SAINTS PRESERVE US
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
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 Canada
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. Atlanta, GA
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
’s famous Toronto 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.