Shannon Clark


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Diet Coke, “Live Positively” and subtle branding problems

author Posted by: ShannonBlogPosts on date May 20th, 2008 | filed Filed under: my Blogs

Coke, Coca Cola, and diet Coke are some of the most recognizable and most valuable brands in the world.

Entire web communities invest time analyzing the subtle changes in the packaging of soda across the planet.

But even great Brands, brands which have for decades defined how to build, manage, extend, and maintain a great brand make mistakes.

Take this can of diet Coke I photographed this weekend.

Diet Coke sweating

Notice how it has the phrase “Live Positively” along the side of the can? This same phrase can also be found on the current versions of other sizes and shapes of diet Coke found here in the US at present.

I wondered, what happens when you do a Google search on the phrase “Live Positively”?

Turns out you find a mix of self help sites and for the most part, sites for people who are living with HIV. This phrase has been used for a long time now by HIV support groups here in the US and indeed around the planet.

For diet Coke it was, I think, intended as part of their packaging and branding around support for women’s health and in particular a focus on healthy hearts which is the current main focus for diet Coke’s advertising on TV.

So I went to the diet Coke home page. I thought I might find some more information on this phrase at the official site, however I was wrong. Couldn’t find it. The home page is mostly tracking codes for various scripts and a primary and almost entirely flash driven graphical site. You can view the current diet Coke TV ads, can download a few images of posters, and can get some information about the myCokeRewards program which currently includes an offer for a red designer dress which diet Coke has had made as part of their support for healthy heart awareness in women.

Reading over the site I noticed that the entire marketing and branding present in the site had a built-in assumption that anyone interested in diet Coke was a woman. So apparently a male, such as myself, was not at all the target audience for any of diet Coke’s brand messaging.

More to the point, though historically Coca Cola has built some great examples of Slow Brands, brands driven by an iconic imagery, consistent and patient messaging, and living up to and exceeding brand promises and expectations for decades upon decades, with the rise of the internet at least the diet Coke arm of Coca Cola does not appear to be getting how to invest in a brand in a digital world.

Getting back to that phrase. Though it is present on the diet Coke cans, I have not been able to find any official diet Coke presence than explains it or makes reference to the phrase. One article from the Beverage Institute mentioned a “Live Positively team” but I can’t find any other reference to the team and diet Coke on the web.

A number of bloggers have noticed the phrase on their cans and bottles of diet Coke but even these discussions are in the search engine results interleaved with other sites which were focused on HIV/AIDS but happened to also mention diet Coke on a given page.

Today any Brand should take the time to search on the other uses of messages which will be a part of your Brand messaging offline and online and see how your messaging ties into the existing uses of a given phrase. While it perhaps is not diet Coke’s intent, perhaps Coca Cola should have made some donations to and given support to some HIV/AIDS support groups around the globe perhaps as part of an overall campaign to help people, likely emphasizing women if indeed diet Coke is intended to be branded mostly for women consumers. In that case the overlapping meanings of the phrase would have echoed the Brand messaging.

As a consumer while some parts of the soda industry have remained iconic and slow, the packaging and marketing of the core products has often seemed to no longer be consistent or slow. Seemingly every time I am in supermarket today (at least here in the US) the packaging and marketing for both Coca Cola’s family of brands and Pepsi’s family of brands seems to have changed, on a nearly weekly basis.

In fact I noted that I could tell that the little corner store near my house had bought the soda they were selling a long time ago because the packaging on it contained contests which had ended months prior.

I am highlighting diet Coke here because it is an example of an iconic Brand, a great Slow Brand of the past, which I think is not entirely succeeding in the new, online driven world.

What other examples of historically great, Slow Brands, can you think of which have stumbled online?

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