Brand misManagement: Is it Coke or Diet Coke?

Brand management is concept that’s often associated with an organization’s marketing strategy.  It is a process that monitors market competition and seeks any opportunity to assert and affirm the company brand. Think Coca-Cola . . . What do you immediately associate with the soft drink company? Perhaps the red can, polar bear or glass bottle? In any event, no matter what association you make, you can still identify the branding elements that are distinctly Coca Cola.

Now imagine if you took the traditional Coca-Cola can and changed its color. Well, this winter, in partnership with World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Coca-Cola introduced a new white can to signify its newest campaign supporting polar bear conservation efforts. Fresh idea? Maybe. But the winter edition can closely resembled another member of the Coca-Cola family: Diet Coke.

Unfortunately for Coca-Cola, what started as a well-intentioned branding effort soon turned into huge issue with significant consumer backlash. People were confused by the white can and occasionally upset when they mistakenly grabbed a Coke from the refrigerator instead of a Diet Coke.  Thankfully, Coca-Cola was able to remedy the situation quickly with the introduction of a revised red winter edition can, but not before recalling the white cans from grocery store shelves.

Now that's more like Coca Cola!

This case clearly identifies the importance of color in organizational brand strategy.  It also calls to the forefront a pivotal issue: Who should have a seat at the table in discussions about brand management? Maybe the initial strategy is best suited for marketing professionals, but Coca-Cola’s public relations department was called into action when consumer loyalty and brand relationships were tested.

Public relations professionals should certainly be involved in brand management strategies — because after all, the heart of brand management deals with stakeholder relationships. Had someone sat down and actually considered the issues involved with re-branding the Coke can (and kept their other product brands at top of mind), maybe the white can would have never made it into production. Brand management can’t deal solely with marketing the organization, it also has to manage public attitude and perceptions.

Bottom line: Any branding strategy has to be consistent with the organization’s vision and the public’s perception. And don’t attack your own brand by forgetting about your other products and their respective branding!

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3 Responses to Brand misManagement: Is it Coke or Diet Coke?

  1. mcberbli says:

    I find this post to be really interesting. As a fan of Coke myself, I can definitely see where the public would get confused by the lack of distinction between the two Coke cans. It’s sad that so much Coke was wasted in the recall just because someone didn’t plan the product’s campaign well. I agree that public relations should definitely be involved in brand marketing strategies. After all, they’re the ones that are going to have to clean up the mess and take care of damage control!

  2. jperaza says:

    Brand management may appear to be a marketing team’s responsibility, but public relations practitioners are also stakeholders in the decision-making — or at least they should be. In Coca-Cola’s case, the managing of the brand was mishandled with the launch of their winter, WWF edition. A well-versed PR team would have strategically thought of the negatives that came with changing the color of the can and perhaps the issue could have been avoided. Public relations teams enlist the help of marketing teams for creativity and promotion, but in a company as large as Coca-Cola, teams should constantly collaborate and pull their resources together before spending millions on a decision destined to backfire.

  3. Jessica Von Schell says:

    Both great points. It would seem, as you suggest, that if PR practicioners are responsible for cleaning up the mess after the fact that they should play an important role in the discussions and decision-making beforehand…

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