Pen Stuart writes: Coke’s groundbreaking new consumer-facing campaign emphasizes the challenge of obesity, and how the company is helping to address it. This is one of the first times such a large company has spoken directly to consumers about such a difficult issue, and at least partly to avoid being seen as the villain of the piece. Coke offers a clear message that “All calories count, no matter where they come from, including Coca-Cola and everything else with calories.” Here they are trying to strike the balance between acknowledging challenges without demonizing the carbonated beverages industry – equating it to every other calorie-containing product. (Critics point out that this claim is not precisely true, however).

This represents part of a bigger trend in which parent companies make the links between their portfolio of products clearer to consumers, who are often unaware of these – Unilever, P&G and Nestlé all put their master brand icon on many of their products. This (at lest in theory) enables the master brand to become a positive force in consumers’ lives, and secure loyalty across the portfolio. For Coke this is important, since US soft drinks consumption has been falling for a while – it’s now at 1996 levels. Some have linked to the obesity ads and argued that Coke is simply doing  ‘damage limitation’, but there’s something more complicated going on here. The world’s most valuable brand can spread some of its equity into other beverage categories, even while its core is declining.

It also avoids some of the difficulties of balancing increasingly pressing health and sustainability messages with the more pleasure-focused messages that are at the heart of individual brands. Instead of garbling the message, the sub-brands can focus on the needs of their category, (such as pleasure seeking), while the master brand can reassure consumers around more substantive issues such as health and sustainability, which are less front of mind when choosing products. The end game here is that the master brand becomes the decision making shortcut that manages anxiety, allowing consumers to focus on the positives of the category.

The image at the top of the post of Coke’s ad campaign comes via Branding: magazine, and is used with thanks. Their coverage here.


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