When the Coca-Cola Company launched "New Coke" in 1985, it hoped its updated take on the iconic soda would re-energize sales. Instead, consumer reaction to the product was, at best, described with two words no soda executive would ever want to hear: luke-warm and flat.
Now nearly 30 years later, Coca-Cola is at it again. But this time, the company is going old to get new. So old, in fact, they're reviving the image of John "Doc" Pemberton, the pharmacist who first invented the beverage in 1886.
So far, so good, but there may yet be a snag in the plans: The image of Doc Pemberton that Coke has trumped up in its marketing (see above) may not actually be a picture of Doc Pemberton. According to the Wall Street Journal, a separate photo rumored to be of Pemberton was recently bought at auction for $17,825 -- and it shows a decidedly different "Doc."
That Pemberton has neither a bushy beard nor a full chest. In their place, the auctioned photo shows sparse chin hair, an enviable moustache and a balding head. Or, as the Village Voice described it, "a thin, vaguely creepy, balding man." (See a copy of the competing photo in the Wall Street Journal.)
That photo's owner believes Coke's new (well, old) mascot is actually John Clifford Pemberton, a relative of Doc's, and a Confederate Civil War general of somewhat ill repute.
What does Coke make of all this hubbub? Well, the company's Doc Pemberton-branded Twitter account is still going strong, with well over 100,000 followers and several references to the pharmacist's supposed full beard:
Coke's archivist, Phil Mooney, also remains confident the company has the right guy. He told the Wall Street Journal any allegations otherwise are just "pulling at straws."
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