It is impossible to judge Coke Life’s success when the goal posts keep moving

A huge amount of cynicism met the launch of Coke Life when it was unveiled in the UK in August 2014. Our very own Mark Ritson concluded that the brand, Coke’s first major variant launch in eight years, was a “dud” that sat in an ambiguous zone between full-fat Coca-Cola and Coke Zero and not amounting to much of anything.

Russell Parsons

Its launch was followed by a high-profile advertising blitz that stressed its low calories and “sweetness from natural sources”. Early signs were encouraging but then, as our analysis explains, things levelled out.

New products, particularly in FMCG, generally start strongly, fuelled by a mixture of price promotion and heavyweight in-store activity. Maintaining that early momentum, however, often proves more difficult, even for a company with the marketing might of Coca-Cola.

The company willingly made it even more difficult for Coke Life in March when it launched its ‘One Brand’ strategy in the UK and Europe. The tactic showcased its product range under the Coca-Cola masterbrand – a portfolio of products that offered a little something for everyone with a particular focus on the fact that if you want low, lower and no calorie products, Coke has it covered. For Coke Life, which was still suffering from a lack of understanding of what it actually is, this presented a major obstacle and one that no product in its infancy is likely to face: how do you build a product with no separate means of support?

For Coke Life, what does success now look like? If it is to be judged in terms of additional incremental sales, then Coke has delivered. Almost £29m has been added to Coke’s coffers in the year since it launched, according to IRI data. However, monthly sales peaked at £4.1m in October 2014 but have since declined to £1.5m in September this year.

The introduction of One Brand means it is very difficult to judge the success of Coke Life. The goal posts have moved. By most normal measures, a drop in monthly value sales of this magnitude soon after launch would be considered a disaster.

But starved of separate marketing seven months after launch, the jury is still very much out. Whatever the conclusion, Coke Life’s life to date is unprecedented.

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