Drinkin’ Problem

Thanks to social media, product advertising is a complex challenge these days. Hiring an “agency” no longer suffices, at least not for major corporations. They depend on “brand builders” instead – Interbrand, for example. Interbrand boasts “…a global team of thinkers and makers [encouraging] bold moves to leap ahead of customers and competitors.” Interbrand also values the companies they help build. On their list, well inside the top ten: Coca-Cola.

My brothers and I gathered in Atlanta last week for a semi-annual reunion.  Our initial stop wasn’t Coca-Cola’s world headquarters but rather, its popular “World of Coca-Cola” tour.  If you haven’t walked through these doors, Coke has turned an impressive three-story building into a glittery three-ring circus to promote its products, with a side of historical context.  As if Coke needs more promotion.  The genius of this soft drink, as we learn on the tour, is the relentless, boundless effort to put Coke’s brand everywhere imaginable.  Cans, clothing, and cars, just to name a few.  But pixels?

Here’s a weird suggestion.  Go into your home laboratory, create a flavor, and label it something that doesn’t have a flavor.  This is Coke’s latest go-to gimmick to retain market share.  Coca-Cola Zero Sugar “Byte” has come and gone (limited-edition products are another way to retain market share) and you probably didn’t have a taste. And what does “data” taste like?  According to drinkers it’s pretty much the same as Coke Zero, adding in the sensation of the old “Pop Rocks” candy.

Coca-Cola also developed “Coke Starlight”, somehow determining the taste of “outer space”.  Drinkers said it tasted like Coke with an aftertaste of cereal milk (ewwwww).  Go to the store today and you can purchase the latest of these curiosities: “Coke Dreamworld”, which has been described as “Coke soaked in sour peach rings” (ewwwww again).  As the saying goes, there’s no accounting for taste… or should I say, with Coca-Cola there’s no caring for taste.  Instead, the bottles and cans promote music, videos, and other products through a QR code.  And there’s the branding concept in a nutshell.  You’re attracted to the purchase because it’s a Coca-Cola product, but the draw is anything but the drink itself.

I shouldn’t be surprised how far the taste of Coke has, uh, evolved in the one hundred and thirty years since its market debut.  The variations on the original formula are myriad, including Cherry Coke, Vanilla Coke, Diet Coke, and “Coke Zero” (no added sugar but plenty of artificial sweeteners).  Let’s not pretend any of these drinks are actually good for your consumption.  But at least vanilla and cherry are tastes we understand.  Dreams?  Not so much.

“Dreamworld” and the other recent flavors target “gamers and younger audiences”.  My brothers and I saw a lot of kids on the “World of Coca-Cola” tour so maybe the advertising is working.  Regardless, Coca-Cola has a bigger challenge to confront.  Sales of soft drinks are on a serious decline, in favor of bottled water and healthier options.  Coke recently cut its portfolio of soft drinks by fifty percent (bye-bye Tab) in an effort to improve its bottom line.  To me, that’s a sound business strategy.  But flavors that aren’t really flavors?  That’s desperate.

Coca-Cola had a big red flag in the 1980s (appropriate color, no?), one that should’ve discouraged future dabbling with their products.  Who among you doesn’t remember the debacle of “New Coke”? The flavor variation – the first in Coca-Cola’s long history – debuted to rave reviews, with claims it was better than Coke or Pepsi.  But here’s what Coca-Cola didn’t see coming: consumers immediately defended the original flavor.  Instead of buying New Coke, they cleared the shelves of the original flavor for fear it would go away forever.  Begrudgingly (and very quickly), Coca-Cola returned the original flavor to stores under the name “Coke Classic”.  But New Coke never found legs and eventually disappeared from the shelves altogether, while “Coke Classic” returned as simply “Coke”.

” Coke Dreamworld”, as you would expect, features prominently in the “World of Coca-Cola” tour.  The flavor that isn’t a flavor, along with a silly 3-D movie and a giant retail store, targets the youngest of consumers.  But let’s be honest, most people go on the tour for the tasting room, where they can sample Coca-Cola’s products to their heart’s content.  “New Coke” is not among those choices.  Pretty soon I don’t expect to see any flavors-that-aren’t flavors either.

Some content sourced from the CNN Business article, “Coke’s latest bizarre flavor is here”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

19 thoughts on “Drinkin’ Problem

  1. This will date me but when I was in college studying marketing I learned that Coke had the perfect marketing plan because they never duplicated the names of their drinks. That is there was Coke, there was Tab, and there was Sprite. This was considered brilliant. NOW? Thanks to the concept of branding who knows what all those mixed-up names on the cans mean. Seems stupid to me, I rarely drink the stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pretty sure college was my first rum and Coke too, Lyssy. Never got hooked on the combo, although my son-in-law likes rum and Dr. Pepper. I may have to give that one a try.

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  2. I never knew there was so much to know about coke. I remember the new coke thing and switching to Pepsi and never really going back to Classic Coke or even Coke at all. At one time it was my morning caffeine fix. Now I rely on tea – it takes a lot of tea to make a coke …

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    1. I’m sure Coke and other sodas contributed to the mouthful of cavities I’ve had over the years. I’d like to think we’re making smarter/healthier choices with out drinks these days, but no, I still see a ton of people with sodas the size of small garbage cans walking out of 7-Elevens.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting post. I don’t drink much soda, but I definitely prefer Coke to Pepsi. If I’m going to drink a soda, I normally go for Fresca. There are so many NEW sparkling water choices hitting the market, it seems people are choosing those. I bet that was a nice tour. I didn’t know they were headquartered in Atlanta.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, Monica, it’s the “waters” competing with the sodas that seems to be “diluting” Coke’s marketshare. I also agree on your preference of Coke over Pepsi. We were a Coke household when I grew up (not that we had it in the pantry very often) so maybe Pepsi was inferior just because it was another cola.

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      1. We were a Coke family too, but I do remember Tab and Fresca as horrible tasting diet drinks from the 60’s/70’s. The sweeteners might have been different then? I’m surprised they are still around?

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  4. I tried Tab in the World of Coca-Cola tasting room and was reminded how very “diet’ it tasted. Surprised there’s still a market for it. Fresca was a little better but neither appealed to me, even back in my soda-drinking days.

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  5. Hi Dave,
    Several years ago I visited the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta. The best part was trying all the different kinds at the end of the tour. Coca-Cola is one of a kind to me, I love it, but drink only a few times a year.
    Fun song!!
    Blessings!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Dave – Well I didn’t know Coke made its market debut 130 years ago. That fact amazed me. I don’t drink pop/soda now as growing up my parents never allowed me to drink pop, except for an occasional Canada Dry gingerale with a scoop of ice cream, so I never acquired a taste for it – yes I’m strange. I made plenty of Cherry Cokes during my years at the diner. It was popular. We had a container of cherry syrup – two small ladles added before “drawing” the Coke from the dispenser and you had a flavorful drink. We also made Cherry Sprite. Tried it once – too fizzy. And, for kids’ upset stomachs, through the years, many customers would come into the diner to ask if they could buy a small cup of Coke syrup. That sweet and sticky syrup was guaranteed to cure upset tummies and gentler than using a product with potential harmful side effects. Yes, people worried about side effects even then, circa 1973 – 1978.

    Years ago, (around 1975, a fact just gleaned from Google as I couldn’t have told you when), I did the Pepsi Challenge when random shoppers across the country were asked to taste/compare Coke and Pepsi. Thy were given two glasses of pop/soda to drink: one was Pepsi, one was Coke. The “sorbet” of sorts was a handful of plain soda crackers … you tested and told which drink you preferred. I gave my opinion, but truthfully since I never drank Coke or Pepsi, I just said one seemed sweeter to me but I likely wasn’t a great judge. It was interesting. Not as interesting as when I was selected to take a “Prototype Tour” shortly after buying my 1988 Regal. I was instructed to park at a parking lot and would meet others, like me selected to this prototype tour. We boarded a bus for a 15-minute ride, then were led into a building with no name on it to give our opinion on protype vehicles and their features. Then we were given a questionnaire to be completed on the spot, then boarded the bus and returned to the parking lot. We were presented with an envelope with a check from a survey organization – no clue as to what automobile company initiated this event.

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    1. The “Prototype Tour” sounds like something a person from Detroit have the chance to do. I remember the Coke/Pepsi challenge, and though I never took it I’m confident I would’ve been able to identify between the two. I like the taste of a cherry cola but the combo is way too sweet for my older taste buds (and I haven’t been a soda drinker for decades). I do have a fond memory of my grade-school piano recitals at my teacher’s house. After the performances she would serve the parents/students a drink made with lime sherbet and ginger ale, which fizzed and steamed when ladled from her big punch bowl. Never would’ve thought to combine the too but it was actually very refreshing.

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      1. A friend of the family was an engineer at Ford and was really interested in the “Prototype Tour” which was quite comprehensive. At the recent Detroit Auto Show, the auto beat reporter for the all-news radio station I listen to said that if you are at an auto show and a stranger asks your opinion on a vehicle, it is likely the designer or a Big Three auto exec fishing to find improvements for the next model year.

        That drink sounds delicious and refreshing.

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  7. Wow, am I the only kid who was a dedicated Pepsi drinker? It would seem so among the commenters here. My mother liked Coke but I found it too syrupy.

    As an adult I rarely drink either, preferring carbonated seltzer waters. I like the carbonation and avoid the calories and sweetness. If I get a soft drink these days I pick Dr. Pepper or root beer.

    One Coke variety that intrigues me is Mexican Coke that is said to be made with cane sugar in lieu of the corn syrup that has been used as the sweetener here for a long time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My brothers made the same comment about “Mexican Coke” when we took the tour. I didn’t know there was a cane sugar variety (which was the original formula, I assume). And Dr. Pepper will always tempt me, even if soda is no longer my jam.

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      1. Our Costco stocks old-style 16 ounce bottles of Mexican Coke but I have been reluctant to invest in a Costco-sized case. I tried a bottle in a local Mexican restaurant. I thought it tasted cleaner but maybe that was my imagination.

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