Coke: sugar is public enemy number one
Coke: sugar is public enemy number one
A view from Jennifer Black

The world has grown out of its Coke phase

Once upon a time, in the sepia toned past, Coke was 'it'. To me, when I was a kid growing up in the 80s, Coke actually delivered on what it was peddling - happiness, writes Jennifer Black, managing partner at Fabula London.

Coke not only owned Santa, it embodied American exoticism and was ubiquitous in popular culture. Almost every Hollywood movie had a strategically placed Coke vending machine or an extra large bottle of the stuff in the family kitchen. Even ET had a can of Coke.

One 80s movie more than any other conveys my generation’s attitude towards the brand at the time. In Blade Runner’s dystopian city of the future, where human beings are genetically manufactured, there’s a big neon Coke sign – telling us that while everything else we hold dear can disappear, Coke will live on.

Incidentally, Blade Runner is set just three years from now in 2019, so that prediction for Coke is a safe bet. But while the brand will be around for many years to come, it is most definitely not the icon it once was.

For the first time ever, Coke has dropped out of the world’s top ten brands, as ranked by BrandZ.

Not what you would expect for a 130-year-old icon that’s been endorsed by everyone from Elvis to Taylor Swift.

It is telling however that the brand now ranks just one below Marlboro, at number 13. Sugar, like tobacco before it, is now viewed as public enemy number one.

A frantic reinvention

To tackle this issue, Coke has sponsored every major sporting event going, from the Olympics to the Fifa World Cup, and poured millions into anti-obesity drives and even scientific research to disprove the link between sugary drinks and obesity, setting up the European Hydration Institute (EHI).

The brand has become one of many major multinationals frantically trying to reinvent itself in the face of growing consumer demand for healthier, less processed foods and widespread anti-corporate sentiment.

The rise of micro-brands and the broader choice available to consumers has prompted the mammoth red singular Coke product to offer multiple sliced-up variations of itself, each significantly less mammoth than the original. Coke Life, which was launched in 2014 and aimed squarely at health conscious consumers, is currently seeing sales flat lining.

But Coke’s current ills are not simply health related. Today’s audience has not grown up with the brand in the way my generation did. They don’t have that built-in nostalgia for it. 

This is more than a communications or marketing issue. Coca Cola is just not built into the fabric of our culture and society in the way it once was.

Dare we say it, is the world finally growing out of Coke?