Thursday, April 19, 2012

Coca-Cola Identity Crisis

As my last Coca-Cola post, I thought I'd look at slogans.  On Coca-Cola's website, they have a full list of all their slogans and how the company breaks down their major campaigns.  Coca-Cola describes the mentality behind their slogans as "a simple, direct way to communicate about Coca-Cola."  On one hand, this is completely accurate.  On average, the slogans only last about four words.  One of the longer ones, "Whoever You Are, Whatever You Do, Wherever You May Be, When You Think of Refreshment Think of Ice-Cold Coca-Cola," is a length anomaly.  Instead, Coca-Cola rather goes for short observations: "What you Want is Coke;" "Sign of Good Taste," "It's the Real Thing." Often, the few words involve an imperative, making a command about Coke: "Enjoy thirst;" "Be really refreshed;" "Have a Coke and Smile;" "Drink Coca-Cola;" "Refresh yourself."

On the other hand, there is nothing simple about Coca-Cola's many approaches to marketing that is simple.  Coca-Cola has been "Around the Corner from Everywhere" and "Along the Highway to Anywhere."  Coca-cola is "Always Coca-Cola" that is "Pure as Sunlight" and the antithetical "Ice Cold Sunshine."  Coke has been the "Sign of Good Taste" because it is "Delicious and Refreshing," "Revives and Sustains" and "Ads Life." Combined, these slogans make Coke an all-pervading, all replenishing offering to not just thirst, but your very existence. 

By the time the 70's and 80's come about, I'd argue that Coke suffers a bit of an identity crisis.  In the Coke documentary I watched, the interviews talk about how in the conflicts of the 70's, Coca-Cola wanted to remind people of easier times through the jingle, "Look up America, and see what you've got . . . Coca-Cola.  It's the real thing."  Also as part of the "It's the Real Thing," campaign, Coke launched the famous, "I'd Love to Teach the World to Sing" commercial.   Already, you get the sense of Coca-Cola wanting to be the traditional symbol of America (as during WWII), while also embracing their global identity.  In the 80's, slogans like "America's Real Choice" and "Red, White, and You" support Coca-Cola as American and a sign of choosing Patriotism.  Even the 1980, "Mean Joe Green" ad champions an American pastime--the Super Bowl--with an American icon--Joe Green. Yet, the formula of this commercial was designed to be filmed in a any number of countries, with Joe Green replaced by that countries famous icon. 

Finally, in the 80's, you also get the legendary New Coke vs. Classic Coke identity crisis.  The positive spin on the decision is that it reminded consumers how loyal they were to Coca-Cola.  The slogan also tried to turn the identity crisis into a statement of identify choice, telling Coke drinkers that "We've Got the Taste for You" and "America's Real Choice."   But, American didn't want choice, and the 8000 calls a day the company received showed they wanted Coca-Cola, the real thing.    

Eventually, the New Coke went away, and Coca-Cola went back to simple: "You Can't Beat the Feeling" (1990); "Always Coco-Cola" (1993); "Life Tastes Good" (2001); and "Make it Real" (2005). Though the slogans change, the commercial formula varies, and Coca-Cola wrestles with cultural identity, at least the one guarantee is the formula will stay the same. Coke ads maintain the feeling that Coca-Cola is going to be a central component of life, the real thing, and always by your side.  Over 100 years of advertising and through different approaches, the association is the same.  Coca-Cola is the drink you can trust and will be there to pick you up, no matter where and no matter when.  

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