Coca-Cola Tampers With its Brand Again — in a Good Cause

Coke has done it again – tampered with its brand by changing the color of it famous red cans to white for a holiday promotion with the World Wildlife Fund.

The promotion was to raise funds to bring awareness to the plight of polar bears, an endangered species. It caused a huge kerfuffle among consumers.

Many confused the holiday Coke can with the silver Diet Coke can — horrors. Coke was forced to recall more than a billion of the white cans and restock their shelves with the familiar red ones.

Not the First Mishap

You’d think that the #1 brand would know better. Back in 1985 the company changed the formula of its venerated soft drink, calling the new sweeter version New Coke. The uproar was instantaneous — and after only two weeks the company was forced to bring back the old formula with a new name — Classic Coke.

The company had taste tested the new formula with thousands of customers, the majority of whom liked it better than the old Coke. But never did customers believe the company would ditch the Coke they had come to love and drink over the years.

Lessons Learned

What lessons can other companies learn from this latest stumble by the world’s number brand?

  • If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. When I was managing advertising at a global financial services company and then at a New York bank, corporate management would often ask, “When are you going to start a new campaign? Aren’t customers tired of it?” My answer was no, if the campaign was still working. My experience was that the company insiders would get itchy because they were bored and wanted to see something new. That happens even today more than you may think.
  • Ask the right questions. If you’re doing market research, ask the right questions to be sure you understand the spoken — and unspoken — needs/desires of your customers. Steve Jobs famously never did consumer research because he said consumers didn’t know what they wanted and it was Apple’s job to tell them. But how many geniuses are there like Steve Jobs. Did people know they needed an iPad?
  • Learn how you are positioned.  A brand is how you want to be positioned, or perceived, in the marketplace. Your positioning is how customers actually perceive you. Hopefully they are in alignment. If you have the budget, find out. In the case of a small business without the money for research, put together an advisory panel of your own employees, customers willing to participate, and vendors. Ask for their opinions. Learn their perceptions of your brand and use this information to improve your offerings and communications.

Building and burnishing your brand is a continuous process of refinement. It’s awfully easy to mess it up like Coke did.


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  1. Kerfluffle! lol. Who on earth advised Coke to do this??? My guess, probably a big marketing company who thought they were being creative. Even worse, Coke’s powers that be approved it. Like you said Jeannette, don’t “fix” it if it isn’t broken. Here is my marketing advice to Coke: Maintain your brand identity when employing creativity – don’t deviate from the familiar way people identify your product. Instead, be creative around what is already familiar.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Catherine. Ad and marketing agencies are always afraid the client will think they are not being creative if they don’t suggest new ideas all the time. Sometimes it’s better to leave well enough alone!