21 Apr Coca-Cola re-design: 5 reasons why this is a stroke of genius

Already it’s being labelled as the Company’s worst marketing idea since New Coke. The new global Coca-Cola packaging design unveiled this week, for launch in Mexico before wider roll-out, has certainly caused controversy.

It’s a logical next step from the so-called ‘one brand strategy’ which started over a year ago and which sees Coke fold its arms around the previously disparate sub-brands Diet Coke/Coca-Cola Light, Coca-Cola Zero and Coca-Cola Life. For anyone who remembers the controversy about the absence of red on the Life packaging, it’s ironic that its presence is now being equally derided.

The chief argument against the re-design is that it will decrease on-shelf variant recognition, and there’s no doubt this is a powerful argument. Coke itself stumbled in 2011, when its Xmas special edition white and silver Polar Bear cans led to consumers buying regular Coke by mistake instead of Diet Coke.

However, thoughtful stewards of brand assets need to look forward as well as back, and sometimes change is needed to position a brand for growth in the future. We know from our work on brand growth that iconic brand assets which are easily recognised are key for brands to achieve and maintain salience – a concept we call ‘Brain Share’.  It’s a mistake to think that having iconic assets means they never need to change. Rather, like any other asset they need to be thoughtfully managed keeping in mind the recognition benefits that they bring and balancing that with the other imperatives to evolve.

On that basis, here are 5 reasons why this re-design could be a forward-looking master-stroke:

1. Starts to truly reclaim the red colour as part of the Coca-Cola brand identity

The red colour is currently shared by many brands (Ferrari; Marlboro; Vodafone) and was not even on much of the previous Coca-Cola packaging. The re-design reclaims the colour red by visually fusing it with the trademark script (definitely a unique brand property) across the whole range. These iconic assets are critical because they act as mental short-cuts for consumers in all sorts of contexts, not just the store shelf. Andy Warhol himself pre-figured the potential for this approach in one of his series of Coca-Cola artworks from the 1960s.

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2. Ready for a no/low sugar future

Every product in the range now feels unapologetically like Coke. This will be crucial when in the future the biggest sellers will be the no and low sugar versions. Before, from a design point of view Diet Coke/Coca-Cola Light felt like a different brand. Now it’s clearly a part of the family, like its other more recent cousins, even the green one! This now looks like a range smartly designed for a global future with growing health headwinds and sugar taxes.

3. Optimised for mobile

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The smartphone screen is increasingly our main consumer canvas, so speed of brand recognition across any of our content is as important a factor as on-shelf recognition in a store. And here that red disc could really prove its worth. We can already see this at work in the recently launched “taste the feeling” campaign, and we think more is possible.

4. An end to brand schizophrenia

It seems odd now that in a world of greater and greater fragmentation of channels and communications the previous Coke strategy deliberately sought to create a diverse constellation of sub-brands with different personality and look. Particularly since the ubiquity, the universality of Coca-Cole is one of its key strengths. Here, the design allows the whole range to re-unite under one masterbrand.

5. Room for future flexibility

You can see clearly how there is design room for more variants in the range as opportunities emerge. Whether flavour variants like cherry & vanilla or other takes on health, there is clear space for the new variant colour to stand both as part of the masterbrand and with its own colour cues.

Back to Warhol again: “Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art”.

We think this re-design is indeed an example of the “best art”.

Will it work? There will certainly be short-term disruption amongst (in particular) the Diet Coke buyers who have “learnt” silver as their mental short-cut. But we’re betting that the actual roll-out and the role of secondary packaging can be tweaked to manage this. We think this is strategically bang on and will position the brand well for the stormy waters ahead.

To learn more about how Triniti applies brand assets to Brain Share, visit www.trinitimarketing.com