Contact BSI
Derrick Daye
888.706.5489 Email us
Brand Management



New Coke Fail

This year Coca-Cola launched a rather strange campaign behind its Coca-Cola Zero product.

You may have seen it. It’s based on the odd idea that executives at Coca-Cola that sell Coca-Cola Classic want to hire lawyers to sue their co-workers who sell Coke Zero. To them it’s “a clear case of taste infringement.” In simple terms, the Classic marketing guys want to sue the Zero guys for producing a Coke with no calories that tastes as good as a Coke with calories.

But then you might say, “What about Diet Coke?” Good question. The grand strategy is to have a three-cola strategy (Classic, Diet and Zero). This is not unlike PepsiCo, which is pursuing the same idea. They have basic Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Pepsi Max and, coming soon, Diet Pepsi Max.

What’s going on here? In my estimation, nothing but confusion, and confusion is the enemy of effective marketing. This is the kind of stuff you often see when a category is flat or declining. All the marketing guys sit around, stare at complicated marketing research and try and figure out ways to turn things around.

Before you can say “segmentation,” they are headed into endless line extensions designed to attract this segment or that customer group that the research has produced. Millions are spent in product development, marketing and advertising, and the business stays flat or even declines. Most of this activity revolves around existing customers who try these new offerings but eventually migrate back to their favorite version.

Think about it. If I drink Pepsi or, say, Pepsi Max, why would I switch to Coke Zero? To get the taste of Coke Classic? It all makes little sense since I’m a Pepsi drinker. But, if I’m a Classic Coke drinker, I might be tempted to try a new cola with zero calories that tastes like the one I’m drinking. Who knows, but it all strikes me as just shuffling the deck chairs on a brand that’s slowly sinking.

Even the Coke people admit to a bit of a cannibalization problem. They claim that 45% of Coke Zero drinkers are incremental rather than coming from Diet Coke drinkers. But what about Classic drinkers? Anyway you slice it, more than half of your drinkers were your original customers, and now you are launching a campaign directly targeting Coke Classic drinkers by dramatizing the fact that you can now get a Classic taste with zero calories.

But they don’t need to sit around and wait to see what happens. All they have to do is look over at the beer business and they have a pretty good view of their future. Budweiser and Miller have, over the years, produced endless line extensions, trying to breathe some life into a declining category. They haven’t generated any additional business. All they have done is cause confusion and muddied up their brands. Budweiser once had a wonderful line, “This Bud’s for you.” The question became, Which one do you have in mind? Now when you say, “The great taste of Coke,” the question becomes, Which one do you have in mind? Oh, forget it, I’ll have a bottle of water.

The real victim of all tinkering is the basic brand of Coca-Cola. Once upon a time they were “The Real Thing.” This was a powerful differentiating idea that put Pepsi into the uncomfortable position of being a me-too brand. But, as you introduce more things such as a New Coke, a Diet Coke, a Vanilla or Cherry Coke, a Zero Coke, you can no longer be a real thing. You become a many-things brand that stands for just being a cola. Obviously, Pepsi is also a cola, so all you’ve done is level the playing field. Not good when you’re the leader.

As I’ve written in “Differentiate or Die,” once you try to become everything, you become nothing in the mind. And without that differentiating idea, you had better have a very low price.

The Blake Project Can Help: The Brand Positioning Workshop

Join us in Hollywood, California for Brand Leadership in the Age of Disruption, our 5th annual competitive-learning event designed around brand strategy.

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Licensing and Brand Education

FREE Publications And Resources For Marketers

Recommend this story

Subscribe, Follow and Stay Connected to BSI



Susan Plunkett on November 26th, 2007 said

I would suggest, and this in part has been affirmed by conversations I’ve had with a few sr marketing staff, that few agencies really know how to read research. Most would be better off hiring someone with an academic research background to discourse insight work. I’m not lauding academe simply because that was my teething ground, but rather because that training teaches you (if you’re paying attention!) to distill salient and distinctive information from large tracts of data.

I also agree that waffly, indistinct campaigns create clouded images and perceptions.

Chris Brown on November 26th, 2007 said

How many more people can drink pop than already are drinking pop? My thought, after looking at their packaging, is Coke is going for the younger version of the Diet Coke drinker. I believe Diet Coke is more entrenched with the “older” age group and they’re trying to reach teens/twenties with the zero. Not your momma’s diet coke. Especially if Pepsi focuses on the next generation. They may cannibalize their own Diet Coke drinkers, but they were ready to switch… and better to switch within the family than totally away, right?

Harry Bosh on November 26th, 2007 said

Coke Zero is very simple if you think about it.
Coke Zero is a Zero Calorie version of Coca-Cola.
Research shows that Coca-Cola drinkers that want a no calorie soft drink are moving to water and not Diet Coke.
Diet Coke is not a Diet version of Coca-Cola, it has become its own flavor or category.
Also, the black can or bottle of Coke Zero is “Cool” for 18-35 year old Males who want a diet drink but don’t want to drink Diet Coke.

Pepsi Max is just a high Caffeine version of Pepsi with fewer calories. It’s their way of making a Hybrid cola like Coca-Colas Vault.

According to Beverage World Magazine, Coke Zero is seeing tremendous sales this year. More sales than losses from both Coke and Diet Coke, so I would say that they are picking up incremental customers.

Susan Plunkett on November 27th, 2007 said

Is there a difference in the artificial sweetener used between Coke Zero and Diet Coke?

Harry, a great forensic breakdown there. I’m intrigued by “diet coke is not a diet version of..”. In terms of how I believe the public perceives this..hmmmm..I agree and disagree. I do agree it has assumed a category of its own but I believe the public still sees it as ‘lower cal’ than Coca-Cola. A sliding scale really as you suggest.

I wonder if Vault is sold here in Oz? I’ve not heard of it.

Harry Bosh on November 28th, 2007 said

To answer your questions,
Yes, Diet Coke uses Aspertame, Coke Zero uses ACE K
Yes, Diet Coke is NOT a diet version of Coca-Cola CLASSIC.
I think that you are confused by the word “Coke”
“Coke” is the flagship brand. Diet Coke is a Flavor. Coca-Cola is a flavor. Diet Coke was created in 1982 for those who didnt like the taste of TaB.
Coke Zero has the same chemical makeup of Classic Coke, except they remove the High Fructose Corn Syrup and replace it with ACE K.

Vault was launched Nationwide in the U.S. in January of 2005.

Leave a Reply

Submit your comment