Amidst declining sales, Diet Coke has decided to take on a new look and taste after 35 years in the market. This, said the company, was done in a bid to reconnect with the “new generation of drinkers” – the Millennials. According to Rafael Acevedo, Coca-Cola North America’s group director for Diet Coke, the brand wanted to be innovative in its approach throughout the relaunch journey, “while recasting the brand for a new generation.”
Meanwhile, Diet Coke senior brand manager Melissa Schwartz said, conversations with fellow Millennials (and current fans) guided every step of the innovation process.
“We cast a very broad flavor net after looking at what Millennials are eating and drinking and what food and beverage trends and insights told us,” she said. “We tried everything from spicy notes to exotic superfruits from around the world. We even hosted a mixology session in Atlanta where we invited fans to ideate, create and taste Diet Coke flavors we were considering.”
Overall, Coca-Cola’s R&D team is said to have tested more than 30 new Diet Coke flavor recipes – including those with tropical, citrus and even botanical notes – with more than 10,000 people before ultimately landing on the final four.
“As we were evaluating these new flavors, we paid close attention to how they impacted perceptions of the Diet Coke brand, holistically,” Schwartz said. “We hope to bring new fans into the Diet Coke family with these new flavors, but also to encourage those who have either never tried Diet Coke or lost touch with the brand to give it a try.”
In a conversation with Marketing, Simon Bell, managing director of Fitch called the new packaging "bold and unapologetic and [one that] reinforces Coke as a leader". The thin strip is a strong graphic to denote what it is (a diet drink).
“This is overt retail branding at its best,” Bell said.
“The research says Millennials like brands that ‘stay true’ but also those that ‘lead’. New Diet Coke does that, so there is no reason this group will turn away in droves. As a perennial, I think the new Diet Coke is a winner. The design does not feel timeless, but I’m sure that is the intention. Expect another move from Coke for this brand sometime in the near future,” he said, adding:
Constant change is a marketing tool I believe, we’ll see more of by leading brands.
Commenting on the packaging, Joseph Baladi, former CEO of BrandAsian, said that packaging updates and revisions should be carried out with the utmost of care and caution as years of equity are built-in to some aspect of the brand’s visual identity.Due to its emotional and sometimes even visceral component, it’s always hard to tell exactly what needs to be kept and what needs to go.
"Most of the time, brands should want the packaging redesign to maintain step with your successful brand. Central to that is sustained relevance which is almost always part of a broader effort,” he said, adding that visual exercises on their own rarely make a positive impact. Often they do the opposite.
Diet Coke’s new design line-up seems to me to be a desperate effort to stem the more than a decade old decline in global soda drinks consumption: new flavours and new design.
"The company’s explanation for the initiative and the research findings is long, wordy but ultimately self-serving and devoid of real insight,” he added.
Baladi also said that the communication hype “avoids the elephant in the room” as none of the PR hype talks about consumption decline as people are increasingly avoiding sugary fizzy drinks because of the harmful impacts. Instead of trying to distract people away from reasons they might not consume, Baladi said the brand could benefit if it made a genuine effort to devote itself to a brand purpose that resonates with its customers – especially Millennials.
“This creates an environment where there is no illusion about what Coke – or Diet Coke – is. In this environment some consumers will drink Diet Coke because it tastes good and is refreshing, but more because the brand does something that they value,” he added.