New Diet Coke

Urban Legends Fueling the Decline of Diet Coke

Diet Coke has an image problem. It starts with the fact that consumers now hate its first name – Diet. Adding to its woes are a whole series of urban legends that the brand just can’t shake. In a desperate effort for a fresh start, now we have a whole new look for Diet Coke – bright, skinny cans that will supposedly appeal to the millennial generation that’s rejecting it.

Targeting the consumers who least like your product seldom ends well.

Urban Legend #1 – Bad Health Effects

In the Atlantic recently, Derek Thompson recited the health problems weighing on Diet Coke as if they were rock solid facts:

Beyond widespread concerns of the dangers of artificial sweeteners, government research has found that daily drinkers of diet soda are at higher risk for strokes and other “vascular events.” While Diet Coke’s new can designs are tall and slender – a possible reference to the body type a diet-beverage drinker seeks – more of them simply don’t trust any kind of soda to be a part of a healthy diet.

Never mind that these “dangers” are based on speculation and animal data. Who cares if the “government research” is about a correlation meaningless for proving that sweeteners cause health problems. People (especially millennials) believe it and thinking makes it so.

Urban Legend #2 – Trump’s 12-A-Day Habit

This is really a chain of legends that starts with President Trump’s button. Not his big nuclear button. No, the button on Trump’s desk feeds his Diet Coke habit. Push it and a butler shows up with a fresh serving. Add that to a New York Times report saying he drinks a dozen per day and you have a memorable image. Predictably, that image fuels endless, silly headlines about what so much Diet Coke must be doing to his health.

“It can lead to irritability, it can lead to insomnia,” says CNN’s Sanjay Gupta.

Needless to say, Trump is probably not the spokesperson that Coke would choose to sell their brand to millennials. Trump has neither confirmed nor denied that he drinks a dozen cans of this stuff every day. But when it comes to a legend like this, the truth no longer matters.

Reams of safety data don’t matter. If the makeover of Diet Coke resurrects this brand, it will be a marketing miracle.

Click here and here for more about Diet Coke’s relaunch.

New Diet Coke, photograph © The Coca Cola Company

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January 21, 2018