Dangerous Change

Dangerous Change
Churcha-Cola Revisited (Original publication 2012)
Robert Wurtz II

And be not conformed to this world… (Romans 12:2a)


Our exposition of the text, be not conformed could be translated, “be not fashioned” (Greek mē sunschēmatizesthe μὴ συσχηματίζεσθε). This is the present passive imperative with mē; that is, stop being fashioned or do not have the habit of being fashioned to this world. Our Greek verb is suschēmatizō (συσχηματίζεσθε) and it means to conform to another’s pattern. And then… according to this world (tōi aiōni toutōi τῷ αἰῶνι τούτῳ). That is to say, do not take this age as your fashion plate. To understand why this command is in the imperative, we will look at an example of how one of the most successful corporations in history tried to “conform” to their enemy, and with disastrous results. 


The World’s “Success”


When the late Roberto Goizueta took over as CEO of Coca Cola in 1980, he held a meeting to tell managers and employees that there would be no sacred cows in how the company did its business, including how it formulated its drinks. He told the employees that no one should “feel safe.” He then went on to fire (sack) several managers and workers. The strategy is as old as human civilization; try to appear intelligent and capable by looking around to see what you can criticize; try to make as many people nervous and fearful as you possibly can; all the while knowing absolutely nothing about what’s truly going on. Probably never in the history of Coca Cola had the corporation been so foolishly put at risk as when Roberto Goizueta took over and started making these changes. Is there any wonder Jesus said so adamantly that “It Shall Not Be So Among You.” (Mark 10:42-43, Matthew 20:25-26)


What happened in 1980 and in the years to come, proved Warren Buffet’s (and Fred Lynch’s) theory of buying companies. They invest in corporations that are so good that, in their words, “an idiot (pardon the expression) could run them; because the day may come when an idiot is running it.” Nevertheless, Goizueta was no idiot. He was a man who learned from his mistakes. Keep that in mind as we explore one of his severe missteps. 

Coca Cola is, and has always been, a very strong product and company. This is why Warren Buffet is the largest stockholder and has never sold a stock. Understand that $100,000 worth of stock in 1919 is worth $2,000,000,000 today; that is how successful the company has been over the years. Every indicator is that Coca Cola will continue to grow in consumption globally so it is without a doubt one of the most stable companies in the world. So what do you do with a product that is in demand (albeit not everyone likes it) to increase sales; or more pointedly, try to beat out your competition in marketing to young people?

Keep in mind that by 1985 Coca Cola had been an icon in America and around the world for a century. It had gained tremendous exposure and market share in WWII because Coca Cola was given exclusive access to sugar, that was rationed at that time. Soldiers in the field were drinking Coca Cola as “a small taste of home.” This, among many other reasons, made Coca Cola the dominant cola for many years. 


Nevertheless, Pepsi began marketing to the younger generation and in time closed the gap in sales. You may recall that in 1984 Michael Jackson’s hair caught fire on stage filming a Pepsi commercial. He was part of the marketing team that was trying to “reach the youth.” Pepsi obviously wanted kids to associate drinking Pepsi with “being cool,” so they targeted popular culture with their product. Their slogan? “Pepsi, the choice of a new generation!” There is just one problem with that; pop-culture is about change, and a product like Pepsi needs to be “for all times” and “for all people” if it was to survive. Today Coca-Cola enjoys more than twice the soft drink revenues as Pepsi and holds the #1 (Coke) and #2 (Diet Coke) position with Pepsi #3. What happened? They made a very critical mistake in associating their product with one main demographic. 


The Unthinkable Happens at Coke


As they say, hindsight is 20/20. If Coca Cola knew they would rise to the top as they have, it is likely they would not have made a critical mistake in 1985 that nearly destroyed the company. With Roberto Goizueta at the helm, and in a panic over Pepsi’s growing market share to the youth, on the 100th anniversary of John Pemberton’s first introduction of what would eventually come to be known as Coca Cola, the corporation decided they would alter the formula to taste “a bit more like Pepsi Cola.” They called it, “New Coke.” 

To the people who were alive back then and can remember this event, it was paramount to blasphemy in the eyes of true Coke drinkers. I recall working in a convenience store during this historic event — having to listen to the complaints of customers who were completely disillusioned. I wondered what could possibly have possessed these people to change something that was so successful and so beloved around the world? If you think about it, this was an act of arrogance that has no real parallel in modern sales and marketing. To think that a company could arbitrarily decide for 10s of millions of people that they were eliminating the drink that these people had come to enjoy with everything from their lunches to dinners — is such a flagrant disregard of others that it’s a wonder the company didn’t go belly up.   


Imagine waking up one day and your favorite tea would now be made to taste like something totally different. You were used to that drink and liked it the way it was. What are you going to drink now? You don’t want anything else. “Coke spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out where it had made a mistake, ultimately concluding that it had underestimated the public impact of the portion of the customer base that would be alienated by the switch.” (wiki) Obviously, the powers at be at Coca Cola were living on another planet. Common sense would tell a person it would not work. 



We Won the Cola War!


At the risk of oversimplifying the scope of the issues at the time, let me just say that Coca Cola had   done the unthinkable; because they obviously were not thinking clearly. They changed the long-standing  formula of their beloved soft drink to taste like their enemies (competitions) — thinking it would increase sales to ” the new generation. ” Pepsi then declared themselves the winner of the cola wars! The backlash from loyal Coca Cola drinkers was bad enough, but now you are being mocked by your enemy, because you have conceded that what they have to offer is better and we need to try to be like them. 


Churcha-Cola





Do you see a clear parallel? Whether we realize it or not, every time we change up or compromise in the churches of God to identify with ” the flavor ” of the world, the kingdom of darkness declares a victory. How embarrassing! Not only that, but we alienate all those faithful believers who refuse to settle for anything less than the real thing. The sad thing is that no sooner did Coke release “Coke Classic” that their sales went through the roof    and Pepsi’s steadily started dropping. Coca Cola went back to what made them great — back to their heritage and identity. It was not long, and the so-called “New Coke” was ancient history. 


The Real Thing


At some point the management at Coca Cola became obsessed with market share and forgot that what they were dealing with was more than a tweak in flavor. They had made their product, that transcended cultures and time frames, taste like their enemies. Amazing! Likewise, we have lived long enough to see that the “new” way of conducting meetings and identifying ourselves with the world has not worked in the churches of God. In fact, the situation has gotten so bad that Bible-based sermons, hymns and books are now nearly unintelligible to an entire generation of professing Christians. By flavoring Christianity like the world, we have sabotaged our own flavor. That is to say, we have caused the salt to lose it’s savor by destroying our contrast with the world. 


Understand also that it’s not the music genre that many can’t relate to today; it’s the lack of depth of experience in God that makes the lyrics sound alien. Bible based sermons bore people who have no experience in God. What happens? Some resort to more of what Coke did in 1985. The trouble is that it has gone on for so long that many professing Christians have almost no concept of Bible based Christianity and have no appetite for “the real thing.” The time to return to Bible based Christianity is now — before it’s too late. 


 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 2:2 ESV)   

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