In 1985, the Coca-Cola Corporation was in the doldrums. From the dominant position with over 60% of the soft drink business its sales had declined to little more than 25% of what had become a very competitive business. Then in April of 1985, Coca-Cola executed what became one of the most brilliant marketing screw ups in history; they changed the taste of Coca-Cola.
Thinking that they needed to make a significant change to their business to recapture market share, Coca-Cola decided that the best thing to do would be to modernize the taste of their flagship product. What followed was a textbook example of what not to do with marketing. For those of you who didn't live through it, Wiki offers a fairly complete story of what happened, and you can also read the official Coca-Cola corporate position on the fiasco.
The bottom line was this; regardless of what marketing and executive management thought before the taste change, tampering with the Coca-Cola product drew the ire of such a significant, and vocal, percentage of the customer base, that they were forced to recant the change only three months later.
But here's the kicker; the surrounding publicity of both the screwup and the re-release of Coca-Cola got people talking about Coca-Cola, raised public awareness, and drove up sales numbers significantly. Coca-Cola came back to a premier position in the minds of consumers, and, more than 30 years later, are still there.
So let's look at WebOS and the HP tablet.
1. HP loudly proclaims that their PC division is history
2. The media goes on a feeding frenzy
3. HP cuts the price of the tablets
4. Tablets sell out everywhere.
5. The media talks about possible successor owners for WebOS and the HP tablets
6. Analysts talk about how the best choice is for the marginally profitable HP PC (and tablet) division is to be spun off as its own business
7. HP announces that they will be at least one more manufacturing run of the HP tablet
8. Media goes wild and consumers are on edge to get their new HP TouchPad,
Suddenly the HP tablets are everywhere; an instant user base has sprung up, dwarfing the base of any other tablet than the iPad. HP seems to be wavering on the hard line that the tablet business was done with.
Yet with this supposed fire sale, HP has done what no other non-Apple tab let vendor has been able to accomplish; jump start the sales and market for a new tablet device and operating system.
I think I might hoist a Coke II and wish HP luck...