Moment of Inertia, Issue #8 | SNR

Based on the stats from Netflix, I think it's safe for me to assume that you all have watched Stranger Things 3 by this point, so I imagine you'll all know what I'm talking about when I reference the "New Coke" scene that happens in what I believe was the second-to-last episode of the season. Not having been alive in 1985 myself, and not having done much in the way of in-depth research into the history of Coca-Cola's much-maligned beverage, I figured the scene was a tongue-in-cheek, almost-breaking-the-4th-wall moment of levity in the midst ofsome intense action (you'll get no spoilers from me! Besides the spoiler that there's New Coke in the show this season).

That brings us to this article from Mother Jones that I came across earlier in the week, telling a different New Coke story than the one many of us are familiar with. I'll let you read that article yourselves, but I think this quote summarizes the story pretty well:

"A beverage’s broad popularity, though, is not a very interesting story. Dissent makes a good story. People expressing strongly held and borderline pathological opinions about soft drinks makes a good story. And it didn’t take long for reporters to start finding them."

That's right, New Coke was overall a popular and enjoyed beverage. And it should have been, Coca-Cola tested and iterated on the formulation for years before its release. (Did you really think huge, multinational companies just "released" products out in to the wild? Even if the executives decided to release New Coke on a whim, it would've taken at least months of intense manufacturing process re-development to even produce a single can - careful planning is inevitable at giant manufacturing firms.)

I'll admit, I never gave much thought to any of this. I never thought to question the reported history of New Coke. Learning more about its history - especially the planning around its launch - I have to admit, it all makes a lot of sense and sounds more than reasonable, really. When you're American Icon™ Coca-Cola you don't risk your entire reputation on one new product release. You wargame that thing until you've considered every possible outcome and have a plan and several backup plans prepared for each. (Relatedly, you'll be amazed how many times the Allied invasion of Normandy comes up in this article about a brand of soda.)

If Coca-Cola was ready for war, then why did their New Coke release fail?

Read that quote I included from the article again.

In the grand scheme of things, controversy around soda is one of the least ofour worries. The reporting sentiments that turned the tide on New Coke, however, are pervasive in many places.

Now, I'm not saying we should automatically mistrust the news and other forms of public communication. Most of the information we receive each day - through the reports of our own senses and reports from others - is pretty cut-and-dry and factual. There are plenty of other "New Coke" stories out in the world, though, and it's important that we check our sources from time to time to make sure we're getting a realistic picture.

Like any other signal optimization problem, this requires a lot of sampling - both breath and depth are required. This means canvassing a diversity of viewpoints and opinions, and doing enough canvassing to see when patterns emerge.

You won't always find just one pattern, or receive just one signal. Did some people truly dislike New Coke? Absolutely. Was it the majority? Maybe not.

We don't live in a world of absolute truths. Sweep the FM radio band and you don't pick up only one station; there are dozens of signals out there. Reality is a mosaic of truths - of signals - and maybe the best we can do by it is to understand as many of those signals as we can.