Dangerous Compromise

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

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

Our text, be not conformed, could be translated as, “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 fashioning to this world. Our Greek verb is suschēmatizō (συσχηματίζεσθε), and it means to conform to another’s pattern. The verse continues, 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 tense, 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 single stock. Understand that $100,000 worth of stock in 1919 could be 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 to increase sales or try to beat out your competition in marketing to young people?

Remember that by 1985 Coca-Cola had been an icon in America and worldwide for a century. It gained tremendous exposure and market share in WWII because Coca-Cola was given exclusive access to sugar, which was rationed then. 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 wanted kids to associate drinking Pepsi with “being cool,” so they changed to identify with popular culture. Their slogan? “Pepsi, the choice of a new generation!” There is just one problem with that; pop culture changes constantly, and a product like Pepsi needs to be “for all times” and “for all people” if it is 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? Pepsi made a critical mistake by marketing its product to one main demographic: teenagers

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 wouldn’t 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.” What a disaster!

To the people who lived 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 influenced Coke to change something that was so successful and so beloved around the world? Was it lunacy or arrogance? The error has no 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 they enjoyed daily with their lunches to dinners — is such a flagrant disregard of others that it’s a wonder the company didn’t crash and burn.   

People wondered, what am I going to drink now? They didn’t want something “new” they wanted what they always had. “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 leadership at Coca-Cola were living on another planet.  Common sense would tell a person it would not work. 

We Won the Cola War!

In 1985, Coca-Cola did the unthinkable; because they obviously were not thinking. They changed the formula of their beloved soft drink to taste like their enemies (competition). Why? they believed it would increase sales to “the new generation.” What did their competition do? Pepsi declared victory in the cola wars! The backlash from loyal Coca-Cola drinkers was bad enough, but now your enemy is mocking you. Why? You agreed that what they have to offer is better, and you wanted to be like them. 



Do you see a parallel? Whether we realize it or not, every time we compromise in the churches of God to identify with “the flavor” of the world, the kingdom of darkness declares 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” than their sales went through the roof, and Pepsi’s sales 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, too. 

The Real Thing

At some point, the management at Coca-Cola, obsessed with market share, tweaked a time-tested flavor. They made their product, which transcended cultures and time frames, taste like their enemies. What insanity! Likewise, we have lived long enough to see that the “new” meeting style hasn’t worked in the churches. Is attendance up? What is the trend? Bible-based sermons, hymns, and books are nearly unintelligible to an entire generation of professing Christians. By flavoring Christianity like the world, we have sabotaged our own uniqueness. The kingdom of God is an alternative society. Sadly, when we conform to the world, we destroy the contrast we have with the world. 

 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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