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Bad News, Bears: Coke Pulls Back on White Cans in Holiday Campaign to Save Polar Bear [Updated]

Posted by Sheila Shayon on December 1, 2011 01:34 PM

Even the big guys occasionally get it wrong. Coca-Cola is pulling back on its limited-edition white cans designed for the holidays, reverting back to its traditional red background can amidst consumer confusion and criticism.

As announced on Oct. 25, 1.4 billion white cans and caps on bottles of Coke (the first time the brand ever changed from red) were planned to blanket the U.S. and Canadian markets through March, featuring the iconic Coke polar bear in a holiday promo with an environmentally-friendly related cause dubbed Arctic Home.

In addition to boosting holiday sales, the white can heralded Coca-Cola’s partnership with the World Wildlife Fund with white bottle caps, on these and other Coca-Cola brands, including a special code for texting $1 donations to the WWF in their campaign to protect the polar bear's Arctic home. Coke committed up to $1 million to match consumer donations. 

"It's the most important holiday program we've ever launched," stated Katie Bayne, president of sparkling beverages at Coca-Cola North America, about the campaign whose messaging included "We're turning our cans white because turning our backs wasn't an option."

The cans hit store shelves Nov. 1 and were supposed to remain on shelves through February. "We were very careful to make sure people know it's the same Coke they've always loved," Bayne added. Now, Coca-Cola is pulling back on the limited-edition white cans due to customer confusion and complaints, with the first batch now in stores the only batch (good news for collectors, at least).

"We are not pulling our white cans from store shelves or replacing them with the red can," Coca-Cola spokesman Ben Sheidler tells brandchannel. "The limited-edition white 'Arctic Home' cans will remain on store shelves until supplies last and then we will switch out to a red Arctic Home holiday can" with the same polar bear motif.

Good intentions, a smart tie-in with Coca-Cola's brand mascot (the polar bear) and the best laid plans for a polar-white cause this Christmas were all foiled by social media, it seems. It was through the social web that Coke heard growing rumblings that all was not well.

Hundreds of tweets and posts revealed consumer complaints that the white can was too similar to Diet Coke's silver cans; others said the taste was different; and some “accused Coke of "trickery,'' and called the white cans "blasphemy,'' reports the Wall Street Journal.

Fans used the company's official blog, Facebook and Twitter to register dissatisfaction with not only the color change, but the company’s choice of climate change as a cause and incurring the wrath of dieters eager to avoid high-fructose corn syrup, who might (they argued) mistake the white cans for silver Diet Coke cans.

Coke had responded by posting a Coca Cola Holiday Cans 12 Oz. Can fact sheet to help consumers sort out their soda choices. But now it's scrapping the rest of the white can run entirely, pulling back on the limited-edition white cans two months earlier than planned as they begin shipping the same holiday design, polar bears (and WWF commitment) intact, on more familiar red-background cans next week.

"The white can resonated with us because it was bold, attention-grabbing'' and "reinforced'' the holiday theme, Scott Williamson, a spokesman for Coca Cola, told the WSJ. The “disruptive” campaign was designed to garner consumer attention, and "the can has been well received and generated a lot of interest and excitement.'' (It also attracted 7-Eleven as a partner in the Arctic Home effort.)

On a less contentious (and also color-based) front, Coca-Cola continues its Live Positively philosophy by today, on World AIDS Day, by announcing a multi-year partnership with (RED) to raise awareness and money for the Global Fund's efforts to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV by 2015 with an initial commitment of more than $5 million over the next four years.

"It's encouraging to think that we could witness an AIDS-free generation during our lifetime," stated Muhtar Kent, Chairman and CEO. "We're proud to help this effort and believe it complements the current work we're doing in many parts of the world to educate and prevent HIV/AIDS as well as provide support to people affected by this preventable and treatable disease."

The silver (pardon the pun) lining in this latest campaign misstep, Coca-Cola has created classic products with passionate customers well-versed in the brand’s identity palette: Regular Coke is red, Diet Coke is silver, Caffeine-free Coke is gold and white…well it’s just too confusingly off-brand for some cosumers, even if it designates "holiday," snow, special marketing, "polar bear" and "making a difference."

Coca-Cola has responded to the color change on Twitter and Facebook, reassuring fans that it's only the color that's changing, while the company's commitment to supporting the WWF effort to save the polar bears will continue:


Scott United States says:

Wow, Coke tries to do something good and people can't push their own agenda aside.  Realize what the company is trying to do and keep your mouth (or keyboards) closed for 3 months.  I guess if your charitable organization is either red, silver, or gold, you should contact Coca-Cola for an endorsement since these will likely be the only organizations they can deal with moving forward.  Great article, thanks for sharing!

December 1, 2011 02:24 PM #

Bill United States says:

Its not the can, its the new taste which is terrible besides what Coke saids. Get the politics out of it and have them stop ruining the taste of Coke.

December 6, 2011 02:39 PM #

Renee Foster United States says:

wow, some people are so lame!! GET OVER YOURSELF PEOPLE!!

December 1, 2011 07:13 PM #

Julene Reed United States says:

I am so sorry to hear this. I loved the theme and the new cans that support a great cause and organization!,

December 1, 2011 07:58 PM #

Barbara Blint United States says:

All people have to do is read the can to find out if it is Diet or Regular Coke !!!  Good grief.. the American public has gotten so lazy !!!!   High fives to Coca Cola for trying to shake things up a little...  Personally ,  I like the white cans, but with the "whiners" it is all about them !!!  Boo waaa....

December 1, 2011 08:05 PM #

Bill United States says:

Its not the can color it that Coke change the taste. My  wife and I both agree and other;s also. The new taste  is different watery, and weak.

December 6, 2011 02:42 PM #

Apartamento São Paulo Brazil says:

The new cans of coca cola were beautiful. Congratulations on your initiative

December 1, 2011 08:15 PM #

Korlapundit United States says:

Global warming is a scam and coke is cynically riding it for all it's worth. There are more polar bears than there were 50 years ago and the arctic is not melting. Suckers.

December 1, 2011 08:53 PM #

ed United States says:

Right on!  When will these global warning tree huggers  get educated?

December 1, 2011 09:04 PM #

Ben United States says:

The Brand Manager who thought this up should have reviewed The New Coke response. The Coke brand is extremely loyal, and they don't want even Coca Cola messing with the product. If the company wants to partner with the Polar Bears maybe they should have chosen Coke Zero.

December 1, 2011 09:25 PM #

Anonymous United States says:

What was wrpng with the white cans? They look so good and they fit right in with the holiday season!!!!

December 1, 2011 09:42 PM #

frank United States says:

I have to admit, when I first purchased a coke from a vending machine my first thought was that I hit the wrong button and purchased a diet coke. I didn't complain I just drank it.

December 1, 2011 10:10 PM #

AG United States says:

Honestly, I wouldn't be paying attention and grab a can of coke then have to do a double-take while thinking "When did I get diet?".  Personally, I found it funny every time it happened, it's not like it was a huge deal or anything.

December 2, 2011 12:57 AM #

burton United States says:

to coca-cola, great job!. ill remain a loyal consumer of your product regardless of can color (really people) simply because i appreciate the initiative. keep working though because pepsico is hot on your tail doing some great things for conservation as well as reducing energy and water consumption in their own facilities. Burton, hilton head,sc.

December 2, 2011 01:03 AM #

Your Mama United States says:

Honestly, people... it's a limited edition can for a great cause, and the holidays no less -- deal with it! And to bring the global warming debate into this... well, I'm speechless.

December 2, 2011 01:33 AM #

Bill United States says:

If you were my Mama then you would understand the taste now is different, People all over the would are commeting  on the taste is weak. So my mamma would say tell Coke to get what ever can or color make the taste better than the while Home taste.

December 6, 2011 02:47 PM #

KMB Canada says:

There was everything right with the change to "white" cans - good cause & I applaud Coca-Cola for donating money to the WWF.   I would give money to save the Polar Bears if I could.

Maybe those people who can't distinguish the silver diet cans from the new white cans - should get their eyes checked.  Unreal.

It's too bad that people have nothing better to do than complain & wreck a great ad campaign.

Cheers to you!  

December 2, 2011 02:04 AM #

Bill United Kingdom says:

This illustrates a classic situation that is inhibiting progress towards the vastly more sustainable world every commercial enteprise needs to be contributing to.  It's easy to be cynical about the CocaCola Company's initiative, but I congratulate them for doing 'something'.  However, I also blame the company for not standing its ground and ignoring the nay sayers who obviously have nothing better to do with their time.  Change requires leadership and the mark of true leadership is to stand firm.  The company found this difficult because they placed too much emphasis on on wow factor (look at us) advertising instead of informing and educating (look at why). It's also becoming increasingly apparent that the real barrier to sustainability is consumers who expect the convenience of having everything laid out, worked out and tidied up for them without assuming any personal responsibility. Companies need to recognise that marketing change requires an educational focus.

December 2, 2011 07:16 AM #

Paul United States says:

As someone that made about a zillion radio commercials for Coke explaining what was going on, I assure you they did plenty of marketing to let everyone know what the change was about. C'mon Coke! You made people sheep, now make them follow!

December 2, 2011 08:09 AM #

Bill says:

Ha ha.  I rest my case.  All marketing. No education.

December 2, 2011 10:20 AM #

Bill United States says:

I am Bill now Bill1 who dislikes the taste not the can.The can is fine.
The taste is bad.

December 6, 2011 02:35 PM #

SRShayon United States says:

You write, "It's also becoming increasingly apparent that the real barrier to sustainability is consumers who expect the convenience of having everything laid out, worked out and tidied up for them without assuming any personal responsibility. Companies need to recognise that marketing change requires an educational focus."
So is it increasingly becoming a brand's job to educate about social issues when they alter their image/product in support of one?

December 2, 2011 09:40 AM #

Bill United Kingdom says:

Yes. Absolutely. Let's face it: big brands have their hands full balancing their commercial, social and environmental responsibilities.  That is complicated by the fact that (generally speaking) the expectations of consumers are plagued with contradictions.  We expect our favourite brands to be consistent, ie: look, feel, taste, cost the same, but at the same time they want the social and environmental outcomes to be fundamentally different from historical norms.  Delivering historically different outcomes is not a superficial undertaking.  It impacts consistency and as the coke experience demonstrates, these deviations can also threaten commercial confidence and outcomes.   In order to be truly sustainable, a so-called ethical brand must also be profitable.  Education is key to retaining and building brand loyalties in a world that is increasingly concerend about social and environmental outcomes, but which is poorly informed about the substance of these issues.  

December 2, 2011 10:18 AM #

SRShayon United States says:

Education has not traditionally been advertising/marketing's perview. Is this latest addition to brand portfolios, a sea-change, due in large part to social media?

December 2, 2011 10:52 AM #

Bill says:

Yes. Let's face it, consumer education has never rweally been anyone's preview in mainstream consumer markets.  Marketing is front and center on this one.  Requires substantial creativity because traditional approaches to education are unlikely to engage.  Needs to be subtly embedded in marketing approach.

December 2, 2011 11:20 AM #

Dogfoodfilms United Kingdom says:

Ah well, their new advert where the bears find a wormhole is looking good:

December 2, 2011 09:12 AM #

Can't Bear It United Kingdom says:

I swear the bears look gobsmacked at this silliness on the red cans.

December 2, 2011 09:32 AM #

Joe Ray United States says:

Watching CNN this morning where the cans were discussed. This is a great example of a powerful and iconic brand and what happens when you altar it's presence (think back to New Coke back when). Good example of the power of packaging and the perception on consumers taste buds, I love the fact that some were confused and swore that it tasted different. No surprise. Also good to note here was the use of monitoring social media where this was spotted and being blasted.

Ms Bayne had a good stand and I absolute love this quote: "We're turning our cans white because turning our backs wasn't an option."

December 2, 2011 09:58 AM #

S. Brady United States says:

Hi Joe: Agree, that quote's terrific -- just personally wish Coca-Cola would stick to its plan and not give up on the white cans so soon. Consumers can deal with pink products for breast cancer awareness, (RED) products for AIDS awareness ... why not white Coke cans for the holiday? It's for the bears!  (sigh)

December 2, 2011 10:08 AM #

Joe Ray United States says:

Good point. I don't see people getting confused at NFL games with the sudden pink hats, gloves, shoes, etc.

I also think they should forge ahead but I guess when people's taste buds are affected, it enters heretic territory.

December 2, 2011 01:23 PM #

Robert United States says:

How about an ad campaign for the baby seals that the polar bears eat?  Nobody cares about them anymore I guess.  I don't want my products to try and educate me because they can't.  Ad campaigns are superficial and only really appeal to the lowest common denominator.  That's why they use celebrities a lot because ignorant people can be swayed by them.  I like the way Coke taste so I buy it.  But when they do things like this I stop because mindlessness annoys me. Please Coke, stay out of politics, junk science, and fundraisers.  If I want to contribute to a species that isn't really endangered I will do it myself.  Just continue to make a good product and I will buy it.  Can't that be enough?  Oh, and I like the red cans with the white Coke logo because it's classic.

December 2, 2011 01:55 PM #

Steve J United States says:

I don' teven like Coke,but WOW,are people too lazy to look at the label instead of the color?? Give me a break!!!

December 2, 2011 02:56 PM #

KorlaPundit United States says:

Obviously, this entire "controversy" was cooked up by Coke to begin with. Just as New Coke was intentionally disastrous, so they could engineer the return of "Classic Coke." Only when it came back, the sugar was gone, and corn syrup was in its place. That's how they changed the formula while making rubes think they were "bringing back the original by popular demand." They are the kings of PR, and don't think for a second that this "outrage" about white cans is organic at all. It's manufactured publicity, and it gets Coke the attention they pay ad agencies millions for. This is why Pepsi will always be #2 (in many ways!).

What annoys me is the self-righteous tie-in to the fraudulent fake science of global warming, oops I mean climate change, or climate justice. Feh. They are now part of a scam that has cost the world trillions of dollars and has redistributed wealth from the middle class to the corrupt billionaires who control government, media and the international mafia of green do-goodiness.

I would much rather see a company get behind a "save the lightbulb" campaign. It is individualism and liberty that are truly endangered.

Polar bears? Please.

December 2, 2011 03:01 PM #

Gerry Berry United Kingdom says:

You really think Coke spent millions of dollars on a line of white cans that are now being scrapped ... all as part of a marketing stunt? What evil geniuses they are!! Give me a break.

As for your remarks on global warming -- by all means, ignore the opinion of the world's leading scientists! You seem to ignore common sense, so why quit now?

December 5, 2011 01:13 PM #

KorlaPundit United States says:

By the way, how much do you think Coke _normally_ pays for an ad campaign? A few thousand?

A few million is cheap for this kind of publicity. You are ignorant of both science AND marketing. Impressive!

December 5, 2011 01:19 PM #

Gerry Berry United Kingdom says:

This campaign appears to have originated with Coke Canada, as a tie-in to the Arctic Home documentary and WWF Canada's polar bear campaign, so I HIGHLY doubt that Coke would screw around with its partners like this by creating a bogus white can only to pull it for a bit of publicity.

December 7, 2011 02:16 PM #

Bill United States says:

This new Coke tastes weak, watery and lack of carbonation.  I have always thought the holiday cans as being great. It is not a difference of color. Its the taste. My wife and I tried the Polar Home and both agreed it taste terrible. We then went to the store to find some remaining red cans and the clerk agreed too? I an not believe this is at all the same Coke recipe. For ALL OF YOU OUT THERE THINKING ANYONE WOULD CARE THAT THE CAN IS WHITE IS WRONG, its the NEW TASTE THAT IS TERRIBLE. This is not a issue of efforts towards helping the globe warming but globe changing the taste of Coke no Matter what Coke might say.

December 6, 2011 02:22 PM #

Bill United States says:

I noticed there might be two bill? I This Bill just does not like the taste.

December 6, 2011 02:31 PM #

Comments are closed

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