SAINTS PRESERVE US
I Got You Under My Skin
T.S. Eliot wrote, “April is the cruelest month…” A perusal of the business press indicates that every pandemic month has been cruel to corporations. Some companies are accused of being “woke.” Others are condemned for crimes against social justice and diversity. It’s no easy task to please shareholders, employees, customers, activists, hedge fund managers and financial analysts. And what about all these useless square feet of office real estate?
I don’t even have this tidbit on anecdotal authority, but I’m convinced many chief executive officers are currently knuckling their eyeballs and consoling themselves with the wisdom of Eddie Money, an immortal American poet: “I Wanna Go Back.” In that spirit, a couple of April stories that hark back to the good old days of amiable corporate competition and antagonism. It was all so much simpler then.
New York City’s avenues are legendary. Freeze-outs, whores or heartaches - whatever’s on the stereo. On 3 April, 1973 Motorola engineer Martin Cooper placed our planet’s first cell phone call. He tapped in a number whilst standing outside on Sixth Avenue. There were payphones nearby, on the corner. The recipient was his equally dedicated counterpart at rival AT&T’s Bell Laboratories: Hi, guess what?
Forgive my hazy memory. I’ve not endured Alberta’s proposed elementary and high school social studies curriculum and so I’m bad with dates. Anyway, about 15 years ago I was seated in a boardroom alongside the rest of the boutique agency’s staff. The principal intoned, “They’re dropping ‘Classic.’” My emotions were decidedly mixed. I thought of all the now useless Coca-Cola packaging files. Proofing ads was going to be a short term nightmare. Then again, all the new photography and art required for virtually any application was billable – even if Coke took 90 or 120 days to pay my employer’s invoices.
Back in the 80s Pepsi got under Coke’s skin; gave the red company a purple-nurple, much like Mr Cooper calling AT&T. Pepsi’s marketing mavens manufactured the “Pepsi Challenge.” Coincidentally, consumers who participated in the staged blind taste testing always preferred Pepsi’s marginally sweeter flavour over Coke’s tooth enamel-peeling sweetness. Go Blue! On 23 April, 1985 Coke launched New Coke.
Pepsi executives were stunned. Their rival, the market leader, had altered its signature product, spending millions of dollars in a blind panic to fix what wasn’t broken. They’d poked the bear and it had lumbered off in all directions. Pepsi geared up to launch Savannah Cola, its own Coca-Cola-flavoured brand to satiate consumer demand for the genuine stuff. Note the proposed product’s name, the compounded double-A sound.
The cola war even warranted coverage in Rolling Stone, a pop culture publication. New Coke existed in the marketplace for 79 days. The “Classic” modifier hung around like an embarrassing stain for almost a generation. The cell phone, meanwhile, has had a much longer shelf life.
meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of informed business glee since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is coming soon. Stay tuned.