Cast your mind back to 1985 – you might not have been alive; if that’s the case, you’re excused – when a soft-drink company pulled off the greatest PR stunt in the history of PR stunts.
Coca-Cola’s popularity was sliding. It had been the soft-drink industry leader for decades but was falling behind Pepsi and some others. Something had to be done.
Now, the company denies that what follows was planned. But that’s like Jackie Gleason finding some “lost” episodes of his classic, “The Honeymooners,” and the reporters calling co-star Art Carney for reaction and he says, “ ‘Lost them, eh? Ho, ho, ho.”
So we will take the company at its word, but with a wink and a nudge.
One day, Coca-Cola announced that it was scrapping the “old” Coke and would introduce “New Coke.” There was a great PR buildup with newspaper and TV/radio ads (no Internet yet), billboards, the placing on talk shows of celebrities who were paid to work New Coke into the conversation, other placements of the product and by the time it was introduced, everybody was in a frenzy to try the stuff.
I usually watch Canadian TV news between 6 and 7 p.m. but I switched to NBC with John Chancellor at 6:30 to find out if it really was a story in the States. Was it? How about the No. 1 story for five consecutive nights?
Monday: New Coke is unveiled amid great fanfare
Tuesday: The expected approval didn’t materialize
Wednesday: Coca-Cola realizes it might have made a mistake
Thursday: Soft-drink industry experts made suggestions
Friday: Relax – the old Coke will be back, called Coke Classic
And when it did return several months later, Coke Classic put Coca-Cola back on top. And Coke Classic still outsells Pepsi-Cola to this day.
The reason I told you all this is because it’s happening again today. Not soft drinks this time, but Canadian politics.
There are 338 seats in the House of Commons. The Green Party has two. You need 12 to be recognized as an official party. In October 2020, the party elected Annamie Paul (above) as leader. As she doesn’t have a seat; the parliamentary leader is Elizabeth May, who was the leader from 2006 to 2019.
From the moment Annamie Paul was elected, there have been non-stop stories about her victory not being a popular one, the handling of party finances, her decision to run again for a seat in downtown Toronto where she was roundly trounced the last time, the party considering taking her to court over whatever (and vice-versa) and on and on and on.
For the life of me, I could not figure out how a party that has two MPs (down from three; one recently became a Liberal) could get so much coverage. In the 2019 election, the Greens attracted just over a million votes compared with between 16 million and 17 million cast for the other parties combined and yet, on a given day, the Greens are going to attract more media attention than the two major parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives.
Just the other morning, the CBC covered – live – Annamie Paul opening her campaign headquarters. I bet they don’t even cover Justin Trudeau opening his campaign headquarters.
But then it hit me.
It’s New Coke. The Greens are sitting around and brainstorming about what they have to do to attract publicity for their product and then they send out the press releases on whatever crosses their minds and the media fall all over themselves to show up to cover it. Whatever it is.
So there’s somebody over at Green Party headquarters who deserves a medal. They took a page out of the soft-drink industry’s PR stunt to end all PR stunts handbook and applied it to the Green Party of Canada.
And just as it did with Coca-Cola in 1985, it’s working.