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The real Coke, the real story.

The Real Coke, The Real Story,

Thomas Oliver, Random House,$16.95.

Weird book. Though it'sshort and sketchy (only the huge spaces between the lines allow it to stretch to 192 pages), it still feels padded. Press conference Q's and A's are printed verbatim, and at least two chapters have nothing at all to do with what the book is ostensibly about: Coca-Cola's momentous and ill-fated decision to change its formula. Oliver is an Atlanta Constitution reporter who has covered Coke for years--Coke's corporate headquarters is in Atlanta. He makes the usual claim to exhaustive interviews with all the principals, but you get the strong sense that this book is largely a rehash of his reporting for the paper.

Having said all that, his centralthesis is compelling. To wit: the product matters, even when it is as inconsequential as carbonated soda. Some of the most talented people on Madison Avenue have spent the better part of their lives creating an image for Coke that makes drinking it seem practically a patriotic act. Coke's "image ads' were great, and yet they couldn't stop the relentless encroachment of Pepsi.

Why? Because Pepsi's producttastes better. Oliver makes a good case that Coke's mistake was not so much changing the formula; Coke's own market research verified the stark reality of the Pepsi challenge, which is that people preferred Pepsi. Rather, Coke erred in refusing to admit from the start that its product was losing favor with its customers. Coke's haughty slogan was: "The best has just gotten better.' Corporate hubris made the company look both foolish and high-handed, and created a backlash that might have been avoided. Now Coke has retreated, and Pepsi continues to steal market share.

To those of us who insisted ondrinking Pepsi even as our mothers told us there was no difference between the two, there is sweet vindication here. Not that I'm biased or anything.
COPYRIGHT 1986 Washington Monthly Company
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Nocera, Joseph
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1986
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