Rebranding and the Power of Perception

As soda sales fizzle, Coke rebrands a zero calorie classic and wins big

It’s no secret. Soft drinks have been steadily losing market share, with diet soda leading the decline. Health-conscious, eternally dieting consumers have been turning to bottled water (which surpassed soft drinks in overall sales in 2016) and unsweetened teas to slake their thirsts. However, on the diet soda front, one bright spot is emerging. Newly released and heavily hyped Coke Zero Sugar (formerly Coke Zero) has seen notable sales growth over its replacement.

So, what magical changes has Coke Zero Sugar made? In the soda itself, virtually none. Coke “tweaked” the recipe in an effort to make the rebranded soda taste more like regular Coke. However, the ingredients list remains unchanged from Coke Zero, including the dreaded aspartame people have been shying away from.

So, what did change?

The name picked up another word, and the packaging was brought more in line with traditional Coca-Cola branding.

So why are the early numbers on Coke Zero Sugar exceeding Coke Zero sales as diet brands decline in general? Well, for one thing, the name change makes it much more obvious that there is zero sugar in Coke Zero Sugar. There never was any sugar, but that’s beside the point—some people didn’t get it. Then there’s that clean yet retro logo with a bright red and unmistakably “Coca-Cola” circle acting as a throwback/modern background for the nameplate.

Yep,  marketers (and designers) have managed to realign customer perception with a new name and a new face. Coke Zero Sugar was launched last year in the UK, backed by a nice ad budget—in August 2016, it saw the greatest rise in ad awareness of any brand. Coke Zero Sugar was launched in the U.S. in August of this year, Coke told reporters in October that “the new drink had performed well in its third quarter, increasing its volume in the high single digits.”

Proof, at least so far, that properly researched and executed marketing are of vital importance.

Will rebranding save the diet soda segment? That remains to be seen, but even a hard-boiled skeptic like me jumped on board when I saw the new look. After all, I’m a sucker for refined packaging, and I love when seemingly small changes have big impacts.

Also, there are times when water or tea just can’t replace the taste of an ice-cold Coke.

Reading about best practices is nice. Practicing them is even nicer.

About the author

Ryan Carr

Ryan’s experience crafting exceptionally communicative and thoughtful designs for clients spans two [...]