Thursday, 6 October 2016


Coke Adds ‘Life’

I get good advice from the advertising world/Treat me nice says the party girl/ Koke adds life where there isn’t any – the Clash, ‘Koka Kola’

The Coca-Cola Company of Canada has launched a new cola. A serving of Coca-Cola Life has half the calories of Coca-Cola which previously, for a decade or longer, was known as Coca-Cola Classic because Pepsi-panicked senior executives in the beverage maker’s Atlanta, GA head office lost confidence in their flagship product and foolishly messed with a winning formula. Diet Coke and Coke Zero have no calories but are chemically sweetened. Life is sort of a bridge between the extremes of the full on sugar, glucose-fructose rush of a regular Coke and its less tasty Diet sister and Zero brother. Life is sweetened with sugar and some weird, hip South American jungle plant.

Life is positioned oxymoronically as a natural cola, hence the radical green packaging which is alarmingly left of Coke’s traditional colour palette. Green these days suggests a certain environmental and ecological sensibility. In the soda pop industry green is a semaphore for ‘uncolas,’ lemon-lime drinks and ginger ales (club soda is blue, tonic is yellow). Life seems to be targeted at the type of consumer who would refuse a carbonated soft drink on the hottest day of the year.

The creation of Life reminds me of a relatively recent inane and pathetic campaign by Kraft to market Kraft Dinner to adults. The hooks were nostalgia and fun! One of the elements included a pop-up event tent on Toronto’s famous Bay Street. Kraft neglected to take into account that one of the reasons people strive to become high-powered bankers and lawyers is that they never want to eat Kraft Dinner ever again. If companies remember not to forget what they’re very good at, they can be delusional and mildly messianic about their core products because who wouldn’t yell ‘Please!’ for a foil packet of stinking dehydrated cheese powder.

I don’t know much about Life. I understand the new cola has launched in other countries and that the buzz fades as soon as the advertising campaign wraps up which indicates the product may have no traction beyond initial consumer curiosity. Life strikes me as a somewhat defensive sparkling ploy, in that the corporation that manufactures and distributes a legendary, tasty and refreshing beverage is constantly taken to task by activists and special interests who maintain that Coca-Cola should be righteously condemned for spawning a generation of obese, diabetic screen addicts. That would suppose that the arts of branding and persuasion somehow overarch the exercise of free will; unlike cigarettes and alcohol, cola is not addictive.

In order to understand the meaning of Life I turned to my friend John, a Coca-Cola connoisseur. John believes Coca-Cola tastes best when drunk or poured from a single serving container, either glass or a 500 mL plastic bottle, never a can. John has opinions on Coke vessels too because the container affects the cola's flavour: ‘For some reason the two-litre has improved and is as good as the 500 mL, the one in between, probably one-litre, is crap along with their new smaller size.’ He welcomes themed packaging because it saves him hunting for a sell by date. For instance, a Santa Claus Coke in October is obviously fresh from the plant while a Rio 2016 Coke is just as obviously past its prime. Fountain coke is a minefield of inconsistent proportions, sometimes there’s too much syrup but generally there’s not enough and that too tiny dollop in turn is further diluted by too many ice cubes. Diet and Zero don’t even rate a sneer.

Earlier this week I asked John to sample Life: ‘To my very surprise, it is not bad! Tastes very much like regular Coke with only the slightest aftertaste. My taste buds aren’t what they used to be but I think if you gave me a taste test with both of them nice and cold, I probably would have trouble telling them apart. Maybe I could wait for the aftertaste of both and get eight out of ten. The good news is it does not taste like the usual sweeteners that they are using instead of cane sugar, so they may be on to something.’ Coca-Cola could not craft this testimonial, a ringing endorsement from an aficionado. Was the green label married with the traditional script and wave thingy off-putting? ‘No because it made it easy to find in the cooler. That is the only change, colour. They did not try to add a bunch of crap about contents or sweeteners.’

Soda sales are in a steady albeit gentle decline, shrinking about three-per-cent annually. Coca-Cola faces a dilemma. Life is a mere brand extension rather than the advent of an entirely new marketing category as Diet Coke was when it was first introduced in the 70s. Life will not spawn a new generation of cola drinkers. If Coke loyalists like John choose Life over the old classic the company will simply cannibalize sales of its signature brand.

The Atlanta marketing spin is that Coke’s growing family of colas is now able to offer bubbly refreshment suitable to any lifestyle. Actually, the real thing is the Pepsi bugaboo again. Pepsi Next, a similar product to Life and curiously, wrapped in green and sweetened naturally with real sugar and a jungle herb, went to market four years ago. I’ll bet Life just wants a little scrap of the fading carbonated action from an old nemesis: ‘From Hell’s heart, I stab at thee!’ It’s difficult not to be cynical. But John says Life is good and he would know.

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