March 12, 1894  The Real Thing

Over 400,000 calls and letters came into company headquarters, complaining about the change.  One note was addressed to “Chief Dodo, The Coca-Cola Company”. Another letter asked for Goizueta’s autograph, since the signature of “one of the dumbest executives in American business history”

By the 19th century, Europeans had long believed natural mineral waters held medicinal qualities, and favored the beverages over often polluted common drinking water. British chemist Joseph Priestley invented a means of carbonating water in 1772.  Jacob Schweppe’s Geneva, Switzerland company was bottling the stuff by the 1780s. The first soda water manufacturer in the US was Yale University chemist Benjamin Silliman in 1807, though it was Joseph Hawkins of Baltimore who secured the first US patent, in 1809.

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At first sold for their therapeutic value, consumers increasingly bought carbonated beverages for refreshment. By the time of the Civil War, “soft drinks” were flavored with ginger, vanilla, fruits, roots, herbs, and countless other flavorings. The first cola drink appeared in 1881.

In 1865, Confederate Cavalry officer John Stith Pemberton was wounded by a saber slash across his chest at the Battle of Columbus, Georgia. Like many wounded veterans, Pemberton became addicted to the morphine given him, to help ease the pain. A chemist in civil life, Pemberton experimented with painkillers to take the place of opiates, landing on a combination of the coca plant and kola nut in 1886.

Vicksburg, Mississippi pharmacist Joseph Biedenharn installed bottling equipment in the back of his soda fountain and sold the first bottles of Coca Cola on March 12, 1894.

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The most famous rivalry in the soft drink business began in the 1930s, when Pepsi offered a 12oz bottle for the same 5¢ as Coca Cola’s six ounces.

The Coca Cola Company’s flagship brand had a 60% share by the end of WWII, but that declined to less than 24% by the early 80s, most of the difference lost to Pepsi and their “Pepsi challenge” blind taste test promotions of the late 70s.

cola_taste_test_300x352By the 80s, market analysts believed that baby boomers were likely to switch to diet drinks as they aged, and any growth in the full calorie segment was going to come from younger consumers who preferred the sweeter taste of Pepsi.

Roberto Goizueta came on board as Coca Cola Company CEO in 1980, saying that there would be “no sacred cows” among their products. He meant it. The company launched the top secret “Project Kansas”, to test and perfect the flavor for a new version of Coke. The company’s marketing department fanned out holding taste tests, surveys, and focus groups.

Early results were favorable, the newer, sweeter mixture overwhelmingly beating both Pepsi and Coke itself. Most tasters said that they would buy the product, but a small minority of 10–12% were angry and alienated at the very thought of it. This small percentage was adamant. They would stop drinking Coke products altogether, and they frequently swayed other members of their focus groups.

The way things turned out, the company should have listened to this group a little more carefully.

On an April Friday in 1985, Coke let the media know that a major announcement was coming the following Tuesday. Coca Cola officials spent a busy weekend preparing the re-launch, while Pepsi Executives announced a company-wide holiday, taking out a full page New York Times ad crowing “Pepsi had Won the Cola Wars“.

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Skepticism was high on the day of the Big Announcement. Reporters were fed questions by Pepsi officials, and Goizueta fumbled, refusing to state the reason for the change. He certainly wasn’t going to give Pepsi any credit for their performance in taste tests, explaining “[It’s] smoother, uh, uh, rounder yet, uh, yet bolder…a more harmonious flavor“.

The backlash was soon in coming, and closely tracked earlier focus group results. Atlanta based Coca Cola’s southern customers described the change as another surrender to the “Yankees”.  Consumers filled basements with the old Coke.  One man in San Antonio bought $1,000 worth.

“Protesters at a Coca-Cola event in downtown Atlanta in May carried signs with “We want the real thing” and “Our children will never know refreshment.”” – Coca-cola.com

Over 400,000 calls and letters came into company headquarters, complaining about the change.  One note was addressed to “Chief Dodo, The Coca-Cola Company“. Goizueta himself said the worst part, was the letter made it to him!  Another letter asked for Goizueta’s autograph, since the signature of “one of the dumbest executives in American business history” would probably be worth a fortune. Critics proclaimed the “marketing blunder of the century” while frazzled customer service representatives fielded fifteen hundred angry calls, a day.   A psychiatrist hired to listen in on calls, told executives some callers sounded as if they were mourning the death of a family member.

max_headroom_1986Even Max Headroom and his “C-c-c-catch the wave!” couldn’t save the company.

Ads for “New Coke” were booed at the Houston Astrodome, while Pepsi ran ads in which smiling first-time Pepsi drinkers said “Now I know why Coke did it!”

Even Fidel Castro weighed in, calling the change a sign of capitalist decadence.

Company President Donald Keough knew it was over, on a visit to the Mediterranean Principality of Monaco. A small restaurant owner proudly said that he had “the real thing, it’s a real Coke,” offering Keough’s party a bottle of the old stuff.

The 1985 return of the old brand led two network news broadcasts, and hit the front page of nearly every newspaper, in the country.  “New Coke” became “Coke II” and quietly disappeared, from store shelves.  One reporter asked Keough if the whole thing had been a publicity stunt. Keough’s answer was itself, a classic. “We’re not that dumb,” he said, “and we’re not that smart”.

 

A Trivial Matter

Coke makes so many different beverages if you drank one per day, it would take you over 9 years to try them all. Coca-Cola’s $35.1 billion in revenue makes it the 84th largest economy in the world, just ahead of Costa Rica. H/T gkfacts.in
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March 11, 1918 Plague

“Antigenic Shift” occurs when two or more DNA strands combine, instantaneously forming a new virus sub-type. Like the dealer at some giant, cosmic poker table, this process may deal us a pair of twos. Occasionally, fate deals us aces & eights. The death hand.

In the world of virology, “Antigenic Drift” describes changes which happen slowly, the random mutation of virus DNA which takes place over months, or years. It’s why we get a new flu vaccine every year, even though there’s already some level of “herd immunity”.

“Antigenic Shift” occurs when two or more DNA strands combine, instantaneously forming a new virus sub-type. Like the dealer at some giant, cosmic poker table, this process may deal us a pair of twos. Occasionally, fate deals us aces & eights. The death hand.

Antigenic shift vs antigenic driftWhen the “Great War” broke out in 1914, US Armed Forces were small compared with the mobilized forces of the European powers. The Selective Service Act, enacted May 18, 1917, authorized the federal government to raise an army for the United States’ entry into WWI. Two months after the American declaration of war against Imperial Germany, a mere 14,000 American soldiers had arrived “over there”. Eleven months later, that number stood at well over a million.

General “Black Jack” Pershing insisted that his forces be well trained before deployment. New recruits poured into training camps by the tens of thousands, while somewhere, some microscopic, chance recombination of surface proteins created a new virus, novel to nearly every immune system, in the world.

Reconstructed_Spanish_Flu_Virus (1)On the morning of March 11, 1918, most of the recruits at Fort Riley, Kansas, were turning out for breakfast. Private Albert Gitchell reported to the hospital, complaining of cold-like symptoms of sore throat, fever and headache. By noon, more than 100 more had reported sick with similar symptoms.

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Camp Funston, Fort Riley, Kansas – 1918

Ordinary flu strains prey heavily on children, elderly, and those with compromised immune systems. Not this one. This flu would kick off a positive feedback loop between small proteins called cytokines, and white blood cells. This “cytokine storm” resulted in a death rate for 15-34 year olds 20 times higher in 1918, than in previous years. Perversely, it was their young and healthy immune systems that were most likely to kill them.

Physicians described the most viscous pneumonia they had ever seen, death often coming within hours of the first symptoms. There’s a story about four young, healthy women playing bridge well into the night. By morning, three were dead of influenza.

eb89bde48830Over the next two years, this strain of flu infected one in every four people in the United States, killing an estimated 675,000 Americans. Eight million died in Spain alone, following an initial outbreak in May. Forever after, the pandemic would be known as the Spanish Flu.

In 1918, children skipped rope to a rhyme:

“I had a little bird,
Its name was Enza.
I opened the window,
and in-flu-enza”.

In the trenches, the flu cut down combatants on every side. “Operation Michael”, the final, no holds barred German offensive which would determine the outcome of the war, launched from the Hindenburg line in March. Crown Prince Rupprecht wrote in August, “poor provisions, heavy losses, and the deepening influenza have deeply depressed the spirits of men in the 3rd Infantry Division”.

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Some sources report as many as half the Americans killed in WWI, died of the flu.

The parades and parties following the cease fire of November 11 threw gas on the flames.  Millions more contracted the flu and thousands more died. President Wilson himself fell ill, while participating in 1919 treaty negotiations in Versailles.  From a public health point of view, the end of war was a disaster.

Around the planet, the Spanish flu infected half a Billion people. A third of the population of the entire world, at that time. Estimates run as high 50 to 100 million killed. For purposes of comparison, the “Black Death” of 1347-51 killed 20 million Europeans.

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History has a way of swallowing some events whole, like they never happened. Today, the Spanish flu is all but overshadowed by the War to end all wars.  Even though in the end, the flu pandemic of 1918-19 proved a far deadlier adversary, than the war itself.

 

A Trivial Matter

In the 17th century, it was cheaper to import some things from England, than to produce them here.  The first bible printed in the future United States came off the press in 1661 in the Algonquin language, a tongue all but extinct in this country, today.