Blog: Chris Brook-CarterNew Diet Coke, same old story?

Chris Brook-Carter | 10 February 2005

It may seem a logical enough step from Coca-Cola - launching a second diet brand, aimed particularly at those who don't like the taste of the current formulation - but many are wondering if the soft drink giant has leant nothing from its past mistakes.

When Coke rolls out Diet Coke sweetened with Splenda, to sit alongside the current and original Diet Coke, which is sweetened with aspartame, it is running the risk of reliving its nightmare in 1985 when a change to the taste formulation of Classic Coke led to one of the most disastrous and publicly humiliating marketing episodes in recent business history.

The public outcry to the change led Coke to withdraw the new cola formulation and swap it back to the old recipe.

Coke's logic now makes sense. A potentially lucrative customer base wants a diet cola, but doesn't like the current aspartame taste. So Coke is planning to produce two Diet Coke brands, one to pander to what it hopes is a new audience and the second to continue selling to its current market.

But the 1985 change made sense too, at least at boardroom level, after taste tests before launch revealed the new Coke to be an unqualified success.

The threat this time is that Coke is over-complicating one of its key brands, which has built its success so far on a simple marketing message. Though Coke will continue to sell regular Diet Coke, some consumers may mistake one variation for another, or not have enough knowledge of the artificial sweetener market to draw any distinction at all between the two drinks.

Would it not have been better to launch an alternative diet cola under another name, in much the same way as Pepsi has used the Pepsi One and Pepsi Max brands?

For this plan to succeed Coke must ensure it gets its packaging and marketing absolutely right. If it doesn't it risks harming what is growing into its most powerful brand.


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