Those cuddly polar bears are a staple of Coca-Cola’s ad campaigns around the holidays. And this year, the world’s largest cola producer decided to pay homage to the threatened species. For the first time in 125 years, the iconic red can went white. The campaign, launched in late October, was supposed to run for four months, through the end of February. But the people have spoken, and the white cans’ run has been halted way ahead of schedule.
You’d think after their past failures, Coca-Cola would be hesitant to mess with its image. But the plight of the polar bears convinced Coke to switch it up, with the company pledging up to $3 million to the World Wildlife Fund for conservation efforts. The message is, without a doubt, an admirable one — but it might not have been a clear one.
Coke’s marketing team wanted a “disruptive” campaign to get consumers to pay attention, Scott Williamson, a spokesman for the company, told the Wall Street Journal. But the switch may have lent itself to confusion – the worst type of disruption. The primary complaint, according to ABC News, is the white cans’ potential mix-up with Diet Coke. The flashy red can of classic Coke stands in stark opposition to Diet Coke’s silver packaging. But with both versions now bordering on the same color scheme, calorie-conscious customers have been accidentally grabbing the sugar-laden beverage. Though it’s not all preference-based: some health issues like diabetes forbid sugar, meaning the accidental mix-up could be potentially harmful. While the names are clearly different and splayed across most of the top half of each can, in the blind grabbers’ defense, the polar bears on the new can are a rather silvery shade.
But do the problems stem deeper, into New Coke territory? A number of tweeters and YouTubers have sounded off about the white-can Coke tasting slightly different. Coke denied changing their recipe, according to the Wall Street Journal. Most importantly, though, people haven’t stopped buying Coke just because of the color change. Indeed, more than a billion cans have been shipped so far, and though production of the cans will cease and they’ll switch back to the usual red, the World Wildlife Fund will still get Coke’s support.
The real lesson here is that we fear change, even if it’s for a good cause.