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Building Emotional Connections

Will Coke’s Brand Gamble Pay Off?


Coca-Cola's Bold Brand Packaging Move

By now you have heard about Coca-Cola’s big bet on a global packaging change to reinforce its ‘One Brand’ strategy. There’s more to learn. Hotspex, the world’s most advanced emotional measurement technology was used to evaluate Coca-Cola and Pepsi brand assets among 1,800 US consumers and interviewed CPG experts for perspective. The results shed light on its biggest gamble since New Coke.

Coca-Cola’s unified product lineup will likely boost its brand block with more presence. Imagine the wall of red that will now take over carbonated soft drinks retail shelves in convenience and grocery stores. But does this make it easier for consumers to buy? Consumers who are used to navigating the category using color cues (e.g. black for “zero calorie” and silver for “diet”) may find themselves having to work harder to identify the right varietal.

In the Hotspex study of Coke’s new ‘One Brand’ packaging, only a third (31%) of consumers could identify the right varietal (e.g. Diet Coke) on the basis of seeing the new packaging design with the brand and varietal disguised, leaving them to identify the varietal by color. This is compared with two thirds (61%) for the current packaging.

It’s hard not to recall the backlash that occurred with the white holiday can that led to confusion between regular Coca-Cola and Diet Coke. According to The Wall Street Journal, some consumers believed that the regular cola tasted differently in the white cans, while others returned white cans after tasting the liquid and realizing that what they had opened was the wrong varietal.

Impacting Shopper Behavior
The market is dominated by consumers with repertoire purchases. A total of 72% percent of consumers in the Hotspex study bought both Coca-Cola and Pepsi within the past 3 months. For people who shop by varietal, the ‘One Brand’ packaging runs the risk of disrupting a decision made on autopilot. Now they will be forced to make a more intentional choice, requiring more mental effort.

Dr. Dan Young, a former behavioral scientist at The Procter & Gamble Company, suggests that disrupting autopilot behavior could be dangerous for a brand like Coca-Cola. Any confusion, or worse frustration, at shelf can increase the odds of shoppers choosing competitive brands that offer the path of least resistance for the fast, instinctive and emotional “System 1”. The more a brand makes consumers rely on the slower, more deliberative and more logical “System 2”, the greater the risk of barriers like price or considerations towards other brands or beverage categories surfacing to veto the original impulse to buy.

Distinctive Brand Assets vs. Category Identifiers
The implication of the ‘One Brand’ strategy on Coca-Cola’s packaging design is reducing the prominence of category identifiers (black, silver, etc.) in favor of more prominence for Coca-Cola’s two distinctive assets: iconic script and signature red.

Dr. Young observes that, “the prominence of the Coca-Cola script on the current packaging already supports core associations with the master brand.” He questioned whether the expanded use of the red color at the expense of varietal distinctiveness is necessary from the consumer’s perspective.

Relentless Consistency Across Consumer Touch-points
In addition to the unified packaging design strategy, Coca-Cola has already demonstrated the focus on the master brand strategy in its ‘Taste the Feeling’ campaign. The campaign highlights all of the varietals and could be signaling how media support for the brand will be consolidated to focus working dollars on building mental availability for the master brand instead of dividing it among four sub-brands. With the ‘One Brand’ strategy, Coca-Cola has a base from which to grow and launch innovations (new varietals) that will be backed by the tailwind of the most iconic brand in the world.

Strategy is about choices and Coca-Cola has bet on rebuilding memory structures for the master brand by focusing marketing efforts to capitalize on the equity that it has developed for the last 100+ years and to try to convince us that we should all be Coke drinkers.

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