Most branding experts agree that your brand is defined not by what you say, but by what you do.
Well, the marketing folks at Coca Cola’s Minute Maid Division couldn’t have done much more to impact the equity of their brands than they did by deciding to market a product as “Pomegranate Blueberry Juice” knowing full well that it contained a whopping total of 0.3% pomegranate juice and 0.2% blueberry juice.
Just for good–make that bad– measure–the pomegranate image on the label is roughly the same size as the apple image, even though the product contains dramatically more apple juice.
Adding irony to the wound, their label trumpets the phrase, “Help Nourish Your Brain.” Anyone with a brain would know that most consumers of ostensibly healthy products are label readers and likely to figure out sooner or later that they’re being flagrantly misled by this label libel.
And even if they don’t figure it out, it doesn’t take a genius to anticipate that your competitors are going to call you on your mendacity–particularly when one of those competitors has invested tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars in raising awareness of a previously obscure ingredient that you’re falsely implying composes roughly half of your contents. And that’s exactly what happened when Pom Wonderful launched a lawsuit that is now being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court and being covered by every media outlet in the world.
And that media coverage is mentioning the parent Coke brand at least as much as it mentions Minute Maid.
It’s bad enough to have made and blessed the decision to engage in misleading marketing; it’s even more unconscionable to have not at some point had the smarts to say, “Let’s settle this case out of court, fix either our labeling or our formulation, and make sure we don’t devastate our brand equity by letting the planet know about how stupid and unethical we’ve been.”
I remember when, several decades ago, Coca Cola was one of the top marketers in the world, constantly cranking out clever, creative, motivating advertising campaigns that were the talk at water coolers everywhere. When’s the last time you saw a Coke commercial that was in any way interesting, let alone remarkable?
In retrospect, perhaps this debacle shouldn’t be surprising. After all, the dumbest marketing decision of my lifetime occurred in 1985 when Coca Cola executives decided to change the flavor of the world’s most popular soft drink. Why? Because blind taste tests revealed that rival cola Pepsi was preferred over Coke by something like a 52% to 48% margin. Of course, the results were different on a non-blind basis, as the power of Coke’s branding led it to be preferred over Pepsi when people knew what brand they were drinking, but this apparently wasn’t take into account.
Coke executives didn’t understand the importance of branding in 1985. And almost 30 years later, this appears to be equally true.
It seems clear that it’s time for Coke to wise up. And get real.