As John McCain tries to salvage his presidential campaign over the few weeks he has left, he ought to think about the Coca Cola Company in 1985.
That was the year that Coca Cola, based on what the company thought was good internal market research, introduced a new, sweeter formula to replace the taste that American consumers had always associated with Coke.
The result was disaster. Consumers were unhappy with the new flavor that replaced a product that was more than a drink. It was a time tested American tradition. In short order, Coca Cola brought the old traditional Coke back to market, and in a real feat of marketing gymnastics, was selling both New Coke and Coca Cola Classic.
Sales of Coca Cola Classic swamped sales of New Coke, and shortly thereafter, New Coke was gone.
Today John McCain heads the ticket of a Republican Party that many Americans have fallen out of love with. It's a Republican Party that Americans once knew but now, like New Coke, has confused its customers, the voting public.
Restoring a brand that has been damaged might be an even greater challenge than introducing a new product. You've got the added complexities of confusion. But this is what John McCain has got to do. And he doesn't have a lot of time to do it.
How can anyone be surprised that Americans are confused with the Republican brand? This was the party that once captured American hearts and minds by restoring focus to principles of limited government, traditional values, and personal responsibility.
Apologies to George W. Bush, but time is too precious for tiptoeing around the truth. We've seen the biggest growth of government over the last eight years since Franklin Roosevelt, and the country is in a mess. It's only natural psychology to associate the mess with Republicans.
McCain must disassociate from the mistakes of "new" Republicanism, show that these mistakes are exactly where Senator Obama wants to pick up, and re-establish the "classic" Republican brand.
His approach in the latest debate at Hofstra University showed he is grasping the marketing challenge in front of him. His pitch about Joe the Plumber, and his market-oriented stands on big issues like health care and education, showed that he understands he needs to do more than simply say he's not George Bush.
But he's still not being clear or aggressive enough.
McCain must paint with clarity the starkly different worlds that Americans will be buying into when they step into voting booths in November.
Barack Obama is a socialist. McCain must say it. It's not slinging mud but stating fact.
Perhaps a complicating factor in explaining freedom to Americans today is that when "classic" Republicanism was selling, we all still remembered the Soviet Union and communist China. The difference between the United States and the rest of the world then was clearer than today.
When someone said "socialist" or "communist,'' we could look abroad and know exactly what this meant.
There is nowhere where Senator Obama sees Americans suffering from excessive government. The opposite. He sees all our suffering from not enough.
The collapse of communism and socialism abroad was not accidental. Central planning is both dysfunctional and immoral.
Incredibly, Obama thinks that a huge and complex market like health care, where a few hundred million Americans spend almost two and half trillion dollars a year, can be improved with more government controls and spending.
And he thinks that parents, in a country that is supposed to be free, should not be given control over where they send their child to school and the type of education their child gets.
To turn things around, McCain must quickly reestablish the Republican brand of freedom and contrast this with Obama's clear socialism.