Monday, December 5, 2011

Coke Gets Into Trouble Because of a Color

Colors can put a company in a spot. The Coca-Cola Company is switching back to its time-honored red just one month after rolling out its flagship cola in a snow-white can for the holidays because Coke consumers are seeing red. Even before I could get my hands on this can, assuming it will be made available in Malaysia, people are already describing Coke’s 2011 Holiday promotion as a white wash! It seems that a majority of Coke fans were having none of this color deception even though the company is distributing more than 1.4 billion white cans. Actually, Coke consumers were agitated – they apparently thought they were buying cans of Diet Coke. Really?

Personally, I don’t see how one can mistake it as a Diet Coke. This seasonal can is dressed in white while Diet Coke is in silver. And the design is markedly different. The former has polar bears to bring awareness and charitable contributions for polar bear conservation efforts. The latter has bold and stylish letters that says “Diet’ followed by “Coke” in big red letters.

So what does the above tells us? That Coke consumers are color blind? That they also cannot read? Or maybe all that sugar in a can of Coke is actually making us very lazy! We grab a can, relying on a visual cue – in this case, color association – because we have been conditioned to think of Coke as red and Diet Coke as white/silver – I guess, for some of us, we really cannot differentiate beween the two colors. This can only mean that we don’t think when we buy.

Is that why nowadays, many don’t read newspapers or blogs because they are just too lengthy? We prefer news highlights, the 30-second sound bites, the 140 characters or less that describe a Tweet – we have become too simple-minded for our own good!

Sam Craig, a marketing professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, offers another perspective. He says the message to the company was clear: “The fundamental thing is that people don’t like change”. In other words, don’t mess with the brand!

Coke is well-known for its holiday marketing and says the company helped shape the image of Santa Claus in his red suit with its 1930s advertising. It has regularly tweaked its packaging to come up with special can designs to create buzz and push holiday sales, but this was the first time it put regular Coke in a white can.

Coke says this year's festive campaign is part of a partnership with the World Wildlife Fund to highlight global warming's threat to bears' Arctic habitat. Coke is contributing up to $3 million to conservation efforts. "The white can resonated with us because it was bold, attention-grabbing'' and "reinforced'' the campaign theme, says Scott Williamson, a spokesperson for the beverage company. Coke's marketing executives wanted a "disruptive" campaign to get consumers' attention, he says.

With consumers ridiculing this redesign and protesting at the confusion, the company which launched the white cans on November 01, 2011 will now introduce a limited edition of red cans that will still feature the polar bears and yes, it will still contribute the promised amount to WWF. Irrespective of whether it is red or white, it is hilarious that people got so worked up about the color of a can!

So, Coke and Diet Coke cans must remain polar opposties because of any one of these reasons: (1) Consumers are color blind; (2) Consumers don’t read; (3) Consumers are lazy; and (4) All of the three reasons.

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