A few weeks ago I went to the kitchen to grab a Coke. I saw none, only Diets. I settled for something else. Ironically, the fridge had, in fact, been well stocked with The Real Thing. How had I missed all those shiny red cans? I hadn’t. They were silver and white, the signature color of Coca-Cola’s sugar-free offering. I was not the only victim. A few days later I asked a co-worker if she was enjoying her non-diet Coke. She was visibly shocked to realize the can she’d selected was actually full of sugar.
Obviously Coke’s marketers had their reasons for offering the company’s flagship product in a non-red can for the first time in 125 years. They were promoting a program they call Arctic Home, an attempt to preserve the natural habitat of what has become the company’s holiday icon – the polar bear. Coke is claiming the campaign was deliberately launched to generate a response with the special edition can. If that is, indeed, the case, the results may have exceeded their expectations. Consumers have been very vocal – with comments ranging from “it does not taste the same in a white can” to legitimate concern over the threat posed to diabetics who mistakenly purchase or drink the product.
Regardless of the intent, it seems clear Coke got more than it bargained for. Pulling the plug on the cans, which were originally slated to be sold through the month of February, is a pretty obvious indicator of that. Polar bear-marked red cans are now being stocked. (The company claims this was the stealth plan all along.) And things are getting back to normal in the soda world.
So what can we learn from this?
• Appearance trumps content. Brown paper means green, green means low fat and red means Coke. Sure, Coca-Cola is an extreme example, but there are plenty of other colors and textures to which consumers have been conditioned and/or instinctively respond.
• People care less than you think. The blogs and comment sections are buzzing – not with concern over the drowning of polar bears but over the color of cans. The desire for comfort and convenience, even in petty details, often overshadows concern for the greater good.
• Brand is king. If you’ve got it, keep it. If you don’t, build it in a disciplined fashion. At the end of the day, consumer choices are often made based on that feeling of familiarity.