The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 72.0°F | Fog

How could they have done it?

As I sit in The Tech office and write this column, I am drinking one of the last of the old Cokes. The next shipment we get will be the new stuff, and the next, and ... it's too horrible to contemplate.

How could they??!??

When Coke first heralded the new formula, I had an open mind. You don't tamper with success unless you have a very good reason. They wouldn't take such a big step unless they were onto something, I thought. I tried to imagine how Coke could be improved.

Maybe they had somehow changed the aftertaste. The old Coke left a refreshing tingle in your mouth, but after several bottles (or, even more so, cans), the aftertaste turned acid and harsh. That would be a possibility.

Or maybe they had changed the proportions of the natural flavorings. Two I could distinctly taste were vanilla and cinnamon. Maybe I'd be able to pick out some others in the new version.

I amused myself with such speculation for a couple of days. Then I read that Pepsi executives were celebrating: Coke had flinched! Coke had changed its formula to be like Pepsi!


I read that the new Coke was sweeter. They had brought the sugar content up closer to Pepsi's. Ah, I thought, that isn't so bad. The Pepsi company is using this fact to give their drink a bit of favorable publicity. But Coke and Pepsi only differed in sugar content by fifteen percent or so, anyway. Surely that alone could not account for the difference.

Still, I was worried. I looked forward to the day I would get to decide for myself. When the new formula reached the stores, I lost no time in setting up a taste test. My reaction:

"Ecch! Pepsi! Pthu!"

The new taste falls in "between" that of the old formula and Pepsi, but it is much closer to Pepsi's. It is all sweetness and fizz and no flavor. To make things worse, it leaves the tongue feeling coated and sugary and makes you want to run and brush your teeth, instead of leaving the clean-feeling tingle of the old cola. Obviously the new Coke can no longer be regarded as "the pause that refreshes."

The final indignity is that if you try and drink the new Coke at a reasonable guzzle, the gas makes you stop and burp just like Pepsi does. That means that you can no longer experience the inexpressible satisfaction of draining a 10-ounce bottle in two or three pulls. But this is not such a loss, because the new Coke also lacks much of the "kick" of the old, which was best appreciated by taking a big gulp. Instead there is a thinness, an empty feeling that you've missed something. You might as well be eating candy.

How did this calamity come to pass?

I think I know what happened. As everybody knows, there are Coke people, and there are Pepsi people. The latter is one of life's mysteries, but de gustibus non est disputandum. There is no accounting for tastes. Coke is trying to woo the Pepsi generation, by doing the same thing politicians do: moving toward "the center." Whatever that is.

When a Democratic candidate takes more conservative positions, he figures that he may get some voters who previously went for the Republican, while remaining enough on the left of his opponent not to lose any of his own support. (Republicans don't seem to do this kind of thing as much, for some reason). By moving closer to Pepsi while still tasting something like Coke, the Coca-Cola company hopes to gain more customers than they lose.

They miscalculated. In an election, either the Democrat or the Republican will win, so a voter will still cast his vote for the candidate he feels closer to. On the other hand, a soda drinker who finds that his drink has changed for the worse need not choose between it and another: he may simply find that his soda is no longer worth the price and stop buying soda altogether. Also, since soda-drinking is an individual pursuit, one doesn't have to worry about one's "third-party" choice not being popular. There are no "wasted votes."

I voted for Anderson in 1980, so you can probably figure out whether I am going to continue to buy Coca-Cola. I will "go better" without it. Maybe I'll give Royal Crown Cola a try, but my total consumption of soda is going to drop way down. I think more people will cut down or stop drinking Coke than will switch to the new Coke from other drinks.

I still have hopes that the Coke executives will see the error of their ways and switch back. If the sales figures drop, they probably will, but it's too bad they can't recognize that the old recipe was simply better, and should have been kept for that reason alone, dammitor darn it! Their cynical maneuver violates the principles "to thine own self be true" and "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," and deserves to fail spectacularly.

A couple of bottles of the real thing are left in the machine here. It's good this is the last issue of the term; I can't imagine how we're going to get the paper out next year without our old fuel.