Coke Zero: a cannibal in the family

Just in case you’ve been in Outer Mongolia for the last 6 months, Coke Zero is  one of Coke’s biggest ever new product launches in the UK. It seeks to copy the success of Pepsi Max in flogging a diet cola to guys who thinks diet drinks are for wimps, by making it more macho. Hence the black can and "bloke-ish" bordering on sexist jokes (e.g. "Girlfriends without a five-year plan"; "Blind dates without the psychos").

The bad news for Coke is that the latest Nielsen data shows that a whopping 62% of Coke Zero’s volume comes from, you guessed it, Coke and Diet Coke. In other words, there is a rather ravenous cannibal in the Coke family. Other reports suggest that absolute sales are also in free-fall after an early promising start.

Coke Zero shows the risk of launching a brand extension that is purely sizzle based i.e. a similar product (low calorie cola), at the same price, sold in the same channels but dressed up in a different set of emotional clothes. By looking so close to Diet Coke, its no surprise that many of the users of this product want to try out the newer, cooler version. And I’d bet that a fair chunk of the users are not men, but women, as happened with the Yorkie chocolate campaign. This one shouted "Don’t feed it to the birds (girls)", and yet most of the new users were… women. Indeed, reading the comments of Coke Zero fans on Laura Ries’ blog, it seems that the one product difference there is vs. Diet Coke is tasting closer to Coke Classic than Diet Coke. In other words it is… sweeter; hardly the right product to support a more male positioning!

If the issue with Diet Coke is that it is not attracting its fair share of male users, then what about using targeted media to appeal to men? Or use a re-launch with a new name that is less prescriptive in its use as a drink for dieters to broaden its appeal… such as Coke Zero for example! Or, if the extension route is followed, push the differentiation harder and don’t rely just on sizzle. Make the product more different, use new channels or make the structural packaging more innovative.


5-minute workout: if you are planning a new product extension, have you pushed the differentiation to distinguish it from other products in your range, using all the mix elements and not just emotional sizzle?