Diet Coke looks to past to retain ‘lifestyle’ status

Diet Coke is marking its 30th anniversary with year-long marketing activity, reminiscing on its humble beginnings through to its 1990s “zeitgeist moment” and up to present day where it is bidding to retain its “lifestyle brand” status in the face of 21st century pressures.

Coca-Cola’s lighter, younger sister launched in the 1980s red swimsuit era and was linked to everything celebrity: anyone who was anyone in Hollywood had to be seen with their lips fastened around a can of the latest fizzy pop.

Fast-forward to 1994 and Diet Coke reached its “zeitgeist moment”, according to Coca-Cola GB market activation director Zoe Howorth, who told Marketing Week the iconic Diet Coke break ad complete with the Diet Coke hunk is still one of the best recalled ads in history.

Howorth says: “The Diet Coke break was about creating a ritual in people’s lives and creating a real lifestyle brand.”

While the hunk made some fleeting returns in the years to follow, Diet Coke’s marketing in the noughties and the early part of this decade channeled fashion. It partnered with leading designers such as Karl Lagerfeld and John Paul Gaultier and brands including House of Fraser, Asos and Nails Inc.

Diet Coke will once again focus on fashion later in the year as part of its long-running marketing strategy to target “demanding fashionistas”, and is understood to be collaborating with designer Marc Jacobs who – in the spirit of earlier tie ups – will design artwork for cans and bottles and feature in other marketing activity.

Howorth says, however, the bulk of this year’s pan-European activity will focus on the big anniversary.

“This year is about putting the brand at the heart of our stories in a fashionable, 21st century way. We are being bold and getting excited about that. We are launching it with what I think is the best advertising I’ve seen from the brand in a long time,” she adds.

Diet Coke Hunk 1994
The original ‘Diet Coke hunk’

The famous Diet Coke hunk will return – albeit a different actor – in the “sparkling together for 30 years” campaign soundtracked again by Etta James’ “I just want to make love to you”. It was created by BETC London and will air on TV from March.

This will be amplified through social media where the brand has used Nielsen tracking to identify and go on to thank its “VIP” fans who have stayed loyal to the brand throughout the years with special content, giveaways and a birthday party.

Howorth says the brand has increased its investment in community management and is working with media owners to “do something different:” with this campaign and subsequent ads celebrating Diet Coke’s history to keep the brand relevant with a younger audience – especially those who may not remember the original campaigns.

While Diet Coke remains the second biggest soft drink brand globally with a value of over $11bn – and is about 70 per cent the size of the Coca-Cola in Great Britain, the highest index versus the master brand anywhere in the world – the company’s revenue in Europe fell 8 per cent in the three months to 28 September, which it blamed on an unfavourable price mix and currency impacts

Howorth says the Coca-Cola can tackle such pressures by being “more agile” in its marketing – especially with its diet brands as the company has a global vision to grow its light brands faster than the regulars as part of its 2020 Vision to offer sustainable choice to consumers.

She adds: “When you have a clear brand idea we can connect and be relevant and flexible. We seek to be the culturally relevant brand of now and we have a strong track record of continued growth with a broad church of people. [For example], we have a 60/40 female and male proportion of drinkers and although we’ve always had a female heart to the brand, we’re not marketing it as female only.”

UK annual ad expenditure for Diet Coke

Source: Nielsen

  Dec 08/Nov 09 Dec 09/Nov 10 Dec 10/Nov 11 Dec 11/Nov 12
  £5.3m £4.3m £3.5m £3m

Top 5 carbonated drinks UK

Source: Nielsen MAT to 13 October 2012

Brand £ millions Change (£m) Change (%)
Coca-Cola £1,152 20.2 1.8
Pepsi £349.5 34.6 11
Fanta £116.8 -3 -2.5
Irn Bru £101.7 4.9 5.1
Dr Pepper £85 2.2 2.7



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