Coke branding confusion irks consumers
Coca-Cola is running into trouble with people angry about accidentally buying a zero-sugar or reduced-sugar version of Coke instead of the original, because the packaging is so similar.
In 1985 Coca-Cola introduced New Coke, a completely reformulated version of its famous drink – in what came to be described as “the biggest marketing blunder of all time”.
That is a long time ago, and current CEO James Quincey only joined the company well over a decade later, but it is a blunder he is determined to learn from.
“When you think about the New Coke example, at the beginning there was only a few complaints, on day one,” he told Business Insider South Africa. “Then it snowballed out of control. You always have to pay attention to the weak signals.”
Right now, Coke is receiving weak-signal noise about reformulations, but this time it is not about one over-arching new flavour intended to replace an old one.
In South Africa you now have Coke with lots of sugar, Coke with less sugar, Coke with no sugar in either an “original” or “light” taste, and Coke with neither sugar nor caffeine.
That is not counting Coke with coffee, Coke Energy, or the less-common versions flavoured as vanilla or cherry – because those are fairly easy to distinguish from the more classic Coke on shelves. That is not the case with the core group of variants, according to angry buyers.
Recently the local Advertising Regulatory Board published its decision in ruling against a complainant who said he had been misled by a bottle of Coke with 29% less sugar than he is used to, which still claimed to be the “original taste”.
The advertising watchdog said that “something as subjective as taste cannot be generalised to an extent where everyone would agree” – and accepted Coke’s market research that suggests most people can’t really tell the difference between the original high-sugar and the reformulated version.
One person certainly isn’t convinced; the new version tastes completely different, the ARB’s complainant said.
He isn’t alone. Between those who long for the sugar-heavy old version of Coke, and those who reach into a fridge and accidentally takes the wrong flavour, Coke’s big-tent approach to what constitutes a Coca-Cola has its critics.
But while Quincey says his company has to “listen to every complaint”, the sales numbers aren’t showing any sign of trouble – quite the opposite if anything – and it looks like the days of a single type of Coke are gone for good.
But that doesn’t mean the packaging won’t change. The way different variants of Coke are presented, how easily they can be told apart at a glance, that is “a question that is still in motion, to use an American football term.”
Coke wants to be one brand with different products revolving around it.
Diet Coke pre-dates the New Coke fiasco by a couple of years, and Coke Zero is now nearly a decade and a half old. But as one of the biggest brands in the world (no matter how you slice it) sought new markets, it ran into trouble.
“When we went down this road of brands expanding, actually they were all becoming different brands and personalities,” says Quincey. “So actually, it was starting to fragment as a brand, and we tried to bring it back in and make it coherent.”….