About five years ago, Coke launched its Share a Coke program in Australia. It was an instant hit, turning lagging sales around. Of course, they rolled it out around the world, finally launching in the US in 2014 and increasing sales volume for the first time in a dozen years.
Lucie Austin, who helped develop the campaign with Coca-Cola was quoted saying “There’s a phrase [in Australia] called ‘tall poppy syndrome.’ If anyone gets too big for their boots, they get cut down like a tall poppy. By putting first names on the packs, we were speaking to our fans at eye level.”
I love the campaign, but was surprised to see this year’s packaging shift from names to lyrics from popular songs. Coke and a cadre of agencies are promoting the new packaging with a gigantic media push.
The Changing Language of the Logo
Now Pepsi has launched its “Say it With Pepsi” packaging featuring custom emojis in 100 global markets this summer. They’re supporting the new packaging with a massive traditional and digital ad push. Both brands seem desperate to find a way to make a change that connects more directly with people in the grocery aisles. Why? In articles about their campaign, Pepsi representatives are saying the emoji communicates beyond language.
Two of the most famous global brands are camouflaging their packaging to force a relevance with their customers.
But for about 100 years, that’s what the logo did. Right? Coca-Cola’s script mark is so iconic and recognizable that it translates fairly seamlessly to other languages and letter forms. And both brands have spent billions burning those logos into our brains, so that there is communication beyond words. I mean, anyone remember this gem from Pepsi?
What Does This All Mean?
On a category level, this does not look good for either brand. Soda consumption is down and sugar has been targeted by the media as the next dietary demon.
Beyond that, there are big implications regarding branding. Two of the most famous global brands are camouflaging their packaging to force a relevance with their customers. Had Coke gone back to a badged bottle following the “Share a Coke” campaign, it would have been a smart move. The fact that they followed it up with a change to song lyrics is a signal that something larger is at play.
Our research shows that 71 percent of grocery shoppers ages 18 to 34 are filling their carts in an hour or less. More than half told us they will change brands if it will save them a few cents. People are looking for a shorthand beyond logos. People are looking for meaning. They’re looking for value in each purchase they make. The way people understand brands today has transformed. They evaluate actions and experiences as much as advertising and messaging. That’s why Pepsi has invested in their soda bars. And why Budweiser has swapped its name for “America” this summer.
Twelve ounces of soda tastes good, but it really isn’t all that memorable. Compare that sip of soda to your first trip with Airbnb. Brands need to find a way to become part of conversations. Not the trite social media nonsense that every brand is begging you to join on their Facebook page, but actual conversations between friends. There’s no reason to talk about a can of Pepsi, or Lay’s chips, or a Serta mattress for that matter, but there could be if they allow their customers to become part of the brand story.
Companies are finally catching on. They’re discovering that today’s consumers are no longer interested in being defined by logos. They’re letting people experience the brand on their terms and even define it on their own individual levels. In other words, they’re becoming part of the conversation.