Last night in Mexico City, Coca-Cola revealed the final act in a year long "One Brand" unification strategy. It’s Coke’s new packaging. Now Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, and Coke Life will share a single branded aesthetic around the world, unified by a red disc, and advertised together in a new wave of shared commercials. "When people see this new brand identity, they’ll know they’re buying a Coca-Cola," says James Sommerville, vice president of global design.
Previously Coca-Cola's approach has been to give each new product its own branding, starting in 1982, when the company launched Diet Coke. But a health-conscious public has slowed sales on sugar-based Coca-Cola, while artificially sweetened Coke sales plummet. So the company is repositioning the brands to work together.
The defining unification element is something Coke calls the "Red Disc." "We really needed a visual element that could unify the portfolio," Sommerville says. "We tried many, many things. Originally, [the Red Disc] was first painted on advertising in the 1930s, 10 years after, in the mid '40s, it was first used as a signage system in retail stores to signify to the public this is where you buy a real Coca-Cola."
After the rebrand, that sign will literally appear on every can of Coke, giving brand equity to relative newcomers like Coke Life. The packaging won't be identical around the world, but the design language—including the color red and the disk—will be. The cans themselves each retain a pop of their unique color, which cleverly spreads all the way to the can tab or bottle cap, to give the packaging more of a presence on the shelf no matter which way it's turned. The disc itself can appear many different ways depending on the context. Already we see that on the cans, it’s a retro spotlight that wraps most of the metal, while on the bottles, it’s more akin to a rising sun. Likewise, the disc will have different proportions and treatments in ads. While unified, it’s in many ways a looser, more casually adaptive brand than other visual identities we’ve seen recently.
But importantly, for the first time, the four brands will appear together in advertisements, assembling Avengers-style to pool consumer interest. At least that's the hope. "They were authentic, designed as sub-brands at their individual times as they entered the market in an effort to respond to the changing world," Sommerville says, "and now we’re unified them to bring back and share the equity."
That means former sub brands like Coke Life will appear in Coke’s prized polar bear or Santa Claus commercials, Sommerville says, as well as materials for the next FIFA World Cup. The full global rollout won’t be completed until 2017, and the company is still mulling the exact implementation in some markets. Diet Coke, for instance, just launched a million unique bottles for a US campaign. It’s the opposite approach of brand unification, and a spokesperson said that, "In markets like the U.S. where Diet Coke has a large and loyal fanbase, the business is considering how it will integrate Diet Coke into the ‘One Brand’ strategy."
Of course, maybe the solution isn’t so difficult. A red disc can be slapped on pretty much anything.
All Images: courtesy Coca-Cola