Coca-Cola Sheds Light on Changing Brand Images

In case you missed the news, Coca-Cola recently changed their iconic red can to a white can for the first time in 125 years. The white can was released in late October in order to raise awareness of the threatened polar bear species. The campaign was supposed to run through February, but was quickly pulled after customers aggressively demonstrated their disapproval through social media websites such as YouTube and Twitter and accused Coke of changing the taste as well as the can. Customers also complained that the white cans with silver polar bears looked mistakenly similar to the traditional Diet Coke cans, causing them to purchase the wrong product.

Coca-Cola assured their customers on national television that they did not change the formula of their product. Scott Williamson, a spokesperson for Coke, also told the Wall Street Journal that they simply wanted a “disruptive” marketing campaign to raise awareness of threatened polar bears.

Coca-Cola appears to have appropriately handled what could have been a PR glitch by pulling the white cans off of the shelves and replacing them with the traditional red, publicly assuring consumers they did not change the taste, and publicly explaining why they changed the cans in the first place. But there are a few lessons you can learn from Coca-Cola’s mishap.

1. Consumers generally do not like change. They want to identify with a brand’s image and logo. Therefore, as the old saying goes, don’t fix what isn’t broken. It may have been honorable of Coca-Cola to try to raise awareness of polar bears, but their previous failures with changing brand images should have warned them of the risk they were taking.

2. If your company decides to change its brand name, logo or image, explain the changes publicly, clearly and thoroughly. Consumers will be more likely to identify with the new image if they understand why you are making changes.

3. Have a crisis plan ready like Coke did in case things do go awry.

4. Keep in mind that consumers are using social media to voice their opinions more than ever before. While you shouldn’t fear what your customers are saying online, you should be aware of what they are saying by monitoring social media. Responding to both positive and negative feedback accordingly will benefit your company.

What do you think about Coca-Cola’s can change? Have you or your company changed their brands or brand images? How did it go?


About Sarah Hamilton

Sarah Hamilton provides support to the Lovell Communications staff and assists agency clients in the areas of media monitoring, media relations, writing, research, and other support services.
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3 Responses to Coca-Cola Sheds Light on Changing Brand Images

  1. Rosemary says:

    And perhaps a #5 could be that “disruptive” campaigns can be a great way to generate buzz! Good or bad, these kinds of marketing efforts can be very effective for pushing a brand into timely conversation (and headlines as well!).

  2. Joshua Camp says:

    Great post, and I’m glad you mention social monitoring and a prelude to a brand change. I personally think Coke should have put a bigger spin on it, gotten more press behind it, and distributed regular cans to be positioned side-by-side on shelves.

    Then again, I thought it was a terrible idea to push communications that neglect to mention the campaign site’s functional abilities and the fact that Coke is matching donations up to $1m. I think campaign sentiment was already tarnished before anyone mentioned problems with the cans. I also saw it as a short-coming that the campaign’s website is flash-based when the alternative flash-free mobile version is much more usable… It goes to show that properly planning a campaign and having a solid social strategy behind it are more important than rushing to make deadlines (in this case the holidays).

  3. Sarah Hamilton says:

    Joshua, you made some great observations. Thanks for the comment!

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