[Since posting, I have reversed my position; see the more recent post “Rainbow Glow”. I leave this otherwise unedited as a matter of honesty.]
I am not Married Classic. Traditional – that is, heterosexual – married households should not be obliged to rename themselves because non-heterosexuals want to get in on the act. Marriage has been many things over its history; but it has always been a het institution. Allow me a digression:
I resented Coca Cola Classic. I ordered “Coke”. I would be disappointed to hear “No Coke; Pepsi!”, even if John Belushi came back from the dead to scream it at me. I didn’t want Pepsi; and likewise, didn’t want New Coke. I wanted a Coke, but I couldn’t get one for the longest, unless (Joseph Heller would understand), I asked for something different. And, while Coke is cola, cola is not Coke.
Coca Cola senior publicist Jay Moye recently authored a piece imagining the infamous introduction of New Coke in the digital age. He quotes Michael Bassik, managing director of Burson-Marsteller’s U.S. digital PR and communications practice.
“…It’s important to note that most consumer reactions are born from frustration with their product or service changing. So even if the response comes off as negative, it’s coming from a place of wanting to protect and preserve the brand they know and love.
“I suspect the hashtags would predominantly focus on the campaign to bring back the original formula, just as the conversations did in 1985. My bet would be #savecoke.”
It took nearly three months for the company to reintroduce the old formula. Well, we sort of got Coke back: Classic was a bit of a lie, since it allowed completion of the company’s phase-out of cane sugar in favour of the much cheaper sweetener, high fructose corn syrup (so much for its big sugar origins). And, we couldn’t just order a Coke and still be sure of what we were getting.
Today the outcry would have been bigger and overwhelmingly faster, the company’s response much quicker too; with the happy-ish result, then as now, likely much the same. Bassik again:
“Sales of the original Coca-Cola surged in the months to follow, restoring the brand as the frontrunner in the ongoing cola wars and affirming a truth countless marketers continue to learn and relearn in the social media era – that consumers, not companies, own the world’s most cherished brands.”
I’m not surprised there was no discussion of product names in hypothesizing the scenario today. No harm, no foul: we got our bevvy back, the company ritually ate a small side of crow with their increased profits (as then company president Donald Keough put it, “We love any retreat which has us rushing toward our best customers with the product they love the most.”)
New Coke is now history as a product, as well as being one of the semi-cautionary Legends of 20th century commerce. Only, it was never officially called New Coke; it was Coca Cola, take it or leave it – the attitude of the man who came up with the plan (interestingly enough, born in Cuba to a pre-Castro big sugar family), CEO Roberto Goizueta. In 1992 he eventually allowed it to be called Coca Cola II, and he happily drank it for the rest of his life. It survived him by five years, finally discontinued in 2002; and in 2009, the word “Classic” was dropped from the real thing.
But for a long while there was confusion. The taste tests told one story, which never changed: people consistently did prefer New Coke to both Classic and Pepsi, and claimed it would be their preferred choice in future; and this pattern held true for as long as it was made! That’s what the majority said, in taste tests… of a certain kind. Trend analyst Malcolm Gladwell suggests the tests were inherently problematic, because they didn’t test the real thing – what people drink in quantity, repeatedly, over time. Instead they tested tastes: relatively small amounts. And even though the preliminary testing did reveal a very vocal minority (10-13%) who were strongly opposed to any change (and whose vociferous opinions even swayed other test participants), the company went ahead with the change. They just didn’t anticipate how vocal, determined, and persuasive that minority would be. Try this: 1,500 calls a day – nearly four times the average; some as upset as if a family member had died.
Sales of the new product were initially very good, and most people were happy with it; but those who weren’t were so unhappy, it was newsworthy: people hoarding the vanishing old supply; shipping it in from overseas; talk show hosts making jokes… it became uncool to admit liking the New Coke. Those who did were happy enough to go along with the new, but they didn’t really care about it. And when they thought about it, changing the formula of the most recognized brand in the world (one that called itself The Real Thing), and insult to injury, not introducing Real Thing 2.0 as just another product but as ¡BAM! The Only Thing – no transition, no legacy support – well, yeah, it did seem…not too bright.
Coca-Cola reconsidered. ABC’s Peter Jennings interrupted daytime soaps with the breaking news. In the Senate it was called “a meaningful moment in U.S. history”. Over the next two days Coke’s line rang off the hook, nearly 32,000 calls. At a press conference, Keough said “The simple fact is that all the time and money and skill poured into consumer research on the new Coca-Cola could not measure or reveal the deep and abiding emotional attachment to original Coca-Cola felt by so many people.”
Although by the end of the year the company’s numbers were huge, they were left with a problem: how to market New Coke. The initial campaign: “The Best Just Got Better” was suddenly an unintended punchline. They’d given us back our cola of choice with a handle attached: Classic. There was no way they would rename the new one. The NEW! on the label was not the name but broadcasting the change…twenty years earlier it might well have sported IMPROVED! as well. So, it settled in to a 3% market share (bigger in L.A.), and for a while those of us who cared had to specify which we wanted to the waiter: “you know…Coke classic, right?”.
Why all this discussion of slavish devotion to a soft drink? I thought you’d never ask. As promised:
Gaymarriage. And I’m not opposed to it. As long as you call it that, or New Marriage, or Civil Union, or Formalized Alternate Lifestyle, or something else that doesn’t already have a definition which cannot accommodate it. Marriage is not that word. Marriage is not just about two persons, it is more specific; although sometimes it is about more than two persons, the concept is unequivocally, undeniably, inextricably bound to the nature of procreation. Doesn’t mean you hafta have kids. I’m not saying the institution has not been politicized, used to consolidate and control families, bloodlines, property, empire. And I’ll admit it was likely conceived by men, as a tool to serve the male’s evolutionary survival, a way to help ensure that children (who are always her children, no matter the father) also be his.
Yes, as a matter of fact, some of my best friends are…whatever. Like I said, I am happy for people to unite, and if it’s about love, that’s a good thing. Much of marriage historically has not required love. Adopting children? Children should be adopted into situations that will nurture them with love, respect, education, opportunity, and encouragement, in a healthy and safe surrounding. That may well be proportionately more common in alternative households than in traditional married families, but that’s not the point. Sex education and birth control (including abortion) should be universally available to help ensure that all children have those entitlements; and many married households are woefully unenlightened and cruel; and again, that is also not the point.
It’s really simple: marriage was conceived and constructed as a formalized celebration in response to the natural human procreative union. It isn’t about fish, some of which all start as boys and then change to allow procreation. There is only one way to make human babies; even a test tube attests to seconds of pleasure had somewhere by some guy and his best hand. Those of us who chose to enter into that formal celebration feel unique. Even if we don’t or can’t have children, it is an institution that refers to and was made in acknowledgement of that profoundly special partnership. It’s not merely like being left handed. It’s not merely like having an I.Q. over 130. It is similarly exclusive, yet it is of more profound significance, and that is why the long preamble about Coke. Remember the quote that “consumers, not companies, own the world’s most cherished brands.” Well, that’s what we have here. Married people, in statistically significant numbers, don’t agree with dilution of the definition.
I realize I may be choosing some questionable company (and that’s being generous). But consider this: because same-sex union demands a broadening of the definition of marriage that is on another order of magnitude than any and all of the permutations it has gone through thus far, I believe I am right. I feel it as deeply as I know that hate and judgemental discrimination are hurtful and wrong. My assertion is not judgemental but discerning. It is not about merit. We can safely if unhappily agree that everyone opposed to alternative lifestyles is likewise opposed to marriage in those unions; however not everyone opposed to same sex marriage is a bigot. That said, we feel very, very strongly that the compromise in redefining marriage is just wrong. And we dislike being discriminated against as much as anyone, which is what the Politically Correct are doing.
The reason the Coca Cola fiasco ended with pretty much a good result, is that the majority of cola drinkers didn’t really care much one way or the other. This is so much trickier, because it involves human rights. Those who support SSM (it’s that or say gaymarriage all the way through) see it as an essential step in pushing back against oppression of SSrelationships (and by extension against all intolerance). These latter aims are part of the good fight, that anyone of character, anyone possessed of compassion or humanitarian spirit, is fighting however they can. Still we must we watchful; wary of the knee jerk, leery of Political Correctness trumping rational thought and compassion. That’s what felled Brendan Eich. I don’t know the man, but he’s from Pittsburgh, which is a good start. Now, you may think that’s irrelevant, which on many levels it is; but here’s why I bring it up. Go on a journey through American popular culture, and you will find Pittsburgh has garnered more than a fair share of undeserved slurs and put downs. I’m here to tell you, if I were relocating to any city in the US, I’d list Pittsburgh first, with Laguna Beach in the “but what if?” slot. Why? Laguna beach doesn’t have a national league baseball team, which, while I’m discussing definitions, is the correct and pure form of the game. Thank you.
Brendan was just outed for having contributed in 2008 to the fund supporting Proposition 8. During the intervening six years he lived his mean, sordid life undetected, curtailing liberty and undermining freedom wherever he could. What’s that? That isn’t what he did? No, apparently he did the kind of things that resulted in him being made CEO of Mozilla, those crazy open source computer hippies behind Firefox etc. – an organization he cofounded, for what its worth. Ah well, one bad thought, and it’s a slippery slope. A couple of days sitting in the big chair and he leaves, or is heaved (read: harassed by intolerants), onaccountabecause his $1000 contribution translated into the brutal crushing of .46 of a gay marriage. Apparently somebody did this math, so what I wanna know is…did that prevent said couple from enjoying their relationship without the label?
Yes, this is about free speech. Also the concept that you don’t have to agree with everybody at work about everything, and if the strident (yup) 10% didn’t feel comfortable – even though they didn’t know him or discuss the fine points of his thinking on the topic – maybe they should have educated themselves (did they even read his response to the situation?), or quit. His ouster is a triumph of the sesumarongi.
The argument comes that marriage is a right of the LGTB community (a community that has also found all sorts of extremely non-common ground over the decades, but never mind). As with the right of men to use the YWCA change room, I disagree, on a related principle of biology. They have the right to associate in harmonious ways as they choose. Neither they, nor their friends, supporters, PC nazis, nor anyone else has the right to demand this final permutation of marriage, redefining it beyond the fundamental essence of its origin. It is not the same. Get Civilly Unionized, be Familitated, live in a polyamorous polymorphous-perverse group raising beautiful, wonderful healthy children whose peaceful and grounded serenity finally makes the world go horizontal and we sing your praises as Truly Enlightened Beings… but leave us the sad little truth that is celebrated in Marriage.
David Byrne is not one to just throw songs together. He chooses words for their meanings. In the song Creatures of Love:
“Well, a woman and a man can be together / If they decide to, they’ll make little creatures”
I got in an argument with a lesbian friend about the meaning of the words “be together”, insisting that it referred specifically to procreation, and in this sense, only a man and a woman can truly be, together; as distinct from co-existing in all sorts of fun and fulfilling permutations. She got mad because she was applying a casual definition of the words where I was being rigorous. Children are the together-beings of their parents. It’s not a political statement, it’s not a judgement; it’s a fact. Words have meanings. Yes, language is a living thing… but its changes should enhance communication. Why do heterosexual married partners need to take on the equivalent of Marriage Classic to satisfy a political agenda? And don’t say that if we feel the need to make the distinction then such entailment is our choice. NO! Nothing further is required. The club is open to those who fit the description (and you can see by the continuum of membership, it’s no meritocracy).
Likely, we’ll have to agree to disagree. I’m almost okay with that, partly because it’s pretty clear which way the pendulum is swinging, and one must pick one’s battles. Also because the institution has admittedly been stretched (again, almost) every which way, by every authority in every country in every era since some bunch of men came up with the idea. More to the point, while I feel strongly that the case I’m trying to make is for an important and worthwhile distinction, and is not motivated by any issue of merit or judgement, I am also aware that I am in a real minority in adhering to my position for sake of that distinction. Most of those who oppose SSM are motivated by intolerance, and I prefer to not be borne on their ugly tide.
I know I’m right; on the other hand, no one was ever hurt for want of a Coke. Now, go away, or I’ll restate my case, using Quebec as the analogy.
(and may your god go with you)
Specific detail about New Coke is restated and/or condensed from Wikipedia, which in addition to information from the Coca Cola Company, cites the following:
Hays, Constance; The Real Thing:Truth and Power at the Coca-Cola Company, Random House, 2004, ISBN 0-8129-7364-X, 114
Pendergrast, Mark; For God, Country and Coca-Cola: The Definitive History of the Great American Soft Drink and the Company that Makes It, Basic Books, 1994, ISBN 0-465-05468-4
Schindler, Robert M. (1992). “The Real Lesson of New Coke: The Value of Focus Groups for Predicting the Effects of Social Influence”. Marketing Research 4 (4): 22 [p. 27]. ISSN 1040-8460.
Oliver, Thomas; The Real Coke, The Real Story, Penguin, 1986; ISBN 0-14-010408-9
Matthews, Blair (Spring 2005). “Coca Cola’s Big Mistake: New Coke 20 Years Later …”. Soda Pop Dreams. Archived from the original on December 2009. Retrieved June 16, 2006.
Demott, John; June 24, 1985; “All Afizz Over the New Coke; Time.
The New York Times; October 23, 1985; Topics; Cars and Cola Jokes; retrieved November 19, 2006.
Geller, Martinne (January 30, 2009). “Coke scraps “Classic” tag from flagship cola: report”. Reuters.
Enrico, Roger and Kornbluth, Jesse; The Other Guy Blinked: How Pepsi Won the Cola Wars, Bantam Books, New York, NY, 240. ISBN 0-553-26632-2.
Bigford, Andrew; SKI magazine; “Last Run: Sergio Zyman”, exact date unknown, retrieved June 14, 2006
Cited in Smith, Gary; Introduction to Statistical Reasoning, McGraw Hill 1998, 186–87, excerpt retrieved here  October 15, 2006.
… as for the picture… I found it on the internet… I can only hope Coca Cola loves me back.