ICYMI: Coke pretends to sue Coke Zero for tasting too much like the ‘real thing’

ICYMI: Coke pretends to sue Coke Zero for tasting too much like the ‘real thing’

The Background

Here we review a campaign from Coke Zero with an unusual angle in the latest of our ICYMI series looking at clever campaigns that may have slipped under your radar.  

Under the shadow of an epic never-ending Coke vs Pepsi war for supremacy, the launch of Coke Zero was always going to be fought on personal taste.

However, everyone and their mum knows that a diet drink never tastes like the real thing, right? 

So, like true snake-oil salesmen, convincing sceptics that Zero was a low-calorie version of a classic was always going to be a tall order. 

Meaning that big brave thinking was needed here, which was exactly what the launch of Coke Zero did.

The Big Idea

In 2007 Coke decided to use their battle with Pepsi as a blessing. 

They did this by using the hyper-litigious world of corporate America to file a lawsuit.

Against themselves.

For ‘taste infringement’.

The advertisers hired two actors to play the part of Coke brand managers and set about secretly filming meetings with genuine attorneys, seeking advice on suing their colleagues for stealing their IP.

From themselves.

What They Did

Sliced and diced into multiple TV spots and social content, confusion ensues as an array of attorneys’ squirm in their seats and swing between incredulity and unscrupulously trying to find a way to take the case.

With everything linking directly back to CokeZero.com, users were sent through to a world of additional content including a service to 'sue a friend' from a fictional law firm, and a "Ruin This Man’s Day” online game - a fictional live stream to Coke's head litigator in which you can annoy him as he prepares for a fictional day in court.

Coke then sent the 'brand managers' on an anti-Coke Zero campaign at the Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta. Complete with a tent, protest signage, samples, and authentic ID, the videos document another wave of total confusion among real Coke employees attempting to go about their day.

Following the initial burst, what followed was a suite of summer print, broadcast and OOH featuring the class action lawsuit on behalf of a fictional ambulance-chasing style firm urging the public to lodge complaints to 1-877-SUE-ZERO if they had recently consumed Coke Zero only to find that they were "recklessly refreshed by the real taste of Coke".

The Results

Mass awareness was followed by coverage aplenty across the US and in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New York Times and multiple segments on The CBS Early Morning show. 

All were talking about the bizarre lawsuit and consistently delivered the message that Coke Zero tastes just like the real thing. 

And that translated into genuine business results.

Nielsen data showed that Coke Zero reached a 1.3% market share in a matter of months – shifting 22 million cases beyond business projections and becoming the only brand to retain a share greater than 1% of the 350 brands launched in the preceding 5 years.

The Review

In many ways, quite a tried, tested and 'old school approach', but the sheer choreographed relentlessness of the campaign around a single insight couldn't do anything but deliver.

And yes, the stats tell their own story, but in a world full of increasingly cautious brands and brand managers it is worth looking back every now and again to campaigns such as this for inspiration. 

A sense of humour combined with a big dose of bravery meant that Coke really invested their minds and money in creating masses of quality content that truly captured people's attention and shifted units as a result.

In Hindsight

Coke Zero doesn't taste anything like regular Coke, but I suppose, in some ways, that's the point. 

If you enjoyed this article, you can subscribe for free to our weekly email alert and receive a regular curation of the best creative campaigns by creatives themselves.

Published on: