Coca-Cola recently announced their “One Brand” strategy. A series of changes affecting the advertising campaigns for the portfolio of brands, and the detail packaging design alignments were announced. This shift from brand-specific advertising will see the brand uniting all four distinct brands – classic Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero and Coke Life, logically under one master brand marketing banner: The Coca-Cola family. The objective is to drive synergy across the portfolio.
The overriding tactic is that Coca-Cola is the only thing the company will position and give meaning to, and underneath it will sit different product variants. Each variant will be equal in the overall portfolio but “won’t have a meaning attached to them.”
Coca-Cola continuously ranked at the top in the world’s global brand rankings over the years. In 2013, according to The Best Global Brand from Interbrand, it slipped from the top spot after 13 years to third place. Perhaps it was the “wake up call” for the brand. But was the dilution of brand strength really due to its diversification into campaigns for individual product variant?
The strategy was an outcome of recent consumer research, which revealed that 5 out of 10 of consumers don’t know what differentiates each product in its portfolio. For example, people don’t know that Coke Zero has no sugar and no calories. Consumers are also unclear about the different between Coke Zero and Diet Coke.
Coca-Cola considered the company’s efforts to build personality behind its individual brands has become an obstacle to consumers’ understanding of the products.
Building meaning in the communications will not affect consumers’ understanding of the product. A brand under the brand halo itself could become an identity in its own right, as opposed to just being seen as one of the variants. I believe the heart of the matter is when the “meaning” is not connecting with what the product represents, then it ends up a waste of effort.
Product differentiation is increasingly hard for brands operating under portfolio brand strategy. From FMCG brands to service brands, the fragmentation of brand messages often causes confusion in consumers’ mind. When HSBC launched the “Personal Economy” platform for their “Premier Account”, was it distinctive enough to help consumers to clearly differentiate among the “Premier”, “Advance” and “Business” accounts? Do consumers clearly recall the commercial starring Jude Law was for Johnnie Walker’s Blue Label? What about the differences among Red Label, Black Label, Gold Label Reserve and Platinum Label? How does the whole range connect with the brand message of “Keep Walking”?
The list goes on.
In the case of Coca-Cola, should the “Open Happiness” platform be given an even bigger playground with universal appeal? Or should it be changed to a more rational statement such as “Choose Happiness”?
The “One Brand” strategy will be executed on campaign level and on product level, and will affect agencies working within the framework. Some of the changes can be summarised as:
- The newly evolved brand tagline “Choose Happiness” will be launched in Great Britain before moving to the local markets globally. It will be hugely interesting to see how the tagline could be adapted.
- New brand campaigns will focus on the brand idea of happiness and optimism and will roll out in Great Britain, Ireland, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Nordics and Spain.
- All advertising campaigns from May in Northern Europe will feature all four products, with the lower and no sugar Coca-Cola variants presented in the final frames of all Coca-Cola TV ads.
- Although all four variants will feature in future campaigns, Coke will be able to spotlight or “hero” whichever variant is relevant to the campaign, through visual representation and strategic executions.
- Individual campaigns for individual product variant will be scrapped. That includes some of the newly launched campaigns such as “Regret Nothing” for Diet Coke.
- Brand message will suggest there is a “Coca-Cola to suit every taste” by more clearly communicating product differentiation rather than personality – to enable consumers to make informed choices.
On the product level, some of the strategic changes include:
- New packaging will see each variant being given the “same design” and set of characteristics, such as the iconic Coca-Cola script, ribbon and layout.
- The “Cola-Cola” trademark will be made larger and more visible, with more presence of the iconic red colour.
- Text will also be added to the front of Coke Zero, Coke Life and Diet Coke to enable consumers to better understand the range of products and the distinctive attributes of each. On the front of Coke Zero cans, the descriptor “zero sugar – great Coke taste” will be strategically repositioned in the foreground.
- There will be an introduction of colour coded front-of-pack labelling showing fat, saturated fat, salt, sugar and calories.
All these design changes are aiming to create a more visual “common identity” across the brands. The more unifying set of characteristics that the brand shares.
We are already seeing some of the new ads hitting major touchpoints.
In brand advertising, the big change can be seen in the latest global print campaign starring Marilyn Monroe and Elvis in celebration of the 100 anniversary of the brand’s contour bottle.
In product-as-hero communications we see a deliberate attempt to present the range in equal light. But will the execution help the different product characteristics come to life when “product truth” are being communicated in a much more straightforward way? Or will the lack of “meaning” turn the ads into something better fit for corporate presentations? The result is yet to be discovered.
New strategy brings new collaborations
At the end of the day, any new strategy won’t succeed without collaboration across the board. Here are some of my predictions:
Communicating product truth for each product variant is important but cannot be done without the support of a meaningful brand message. Product message needs to be connected with the brand’s umbrella message.
It’s not a choice between logic and magic, but a balance.
On a positive side, I think the strategy will be instrumental in paving the way to a more efficient and single-minded global campaigns. But this will only be achieved through rethinking how the brand campaigns are created and implemented across each product in the portfolio.
Doing it well, it will allow the brand to innovate into the future with a single voice, and do it in a way that doesn’t require the brand to invest in creating a new entity every time – a much more flexible approach in accommodating product manifestations.
I can also see there will be a need for tighter collaborations among the creative agencies handling different channels. Leadership will probably be driven centrally, where collaborations among agencies are encouraged and well facilitated.
The lead creative agency, on the other hand, needs to spearhead the development of the big brand idea, and create a strong creative platform on which messages of individual brand in the portfolio can build on. More important, creatives need to think of media-neutral platforms and not media-centric ads. Each agency needs to put their egos aside and completely understands the DNA of an idea and be able to expand it beyond any boundaries of a specific media.
For a global brand with local connections and meanings, any new creative platform needs to offer each country an opportunity to interpret its own “moments of happiness” and the brand’s role in those. The brand should tap into local talent to add to the effort to their marketing programs through joint global initiatives.