Originally written for Marketing by Kevin Chesters, Chief Strategy Officer at Ogilvy & Mather London
It never does you any harm in this life to hang around with a mate who is cooler, sexier, more attractive and who people like more than you.
Coke Zero and the rest of the portfolio are about to align themselves closer – in terms of taste and design – to the core Coca-Cola product.
My instinctive reaction to hearing that Coke Life and Coke Zero are going to be brought closer to the full-sugar product is to wonder whether this is a good idea in an age of sugar-hate and tabloid fuelled obesity-frenzy. And I believe that sales of red Coke are also falling. But sitting back and thinking logically, it actually makes perfect sense.
For starters, brands rarely make radical changes to form or format when their products are flying out of the fridges or off the shelves. This move is a strong reaction to falling value sales of Zero, so definitely a good idea from a commercial perspective.
Secondly, Coke drinkers rarely reject the flagship product on the basis of taste - it’s always down to worries around sugar content. So making Zero or Life taste more like red Coke while delivering the lower sugar content is logical.
It has been received wisdom in marketing circles for years - and it may well be true - that there is no positive equity flow from the variants back to the core in the Coke portfolio. The magic word in Coke Zero, Coke Life, Cherry Coke, Coke with Lime and so on is clearly the one beginning with ‘C". Any negative connotations of the brand will be there regardless, so one might as well try and take advantage of the positives.
In a choice between distancing yourself from your sugary daddy, or aligning yourself closer to a branding icon, there is far more to gain from the latter
Classic Coca-Cola was a global iconic branding superpower before my mum was born - and she’s no spring chicken. So bringing the variants more into line in terms of graphics, packaging and taste with the core seems – to me at least – to be a move that will have a positive commercial impact.
Further to this, all the work by Byron Sharp, author of How Brands Grow, would seem to suggest that for a brand now having to fight the penetration game again, competing against other categories like coconut water and coffee, it’s a good idea to go back to consistent colours and iconography across the shelf. I’m not sure whether it will necessarily lead to better communications, but it will certainly lead to financial efficiencies.
It never does you any harm in this life to hang around with a mate who is cooler, sexier, more attractive and who people like more than you. It makes you look good and you hope that some of the sex appeal rubs off on you. Trust me on this one: I’ve rarely been ‘the looker’ on a night out.
Diet Coke has never had to worry too much, but clearly Zero and Life have struggled a bit in the shadow of their cooler big bro. This move is a conscious and eminently sensible way of gaining some positive benefit from emphasising the ‘Coke’ part of the name. That said, sales of red Coke, while still 58% of the brand’s total, haven’t exactly been rising in the last couple of years - so we’ll have to wait and see whether one plus one equals three, or zero.
But, in a choice between distancing yourself from your sugary daddy, or aligning yourself closer to a branding icon, I’d say that there is far more to gain from the latter. It seems that the folks in Atlanta agree with me.