Don Keough, retired chief operating officer at Coca-Cola, died earlier this week at the age of 88. He is described in a Fortune headline as “The real boss behind Coke's secret formula.”
Among the accomplishments credited to Keough is one that directly involved that secret formula, namely convincing CEO Roberto Goizueta in 1985 to reverse course on the disaster that was “New Coke” in favor of returning to the original recipe.
News of Keough’s death had me rereading a 2010 Buzzblog post that involved this thought experiment:
Let's rewrite history: It was 25 years ago tomorrow, April 23, 1985, that the world's most famous soft drink company committed arguably the world's most famous product development/marketing gaffe: New Coke.
Fast-forward a quarter of a century: How might the course of carbonated beverage history - not to mention the coursework of business management schools - have been altered were Coca-Cola executives first considering such a change in 2010, what with the full wisdom and fury of the Internet at their disposal to help decide?
Might the company have opted to leave well enough alone ... and New Coke on a lab shelf?
Or might New Coke have arrived anyway ... and maybe even thrived.
I'm going to argue for the lab shelf, but feel free to speak otherwise.
You can read my reasoning here. Five years later I’m even more convinced that “New Coke” would never have seen the light of day in the Internet Age.