Coke’s Brand Image in a Health-Conscious Era

Go to the gym, check. Buy a yoga mat, check. Enjoy a frosty Coca-Cola…wait, what? Earlier this week, the Coca-Cola Company began running ads calling people to “come together on something that concerns all of us…obesity.”

Commercials like this one speak to Coke’s apparent commitment to health and wellness including: proliferation of low to no calorie versions of their products, funding of Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and their joint effort with the City of Chicago through the Parks Families Wellness Initiative, among others. See the “Coming Together” website for more on Coke’s efforts.

It seems that Coke’s actions do line up with their community-conscious wellness message, but critics are not convinced. In a press release from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, executive director Michael F. Jacobson says, “The soda industry is under siege, and for good reason. This new advertising campaign is just a damage control exercise, and not a meaningful contribution toward addressing obesity. What the industry is trying to do is forestall sensible policy approaches to reducing sugary drink consumption, including taxes, further exclusion from public facilities, and caps on serving sizes.” Jacobson is probably right, but he doesn’t have the future success of a brand empire to consider. Unlike “Please drink responsibly” for alcohol companies (an admonishment that should perhaps be stamped on sodas and sugary drinks too), Coke’s “Come Together” campaign does a great job of alienating the idea of health risk from its brand. In terms of brand image execution, what can we learn from Coke’s campaign to fight obesity?

Know why you’re adjusting your brand image– Too many companies fall into the trap of haphazardly rebranding when they face a challenge to their product or image, like Coke has with America’s changing perception of sugary drinks and increased regulation in schools. Coca-Cola needed to launch the adjustment of their brand message in order to stay relevant, but you might not need to put forth the thought energy or the cash to make a similar move. Instead, consider sticking to the message you’ve already built. Commitment to a brand sends a strong message, too.

If you make the choice to adjust your image, stick to it- In the “Come Together” video spot, Coke addresses objections to their sugar-laden image pretty frankly. Accordingly, they present the consumer with examples of a clear-cut commitment to the message. Will it prove to have longevity? Only time will tell. But right now, Coke is solidly adhering to their professed principles. If you make a similar change, make sure your words match up with your actions.

Be Honest- A few months back we wrote about companies like Pom and Skechers that mislead the public with false claims about the health benefits of their products, and as a result, emerged from the scandals with tarnished brand images. Coke is trying (again, at least in appearance) to be transparent to the public about its products and their effect on public health without sacrificing the mass appeal of the brand. Be prepared to be accountable for your message.

A good marketer knows that even if Coke does have good philanthropic intentions, those intentions are on the proverbial backburner. They want to sell more product, despite the fact that their mainstay, regular Coke, is a well-known enemy to the popular social cause of obesity prevention. What we see with Coke is not a full re-branding, as the company has emphasized community awareness and involvement since at least the 1970s (remember I want to give the world a coke?), but rather a well-executed attempt to disguise the realities of the product their brand represents.

Whether or not you agree with the nutritional value of their sodas or their slightly deceptive new strategy, marketers and business owners alike can take a cue from Coke’s commitment to their adjusted brand message. At the end of the day, the Coca-Cola Company is a staple of American culture. It’s an interesting thing to observe and learn from whenever a cultural icon, be it a brand or a person, changes its core message (Check out our blog post on Snoop Dogg[Lion]’s rebranding). And as American culture becomes more health-conscious it’s important that Coke follows suit—at least in appearance.

Need advice on the dynamics of your brand image or looking to make a change? Call Primm and let us make the process easy and seamless. Not convinced? Take a look at what we’ve done for other companies in need of a brand adjustment.