July 1, 2015 brandlogik

Cola wars – Coca-Cola’s new ‘one brand’ strategy

Around about the time the Beatles were becoming famous, Coca-Cola already had a ‘one-sight, one-sound, one-sell’ strategy in place, along with a worldwide advertising campaign based on the proposition “Things Go Better With Coke”. Developed with the creative input of McCann-Erickson (an agency I worked for several decades later), it was a campaign that dominated the sixties, fighting for attention with Pepsi’s rallying call “Come Alive! You’re in the Pepsi Generation.”

A brand expert could see Coke’s new ‘one brand’ strategy as a reflection of the ‘one-sight, one-sound, one-sell’ strategy and applaud the consistency of the approach. The problem is that in the sixties, leaving aside Fanta and some other syrupy diversions, Coca-Cola was still essentially a one-product company, but today the Coca-Cola Company manages a series of distinct and different brands. You don’t meet many Diet Coke drinkers who are just as happy with the full-fat alternative.

Jon Woods, General Manager of Coca-Cola in Great Britain & Ireland explains the company’s thinking: “With our new ‘one brand’ approach, we are uniting four distinct brands under the umbrella of Coca-Cola. We believe our no and lower sugar variants will benefit from this closer association with Coca-Cola and that featuring all variants in our advertising will make clear to more consumers the full choice we offer them.”

Does Coke’s new ‘one brand’ strategy lose sight of the unique and individual voice of the products themselves?

Great brands need great management, so this united approach seems like a great way to give Coke’s brand and product managers more control over their brand positioning, helping to centralize and rationalize the brand portfolio and no doubt eliminating historic overlaps or duplications. Having a unified brand is important for brand managers, helping them make their communication strategies clear and consistent. However, Coke’s one brand approach does have more than a little of an ‘inside-out’ rather than and ‘outside-in’ approach.

At the height of the Cola wars Coke had a tendency to dominate Pepsi creatively because in every campaign they produced they always tried to put the product first, ‘…at the heart of the commercial lay a bottle of Coca-Cola. It was the star, not the actors.’ (From For God, Country and Coca-Cola, by Mark Pendergrast).

Does Coca-Cola’s new ‘one brand’ strategy lose sight of the unique and individual voice of the products themselves? If the products become lost within what is essentially one brand identity, instead of competing with Pepsi, will individual brands not end up fighting with each other, cola against cola?

Great brands need strong management, which is one of the reasons why we developed Brangento our brand management application (see Brangento.com). But great brands also need to tell a unique story using great ideas beautifully delivered.

Well into its second century, Coke has certainly proven its resilience and its ability to manage change. But if it does turn out that the new brand strategy starts to weaken and not strengthen their portfolio it may not be Pepsi that wins this new cola war. The eventual winners could be more creative and innovative products, better able to tell their story for a new brand generation.

Eugene Burns


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