Brave new 2.0 world out there. Iconic brands are finding it is dangerous to play with familiar icons. Last year, GAP got hammered in social media for rolling out a new logo. In recent days, Coca-Cola, perhaps the most revered brand of all, especially at holiday time, has taken it on the chin for changing its familiar red can to polar bear white (and silver).
You can see Coke’s noble intent here with a temporary can redesign meant to promote giving to the World Wildlife Federation tied to its long-running polar bear commercials. However, the road to hell is paved with similar do-gooder, feel-good efforts. Aside from creating brand confusion at the point-of-sale between Coke and Diet Coke cans, the more worrisome concern was over those for whom the ingestion of sugar is a health issue, namely diabetics. Hard to believe that a company like Coca-Cola hadn’t considered some of these issues.
Not long before this story broke, I was in the soda aisle stocking up for the arrival of Thanksgiving company and it occurred to me how confusing buying Coke has become — there’s caffeine-free regular Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Cherry Coke, Vanilla Coke, and there’s the familiar Coke of the past century, with caffeine, and in a red can, but not on the shelf when I was looking, which caused me to pause, but not be refreshed. Perhaps it was already sitting there in the white/silver can and I like many others just missed it.
From a pure package design standpoint, with the exception of all-important color, Coca-Cola did a nice job of carrying over brand identity; however, with so much identity tied up in red, that misstep is not a minor one. To me, it is actually a surprising one. You don’t get to world’s most familiar/popular brand by making many errors in judgment. Beyond the New Coke rollout fiasco, I had to wrack my brain to think of another significant stumble.
The only instance that stays with me is an account in David Meerman Scott’s excellent “The New Rules of Marketing and PR,” about the company’s reticence to participate online and offline when the Mentos dissolved in Diet Coke, creating Old Faithful backyard science experiments. Mentos embraced the goofy nature of it all, while Coca-Cola got all stodgy corporate because they could not control the consumer fun. If the same thing happened today, I am guessing it would be front and center on the company’s Facebook page (where by the way, the Coca-Cola arctic home message is still up and front and center — well, at least the WWF donations effort did not suffer the same fate as the white/silver cans).