Diet Coke victim of meddling marketers

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Lara O’Reilly’s story about Diet Coke’s new proposition as a “fashion brand for demanding fashionistas” made me smile and took me back to my first few days as Marketing Week editor in January 2009.

First, let me say that I don’t particularly understand the new brand strategy. I’m not a ’fashionista’ by any stretch of the imagination but I do feel like I ’get’ what the Diet Coke brand is all about. I just don’t really see the link with fashion. Without wishing to be negative about it, I reckon this is just a case of marketers meddling a bit too much.

That’s why I’m reminded of my first week in charge of this publication when Marketing Week associate editor Ruth Mortimer wrote a column about the new Coca-Cola strapline of the time. Coke had ditched the ’Coke Side of Life’ line in favour of ’Open Happiness’.

She argued that because marketers are aware that their average lifespan with any one brand is 18 months, they are under pressure to ’meddle’ with brand strategy when such tinkering is often unnecessary.

We both agreed that Coca-Cola had squandered the best strapline in history to experiment with weaker, vague notions such as ’Open Happiness’.

Coca-Cola will always be the biggest and most famous soft drinks product because it is brilliantly marketed. And never was that more so than when the strapline was ’The Real Thing’.

because marketers are aware that their average lifespan with any one brand is 18 months, they are under pressure to ’meddle’ with brand strategy

Whatever Coca-Cola bod came up with that idea must have thought he or she had rendered all future Coke marketing strapline ideas utterly redundant.

Diet Coke’s marketing journey has been a zig-zagged affair. Women have always been at the heart of the message but that message has moved considerably. It’s been about the window-cleaning hunk and it’s been about music. Now it’s about fashion.

Ruth was right when she said one of the most valuable skills a marketer can possess is the knowledge of when to leave well alone. It probably takes a certain amount of conviction and confidence to do it, where many in marketing suffer from a need to prove their status with a market-changing idea.

What is certain is that the new fashion strategy won’t harm Diet Coke’s impressive sales figures. I doubt anything could. I just wonder how meaningful it is to form a new strategy for such a powerful brand as Diet Coke that seems unlikely to last the next two marketing directors’ terms in the job.

Mark Choueke, editor

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