Tate & Lyle
Carst and Walker
Coke White Can

US: Coke’s white can get frosty reception

Coca-Cola is switching back to its time-honoured red can just one month after rolling out its flagship cola in a snow-white can, with much fanfare, for the year-end holidays. New seasonal cans in red are already on shelf, as white cans—initially expected to be in stores through February—make an exit.

While the company has frequently rung in the holiday with special can designs, this was the first time it put regular Coke in a white can. Some consumers complained that it looked confusingly similar to Diet Coke’s silver cans. Others felt that regular Coke tasted different in the white cans. Still others argued that messing with red bordered on sacrilege.

Coke regularly tweaks its packaging to create buzz and has a long tradition of holiday marketing, and says it helped shape the image of Santa Claus in his red suit with its 1930s advertising. Other Christmases past have featured snowflakes and polar bears, which appear on this season’s cans.

Coke says this year’s campaign is part of a partnership with the World Wildlife Fund to highlight global warming’s threat to bears’ Arctic habitat. Coke is contributing up to $3 million to conservation efforts.

“The white can resonated with us because it was bold, attention-grabbing” and “reinforced” the campaign theme, says Scott Williamson, a spokesman for the beverage company. Coke’s marketing executives wanted a “disruptive” campaign to get consumers’ attention, he says.

A moment of silence, please … for snow-white Coke….

Commentary by Bob Messenger, Editor, The Morning Cup and foremost US food industry commentator:

“I always get a kick out of the PR spinmeisters who take a minor or major corporate marketing crisis and spin it into a self-congratulatory pat on the back. Like the snow-white can Coca-Cola rolled out for the holidays, part of a collaborative effort with the World Wildlife Fund to highlight global warming’s impact on polar bears. So how did it go? Buh-bye snow-white can, after thousands of critical internet postings from snarling bloggers and consumer-complaint calls to corporate forced the company to retreat back to the iconic red hue for the holidays.

Coke was poised to ship 1.4 billion snow-whites into the distribution pipeline when the global warming campaign was launched, but now Coke says “red” was always part of the mix. That’s funny, I’m looking at the original press release right now and can find no mention of “red cans” for the holidays.

Of course, the hue and cry against snow-white hasn’t stopped Coke from defending its white can campaign — “The white can resonated with us because it was bold, attention-grabbing and reinforced the campaign theme,” company spokesperson Scott Williamson told the Wall Street Journal. “The can has been well received and generated a lot of interest and excitement.”

Well, maybe with the global warming, save-the-polar-bear crowd, but not so much with the millions of Americans who identify with that red Coke can and are not as cause-driven as Coca-Cola and its chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent, who has chosen global warming and saving polar bears as his cause dujour.

Personally, I liked the white can, it was cool and target at a good cause. But with the internet and its rapid response capability always in 24/7 mode, it doesn’t take long for a marketer today to get a ‘read’ on what consumers think about a new concept. Like great marketers do, Coke listened and reversed course.

No, Coke hasn’t abandoned the polar bear, but it showed that protecting its customer base remains the mother of all priorities.”

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