Russell Parsons: A new strapline won’t cure Coke’s ills, only One Brand can do that

Coca-Cola is doing something radical. In order to arrest the seemingly irreversible decline in sales across its portfolio, it is going back to the future by talking about…taste. Out goes the nebulous catch-all ‘Open Happiness’ in favour of ‘Taste the Feeling’.

If that rings any bells in marketers of a certain age, then it’s because it has echoes of eighties strapline ‘You Can’t Beat the Feeling’. This is not an attempt to tap into love for all things eighties, however, more an attempt to balance the emotional and the rational.

The Open Happiness strapline was entirely about the emotional and about values; it was an attempt to create a brand purpose that could be translated across the globe. The Taste the Feeling tagline is about taste and refreshment and will, shock horror, show people enjoying a Coke.

This is no naïve throwback to an age before pesky health campaigners dominated the conversation. Coke is also rolling out its ‘One Brand’ strategy across the globe. First launched in the UK last March, the branded house strategy that unites sub-brands Coca-Cola, Coke Zero, Diet Coke and Coke Life under the masterbrand is now rolling out globally.

The portfolio approach, which sees no separate marketing investment for each sub-brand, is an attempt to demonstrate that Coca-Cola has all your needs covered, especially if you want low- and no-calorie drinks.

With Taste the feeling, Coke is taking a step forward by looking back. As imaginatively executed as Open Happiness was, on occasion it was almost entirely purpose-driven at the expense of the simpler delights Coca-Cola can bring, namely it can be refreshing and replenish thirst.

However, it is the One Brand strategy that will define the company’s success. Coca-Cola is hurting. Worldwide sales are falling, full-sugar soft drink sales have peaked and it is the poster child of sugary excess.

The new strategy is risky: it threatens the equity built up in sub-brands Diet Coke and Coke Zero and could kill off Life in its infancy. But if all goes to plan, it takes the best of the world’s most famous brand and positions it as a better corporate citizen. The stakes are high.

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