Monday, January 23, 2006

Only two calories of crap. I had heard something about how Coke Zero was meant to be Coke's belated attempt to compete with Pepsi Max. (For me, the black packaging says 'hardcore', in the way that stronger pre-mixed alcohol packages itself as "Smirnoff Black Ice".)

I used to drink obscene amounts of Coke and still retain a tremendous affection for the Black Aspirin. So, the weekend before last, egged on by Jeremy, I tried Coke Zero. He claimed it tasted "just like regular Coke", and despite knowing that Jeremy doesn't drink Coke, his mere Americanness was enough to convince me to taste it.

Crap!!! It tastes nothing like normal Coke! If you somehow prefer the taste of aspartame and phenylalanine to good, honest cornstarch syrup, then you might like Coke Zero. But I hated it and was mad at myself for having been sucked in. So you might imagine I was quite pleased to read the following unsubstantiated tip from today's Crikey email (now successfully rid of that embarrassing Reader thingo):
The launch of Coke Zero is causing major problems within Coke. We started with a viral teaser campaign called the zero movement which has totally backfired – consumer backlash may cost the PR firm and the marketing personnel responsible dearly. All you have to do is Google it to find all the reactions. Also the trade is lukewarm to the product after the disaster of Coke Lime and also after finding out Coke Zero failed in the US. We have forcibly allocated massive amounts of stock (supermarkets say too much) and there are some nervous store managers out there. We are also scared that our marketing dept and ad agencies have lost the plot after a string of below average ads and terrible program sponsorship decisions (eg X factor). There is no confidence that the Zero launch will get any better. And forward orders for regular Coke and Diet Coke are more than 50% down leading alot of us to believe that we are just going to cannabilise our own sales, instead of going after Pepsi who are doing very well at the moment stealing our share with great advertising but Coke head office does nothing!
Google it, you say... I did but I got bored before I read all the results. But not before I discovered that at USA Foods in Bentleigh, you can buy a demonic drink called Dr Pepper Diet Cherry Vanilla. As if Dr Pepper itself isn't bad enough! Anyway, AustralianInFront had mixed opinions. But in the end, it was this story in The Age about the Coke Zero teaser campaign that annoyed me most, with its faux-surprise at what is really a very well-worn marketing tactic:

It's enough to make you think the posters are the work of some lefty underground movement - one in which the members scour Melbourne after dark looking for prominent sites to paste their posters anonymously.

Wrong. So, so wrong. The zero movement is, in fact, the creation of one of the world's most mainstream corporations - the Coca-Cola Company. It's also an example of the latest trend in marketing; one that reflects a significant shift in the way products are pitched to consumers.

Put simply, consumers don't like to be considered mainstream. And they certainly don't take well to advertisers telling them what's "in" or what's going to be the next big thing. Rather, they like to discover it for themselves.

So, although "the movement" has the most capitalist of aims - to sell products, namely the company's latest creation, Coke Zero - Coke's name and logo appear nowhere on the posters.

The posters simply plant the seed and leave discovery of the product to word of mouth on the street, literally. Pavement stencils are also part of the campaign, as are billboards, black rubber wristbands and a blog-like website. Again, there's no mention of the huge multinational corporation behind "the movement". It even has its own mission statement - "to rid the world of all the negative consequences that limit us all".

Anyone familiar with my regular windmill-tilts at my favourite intellectual journal, Sunday Life, would instantly recognise the smug certainty about consumer behaviour that puts the red mist before my eyes. But in this case, street posters are seen to be the domain of two equally lame and reprehensible kinds of publications: advertising campaigns trying to trick us into buying stuff, or "some lefty underground movement" trying to manipulate our beliefs.

Reading it, I realised afresh how important it is to me that the magazine never becomes seen as either of these things. The freedom to be creative and curious and to form one's own beliefs is so important. Especially the belief that Coke Zero tastes like crap.

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