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Looking back at Coke’s infamous marketing debacle, one can realize why Trump took his TV show performance further, with his birther attack on Obama

~By Kenneth Tiven

When Coca Cola launched a brand called “New Coke” in the USA in 1985, it made a big impression. Mostly because it was a debacle. People could not understand why it was new or better. They disliked the taste. Within a few months, Coke resumed selling the Coke we had been drinking for decades.

I am guessing that the Coke marketing mishap is firmly in President Trump’s mind these days.

Coca Cola describes it this way: The fabled secret formula for Coca-Cola was changed, adopting a formula preferred in taste tests of nearly 200,000 consumers. What these tests didn’t show, of course, was the bond consumers felt with their Coca-Cola— something they didn’t want anyone, including The Coca-Cola Company, tampering with.

Trump’s thinking is that he took his TV show performance to greater national prominence attacking President Obama personally. Before Trump made his unsubstantiated allegations about wire-tapping, he habitually made baseless claims and offered racist conspiracies about Obama. In 2011, he claimed that Obama’s writing was “about 37 classes below” that of Ernest Hemingway and alleged that Obama’s 1995 book Dreams From My Father was written by radical activist Bill Ayers. Trump pushed the so-called “birther” movement by claiming Obama was born in Africa, not Hawaii. He stopped without a formal apology less than two months before the 2016 election.

So, now after two months of mixed success—if any—with being somewhat presidential, Trump has gone back to his old brand, beating up President Obama with tweets, not facts. Trump is most comfortable doing what he believes has always worked: Denigrating people he doesn’t like, threatening law suits, and stretching truth, essentially being the baddest bully on the political playground.

Trump seems fixated with keeping his modest base happy and pushing the Republican Congress to approving his goals. This did not work so well with the immigration issue and it remains to be seen if the new immigration ban survives. Similarly, the opposition to changing the healthcare system created by Democrats is substantial, no matter what he says he thinks about it.

New Coke was supposed to fix a marketing slump. It did, but only because it rekindled America’s love affair with Coca-Cola’s fizzy drink. The analogy may not work as well in politics as it did with soda pop.

—Kenneth Tiven is a senior international
journalist and former vice president of CNN

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