It's going to be a Stranger Things summer, with the third installment of Netflix's popular series arriving on July 4. Though it's been 18 months and counting since the premiere of Season 2 back in October of 2017, for the kids of Hawkins, Indiana, it's only been six months since Snowball '84 happened in the Season 2 finale. It's now the summer of 1985, when LiveAid aired on MTV, Back To The Future hit theaters, and everyone was trying New Coke. Naturally, the last of these has spawned a Coca-Cola and Stranger Things collaboration, so that fans today can experience it for themselves.
Unfortunately, New Coke is one of the most famous rebranding disasters in 20th-century history. As most people know from reading the side of a Coca-Cola can, the syrupy drink has been around since 1886. By the time World War II ended, "Coke" was one of the most popular soft drinks in America, so ubiquitous, there are actually places in the American south that still call all soft drinks "cokes," the way people refer to all copy machines as Xeroxes.
But by 1984, disaster had struck. Pepsi-Cola had come along and not only ate a massive amount of market share, but Coca-Cola's own blind taste tests showed consumers preferred the taste of Pepsi to Coke when they didn't know which was which.
So the company reformulated, rebranded, and in April of 1985, it released "New Coke."
It didn't go as planned. Coca-Cola, which had gone unchanged for a century, suddenly turned super sticky sweet with an aftertaste of chemical misery. Those who had been drinking Coke for decades, refusing to switch to Pepsi due to it being too sweet, were horrified. In a New York Times article from July of 1985, one person writes in saying, "God and Coca Cola [were] the only two things in my life. Now you have taken one of those things away from me." There was literally a protest group formed called "Old Coca-Cola Drinkers of America."
New Coke lasted three months.
On July 10, 1985, Peter Jennings actually interrupted General Hospital with the breaking news that New Coke was over, and the original drink, now dubbed "Coca-Cola Classic" was coming back to shelves.
As Stranger Things 3 is set in July of 1985, New Coke (and the backlash) will be part of the landscape. To celebrate, Coca-Cola is bringing back New Coke, both in the show, where it will be featured "in select episodes," and in the real world.
According to Variety, Geoff Cottrill, senior vice president of strategic marketing for Coca-Cola North America, said the following about the decision to partner with the show:
This is uncharted territory for us. We want to look for ways to work with Netflix, but only in ways that don’t interrupt consumers, and don’t get in the way of the entertainment. If we can find ways to integrate authentically and add value to the experience, then we want to be a part of it.
Whether or not 2019 consumers like New Coke any more than those in 1985 remains to be seen. Either way, it will only be available for a limited time.