Back in 1886 when John Pemberton sold French Wine Coca as a cure for headaches and impotence, advertising was simple: He just ran a print ad in the Atlanta Journal. Pemberton’s Coca-Cola became an international powerhouse, but soda has been on the wane in recent years with the onset of sports drinks, green teas, herbal intoxicants and bottled water.
So you have to wonder — why is Coke launching Diet Coke Plus, fortified with vitamins and minerals, now? We mean, Coke has morphed through Pepsi Cola wars, sweetened formulas, cherry, vanilla, diet, caffeine-free, lemon, lime, even coffee-flavored versions. Someone somewhere along the line must have thought, dude! vitamins! — so why hasn’t it launched until today?
Coke began testing the vitamin version in April 2007, and we think the timing was auspicious. Bottled water — the cleanest, purist drink of all — took a hit early last year with environmental concerns about petroleum-produced plastic bottles and the carbon-footprint shipping costs of getting your drink all the way from Fiji. We think Coke has held back on vitamin carbonation for a while, as the killer app to take on its $15 billion bottled water nemesis, until the timing was right. (No matter that Coke also sells bottled water under the Dasani brand, small point, don’t want to spoil this theory, besides, those internal product managers probably fight each other anyway.) So now, bottled water in a slump, the world has six Diet Coke brands, including one with 25% of your daily niacin and vitamins B6 and B12.
Sociologists and dietitians may look back at 2007-08 and think, wow, that was the year consumers were most conflicted about caloric intake. They cut breaded carbs out and took artificial sugar-water with vitamins in. So what that carbonated drinks began as remedies for morphine addiction and substitutes for bubbly alcohol. Now soda cures sunlight deficiency and substitutes for orange juice.
The lesson for marketers: When your competitors, even as pure as bottled water, get hit with bad PR and start to crumple, dig into your files and pull out the killer brand differentiator. It may not make sense, but it will grab you new shelf space.