Last week, Diet Coke introduced four new flavors into the family of America’s largest low-calorie soft drink: Ginger Lime, Feisty Cherry, Zesty Blood Orange and Twisted Mango. Along with the robust new flavor offering came a sleek new look- a slimmer can, a focus on the iconic silver color and a more refined take on the font design. This is a big move from the brand, having originally introduced the “diet” version of its beloved drink originally back in 1982, which unlike its main competitor, Pepsi, wasn’t a modified version of the original but an entirely different formula altogether (its biggest differentiator was its use of the artificial sweeter, aspartame) Alongside its taste, its look and feel, while reminiscent of the original Coke, was distinct and over the years, hasn’t significantly changed even when offering new flavors such as Diet Cherry Coke or Diet Vanilla Coke. In summary, not much has been done to the brand…until now.
The cultural climate and sentiments towards health, wellness, diets and food and beverages in 2018 is one significantly different than that of the 1980’s. As it’s oft-repeated, we know now that consumers of today- especially younger demographics- are much more conscious and discerning of the ingredients they consume and how these brands contribute to their overall lifestyles. I did a quick-fire with two CBX’ers, Dustin Longstreth, Chief Marketing & Chief Strategy Officer and Satoru Wakeshima, Chief Engagement Officer to collect their thoughts on the topic.
Q: What are your thoughts on both the design and flavor change/strategy?
Dustin: The design is effective because their strategy is flavor driven and their goal is to get people to see variety. They’ve also sought to incorporate a new multi-platform visual as they can re-use that visual in dynamic and static media. It’s smart, easy to shop and clearly communicates something new from Diet Coke. Ultimately, the Coke franchise is about as giving consumers as many ways to enter the franchise as possible. Whether through diet, cane sugar, classic, zero, size, they’re strategy is giving as many entry points into the brand as possible- now they’re doing it through flavor.
Satoru: Considering Diet Coke’s leadership position in the diet cola segment, I’m surprised they waited so long to change. While the redesign may seem dramatic to some, it actually retains many of the core color equities and the logo is very evolutionary. The introduction of the vertical banding and slim can just provide a simple, clean platform for the brand. The Coca-Cola Company was smart to introduce the four new flavors with the redesign – there’s new news to talk about other than just the packaging shift.
Q: How do you think consumers, particularly the younger generations, will react to it?
Dustin: There is a population of the current generation of consumers that are probably suspicious of soft drink formulations in general – they equate it with something unnatural and overly processed product. However, the end of the day, regardless of their age, if people are skeptical of these diet drinks, they’re most likely avoiding it as much because it seems old and outdated and not solely because they’re “diet.” This is an overall response to consumer’s desires for more interesting and adventurous flavor experiences across the board and not just in water- whether its gum, chips, burgers or CSD’s. People are looking for more bold and unique flavor experiences.
Satoru: There’s still a stigma associated with sweeteners like Splenda in “diet” products. It’s a bit of a Catch-22: change the formula and your loyal diet Coke drinkers will scream; keep it the same and it will still be outside of the beverage consideration set of many health-conscious consumers. But the new flavors will at least get the occasional diet soda drinker to give them a try.
Q: How risky do you think is this move and what type of impact could it have on the brand?
Satoru: It’s not really that risky. The CSD category has been troubled for quite some time so it requires bolder and possibly riskier moves from brands to turn it around. They didn’t change the diet Coke formula and whether people like it or not, they’ll get used to the new package design. I think they’ll see a bump in sales because it was a very considered change. New package graphics and new flavors in a category that hasn’t seen much change as of late is big news. But there will also be some flavors that perform better than others and I’m sure The Coca-Cola Company is anticipating that. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw more new flavors in the next year.
Dustin: Additionally, this move also seems to be setting them up on a roadmap of innovation; if any one flavor doesn’t succeed, they have opportunities to bring something new to the shelf. If they went with a re-formulation, it would be a tacit admission that it wasn’t good for you and they wouldn’t be addressing the challenge of excitement at shelf.
Q: There have been instance when brands have tried to so something similar and its been met with backlash. Could Diet Coke face the same scenario?
Satoru: I think we underestimate how, as a culture, we’re exposed to change at a much faster rate than ever before and the greater number of choices we have to today vs. in 2009, when the infamous Tropicana blunder happened. Brands, especially leadership brands have an opportunity to flex their equities and be less precious with them, as long as the changes they make pay respect to what people love about the brand.
Q: Any other closing thoughts on this topic?
Satoru: Not every brand is in a position to make a dramatic change. There has to be core users who will buy the product no matter what (as long as you don’t change the product) and there has to be significant investment behind supporting a dramatic graphics change. This can be something like the choice to make the new diet Coke available in slim cans as well as standard 12 oz cans, to where the brand appears and how it’s presented. The fact that they chose a simple color banded package design also signals that diet Coke is also considering how the brand could appear in small format, digital presentations like on a mobile device. This is something they didn’t even think about when the brand was first launched in 1982.
Photo courtesy of Diet Coke