A not so white Christmas for Coca-Cola

December 2, 2011

Coke’s holiday ads tend to break out of the holiday clutter in a very refreshing way. But has Coca-Cola stretched this a little too far when trying to stay true to the overall theme of this year’s holiday promotion?

I’m sure that many of you have been taking notice of Coca-Cola’s 2011 holiday promotion with the World Wildlife Fund. This particular WWF promotion highlights the threat of global warming to the Arctic — the natural habitat of polar bears, and proudly features the recognizable “Coke polar bears” that have captured our hearts in past holiday promotions.

In my opinion, Coke’s holiday ads tend to break out of the holiday clutter in a very refreshing way (pun totally intended). After all, how can you resist a polar bear? In writing this, I can hear my wife and daughter letting out a resounding “aw” whenever the ad appears on television. And forget the advertising, my wife couldn’t wait to run out to purchase those “cute, white polar bear cans” the first time she saw them.

It seems as though Coca-Cola may have stretched this a little too far when trying to stay true to the overall theme of the holiday promotion. The Coke promo cans are white as snow with tone on tone images of polar bears. Many consumers are aghast that Coke would actually deviate from its equity red color even if for a short promotional period. Consumers are going as far as to claim “this is no longer my Coke” and “this is blasphemy!”

Coke is even hearing consumers state that the product actually tastes different when drinking from a white can. Convenience stores and mom and pop retailers have cited instances where consumers are confused between Coke in the white can versus Diet Coke in silver, with some consumers actually purchasing the wrong product. Please don’t tell me that this is New Coke all over again? We’ve been rest assured that it is not to that magnitude. However, Coke announced an immediate white to red can changeover strategy.

The lesson for Coca-Cola and for all brands is not to forget that a brand’s overall value, which takes into consideration familiarity and favorability amongst other things, is oftentimes steeped in equity — a visual equity. If your brand owns a color, shape, image, typestyle, icon, etc., any deviation can result in a negative reaction. It will be interesting to see if Coke will end up benefiting from all of this press. Wouldn’t it be ironic if those consumers (like my wife) rush out to purchase the “cute, white polar bear cans” before they disappear from the shelf?

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