‘Coca-Cola found a way to convince millennials to drink Diet Coke’ – Qartz.com.
‘An authentic, self-aware Diet Coke that is really inclusive’ – Danielle Henry, director of Coca-Cola marketing
‘Is Diet Coke’s marketing team from another planet?’ – TheDrum.com
On Christmas Day my extended family spent lunch loosely discussing generation classifications, in light of the ‘Okay Boomer’ memes. Am I a Millennial? Or Gen Z? Why should I care?
I didn’t care. But I spent the rest of the day yearning for a can of Feisty Cherry Diet Coke, one of the four new flavours that were released as part of the multi-million rebrand of the struggling soda in 2018. Sales had been down 4.3% the year before.
For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of trying the Feisty Cherry DC, don’t underestimate it as a simply a diet version of cherry Coke. Feisty refers to the touch of chilli in the flavouring. It tastes weird, like leaving toothpaste in your mouth for too long – the same taste profile as a weak bleach.
Alongside Feisty Cherry, Coca-Cola launched Ginger Lime, Zesty Blood Orange (two boring flavours that I don’t wish to discuss), and Twisted Mango. The most powerful marketing machine in the world decided that ‘twisted’ was a suitable adjective to entice a consumer into buying their beverage. These flavours launched alongside a new can, taller and thinner, and, for the first time in three years, the drinks were marketed as an entity separate from the rest of the Coca-Cola family of drinks.
It was all very strange.
This was the company’s way of targeting their drink towards the ever-elusive ‘millennial’ – a demographic too busy drinking kombucha and working off student debt to buy a drink that a) everyone knows tastes worse than regular Coke, and b) everyone knows isn’t a ‘healthy’ alternative to anything. DC had lost its space in the market: gone were the days that New York supermodels would drink DC to maintain their figure, and ads featured a well-chiselled man removing a DC-sprayed shirt to reveal his abs at a sunny BBQ.
Why are you going to drink Diet Coke now? Because you fucking can, that’s why.
I have decided to transcribe the entire advert that accompanied the rebrand. Remember the Pepsi ad that tried using Kendell Jenner to end racism? This is the opposite of that:
*Chirpy music playing*
A quirky celebrity walking down the street: “Look – here’s the thing about Diet Coke:
it’s delicious. It makes me feel good. Life is short. If you want to live in a yurt – yurt it up. If you wanna run a marathon, I mean, that sounds super hard, but okay! I mean, just do you, whatever that is. And if you’re in the mood for a diet coke – have a diet coke.”
*Cut to product*
Voiceover: “Diet Coke: because I can”.
Ah yes – fuck yurt-dwelling hippies who think the world is all acid and rainbows, and fuck that co-worker who won’t stop sharing the fundraiser for his marathon. DC was positioning itself as the antidote to its consumers’ nihilistic urges and did so with a passive aggressive smile. Stop trying to better yourself and the world around you – you’re going to die anyway; why waste your life mindlessly going nowhere on a treadmill?
Organic revenues of DC grew by 5% in the following quarter. Coca-Cola had accidentally sliced open the main artery of our epoch: a lurking fear that everything is meaningless. Post-trump, post-Brexit, post-rock&roll, post-truth – Coca-Cola decided to build the drink’s brand around not giving a fuck anymore.
This was capitalism becoming self-aware, and, to be honest, I kind of like it. We’re embedded in the current system and we’re going to keep seeing ads wherever we go: in a market where every corporation is trying to emulate the kitsch of a John Lewis Christmas ad, or the franchising of the Go Compare Man (let me add post-Avengers to the moodboard) – Coca-Cola’s approach was refreshing. A quietism of despair that you can drink – and with zero calories!
One billion animals burned to death in Australia last month; the Royal Family are offering asylum to a paedophile; all the good celebrities are dead; and Mars, once we get there, will only be for the rich. Soon there’s going to be nothing left to do but crack open a can of Twisted Mango and watch the world end.