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: