow them to retain their current  jobs.  And while there have been a few voices of moderation, I am  not in the least bit convinced that the leaders of the democrat party get it.  And as November 2010 approaches, it will become increasingly clear whether or not they are willing to learn from the “apparent” lesson-by-the-numbers of the November 2008 General Election, but also learn from what is perhaps more nuanced expressions of the will of the voters as evidenced by what transpired in the summer of 2009, November 2009 and January 2010.  These are lessons that I hope they do not learn between now and being turned out later this year.

And for President Obama, another lesson that he might  learn from New Coke…It is no longer available.  It was found to be so unpopular that it was taken off the market.  2012 is coming.

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