Faking Cokegasm

More uproar at Coca-Cola, but ain't it always?

This time it is the peaceful transfer of power between outgoing CEO Muhtar Kent and current COO James Quincey. No blood will be spilled, at least for a year, when Muhtar’s senior staff and regional bosses begin to die in their sleep, making room for Quincey’s own inner circle.

The second thing is that soda taxes are gaining momentum in jurisdictions around the country, which means it's only a matter of time before the EU clamps down and, well, you know. Excise taxes do not stimulate sales.

Coke isn't coke, but aggressive marketing and fast-food culture converged to transform soft drinks from an occasional confection to a dietary staple, and as such a tasty menace. The public-health consequences have taken their toll, and the backlash has taken one too. Wholly separate from government regulation, the public turned to beverage alternatives, and sweetened soda volume has been falling every year for a decade. 



In 2015, domestic soda sales were at a 30-year-low. In that decade, per capita consumption is down 19%.

Oh, and then there's the third thing. The marketing. Last week CMO Marcos de Quinto stunned an audience at a Beverage Digest conference by badmouthing Coca-Cola’s digital performance, which he said returned only $1.26 for every dollar spent compared to $2.13 for TV.

Let's just say that these ROI numbers are accurate, and not very squishy metrics purporting to isolate the unisolatable. At a minimum, they are useful in the C-Suite, to keep the CFO's eyes from rolling in complete revolutions in their sockets. And we can certainly assume they capture some sort of relative performance difference -- one that indeed suggests Coca-Cola's digital is performing more than 80% worse than TV.

Well, duh. Because the marketplace is so cluttered with conflict of interest, criminality, unviewability, and 1000 ad tech “partners” siphoning off huge percentages of the spend, it's a wonder that his quants can demonstrate any ROI on the digital ad side. As for the rest of the digital investment, de Quinto himself acknowledged that his vast global app portfolio languishes vastly unused.

The fourth thing he mentioned was the advertising strategy, which changed when he inherited the CMO gig two years ago. For years before his tenure, the company rode with the terrible “Open Happiness” theme, which propounded the preposterous lie that Coke is a magic elixir and key link in some human happiness chain (versus a momentarily refreshing, satisfying or rewarding beverage) -- and in so doing paid short shrift to the rather pleasant Coca-Cola experience itself. He changed that by rolling out “Taste the Feeling,” which makes Coke a featured player in the storytelling, but compounds the insipid lie by claiming a role in love, conflict and other major human emotions that are in reality soda neutral.  

This is like those otherwise perfectly likeable guys who invent military heroics to inflate their reputations and self-importance. You know, stolen valor -- only carbonated.

Can we review, please, the many attractions that brand Coca-Cola actually possesses? 

It is delicious. It is refreshing. It is good with food. It's a nice indulgence. It is iconic in a way that few brands in the history of commerce ever have been. (I daresay the script logo is the greatest commercial image ever created.) It is almost always within easy reach. It has always been there in our lives and always will be. The sound of opening a can or container creates a Pavlovian response via hormones in our actual brains.  

So explain to me please, with this overflowing cornucopia of intrinsic benefits and deep associations, why a succession of marketing chiefs for decades has tried to persuade us that Coke is a fixture in our larger emotional lives. It isn't. It's a fucking soda pop. Sure, it is an inanimate eyewitness to our lives, but so is the drywall. Coke is not, never has been and never will be a player.  

It is something small and great. Why pretend it is large?  

Show me Coke images in film and in pictorial history and real-life present. Let me hear the bottle or can open. Show me the logo. Show me people eating burgers and drinking Coke. Not drinking it and grinning -- just appreciating it. Show me the logo again. Document its ubiquity. Stop exaggerating. Remind me of my childhood. Show me the logo.

On my mobile, remember that I'm like Safeway. Limited shelf space. Maybe you can get me to download your app, but I'm not going to use it unless its delivers something as dependable as Coke.Tell me where I can get a Coke to recharge my batteries, and actually recharge my battery. Show me the closest cheeseburger, burrito and pizza. Help me storify my meals with friends. 

And while you're at it, show me the logo. And say something true. 

I dunno…Is “Sweet Moments” taken?

3 comments about "Faking Cokegasm".
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  1. Jim Meskauskas from Media Darwin, Inc., December 12, 2016 at 3:40 p.m.

    I know that the digerati and social medianistas sold brands the idea that to be an effective brand, that brand must be an integral part of our lives, it’s very essence sewn to the lineaments of our souls. But that is so very rarely the case. Maybe it’s true for Apple, or Dyson vacuums. But most of humanity’s relationship with advertising vacillates between passive ennui and managed hostility. That’s a mighty hurdle to overcome if as a brand you also want to be my soulmate. Look, not everyone is looking for a deeper relationship with their mayonnaise. Isn’t it enough that we like you for what you offer "prima facia?"

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 12, 2016 at 6:07 p.m.

    Nothing, absolutely nothing tastes better than Diet Coke. Until I had to stop drinking it. The battery acid in it - and other colas - is extremely disturbing to doctors from ENT to thorasic surgeons. Coke is used to clean rust. And herein lies another major problem.

  3. Chuck Lantz from, network replied, December 12, 2016 at 6:27 p.m.

    Paula: Your (as usual) astute comment; "Coke is used to clean rust" reminded me of that great early SNL commercial spoof, that featured a product that was "a floor wax AND a dessert topping."

    Bob Garfield: I'm betting that your term "soda neutral" will go viral soon. Example: "Do you still love me?" ... "I dunno. I've become soda neutral."

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