Coca-Cola has been around for a long time, so it’s no surprise that they’ve made their share of marketing blunders over the years. What is surprising is just how easy it was for us to research 10 of them to write this list, starting with that time…
10. Coke released Tab Clear just to screw over Pepsi
Tab Clear was a clear version of Tab cola, released during a dark period of the ’90s when soft drink manufacturers thought people would prefer clear cola instead of the healthy shade of brown we all know and love. Tab Clear was notable for its remarkably short lifespan, being on shelves for only a few months before being abruptly discontinued. As it turns out, this was a deliberate move on behalf of the cola giant to screw over Pepsi, the Ken to their Ryu.
You see, Coke wanted to torpedo sales of Crystal Pepsi and realized that they could do so by releasing a similar drink that sucked. Specifically, Coke had data showing that the public (at the time) wasn’t all that interested in diet soft drinks, so they decided to make a clear version of Tab (a diet cola). The idea was that the public, after seeing Tab Clear being marketed as a sugar-free soda, would similarly assume that Crystal Pepsi was also a diet drink, and it worked. Within six months of Tab Clear’s release, both drinks were discontinued.
In other words, Coke once invented an entirely new drink just to dunk on Pepsi after realizing the former had spent millions of dollars trying to create a new product they couldn’t be bothered to try and compete with. Say what you want, that’s some dedicated corporate penis-waving right there.
9. The MagiCan, or the Coke can that smelled like a fart
Coke, like many companies, has utilized giveaways in the past to try and raise sales or promote a new product and, for the most part, they go off without a hitch. The release of the MagiCan was not one of those times.
In a nutshell, Coke launched a campaign which involved hiding money inside of random cans of their product. To prevent the money from getting soaked in brown sugar liquid, Coke invented and patented a special kind of can that sported a small reservoir where the money would be stored, and a mechanism that would eject the money as soon as the can was opened. The rest of the can was filled with a chloride solution (that smelled like a suspiciously eggy farts) to give it the same weight as a regular can. From this description alone, you can probably guess where this is going.
The shield separating the fart-water in thousands of cans failed, meaning countless Coke fans ended up with money that smelled like farts. Also, one kid drank some and was rushed to the hospital. He was fine, but the media reported on the story as if he died (a rumor that persists to this day), leading to Coke having to enter damage control mode. Bizarrely, Coke never marked which cans contained money (so that people couldn’t cheat), so they didn’t actually know which ones had the chloride solution, meaning they had to recall every can they’d released for several weeks.
8. That time they tried to sell tap water to the British public
Ask a spokesperson from Coke to tell you about Dasani water before it gets bottled, and you could be led to believe that they filter pure glacier water through an angel’s silk underwear and pump it full of unicorn farts, with the long-winded explanation they’d likely offer. Ask a chemist, on the other hand, and they’ll tell you that Dasani is just tap water the company filters an extra time, puts in a bottle, and sells for a 20,000% markup.
While this tactic apparently works just fine in the States, when Coke tried to launch Dasani in the UK in 2004, things didn’t exactly go to plan. For one, the public didn’t exactly appreciate that the company was trying to sell public water to the public. When Coke tried to claim that their special filtration process made Dasani purer than tap water, the people in charge of British tap water tested it and found that their filtration process didn’t do anything, except increase the amount of the carcinogen bromate it contained. Which surprised the testers, since British tap water doesn’t contain even a trace amount of this chemical, meaning Coke’s special filtration process somehow managed to increase the amount of potentially cancer-causing chemicals in ordinary tap water by infinity percent.
As a final blunder, the company tried to market Dasani as being “full of spunk” without running a cursory Urban Dictionary check on the word, which would have informed them that in the UK, spunk is slang for sperm.
7. Coke Zero is marketed at men, because Coke accidentally made Diet Coke a girl’s drink
As discussed in a previous entry, there was a time when Joe Public wasn’t all that interested in diet or low-sugar drinks. What we didn’t mention, however, is that pretty much the entire reason this is the case is because Coke spent decades marketing diet soda to only 50% of the population.
Specifically, Coke has spent years marketing Diet Coke as a “girl’s drink,” so much so that when diet soda started to gain popularity in the 2010s when people realized that “not dying of diabetes” is pretty sweet, they had to invent a new drink to sell to men. That drink was, of course, Coke Zero, a low-calorie soda Coke specifically tried to market without ever using the word “diet,” because their company had spent years telling customers only women bought diet soda.
Essentially, Coke backed themselves into a corner by so aggressively targeting women with Diet Coke that they had to create basically the same drink again, and spend millions telling men it’s okay to drink it. Hey, speaking of diet soda…
6. Funding scientists to say Coke doesn’t cause obesity
If you asked 100 nutritionists if cutting sugary drinks out of your diet would help with losing weight or improving your overall health, 99 of them would say “well, yeah.” Statistically, though, 1 would tell you that sugary drinks had nothing to do with obesity, because they were being paid by Coke to say so.
Yep, despite the link between a poor diet and being unhealthily overweight being so clear you could read the paper through it, Coke decided to try and muddy the waters just a little by paying scientists to downplay the role diet plays in obesity. Said scientists, after cashing their checks from Coke, eventually released a statement saying that exercise was more important than diet when it came to the issue of obesity. Insinuating that a poor, presumably Coke-filled diet can be counteracted by exercise.
While no expert is going to argue that exercise doesn’t play a key role in health, diet is way more important when it comes to maintaining a healthy body weight, at least according to every nutrition expert not being funded by a company with a vested interest in convincing people of the opposite. For anyone who wants a more vicersal example of the role Coke specifically plays in the obesity problem, just remember that they once…
5. Released an ad of obnoxious white people handing Coke to indigenous Mexican people
The people of Mexico have a love/hate relationship with Coca-Cola. On the one hand, the country consumes more of the product than even Americans. On the other, it’s been directly linked to the country’s rising obesity rates to the point they actually managed to approve a tax on sugary drinks. Meanwhile, in America they can’t even limit the size of soda cups, so you know that Mexico had to be pretty desperate.
It’s hard to explain just how popular soda is in Mexico, so we’ll just quote a few statistics to give you some idea. According to pediatricians, 80% of two years olds and 10% of newborns are bottle-fed some kind of soda and the average adult drinks 36 gallons of the stuff every single year. Unsurprisingly, this love of soda has led to a sharp spike in obesity rates in Mexico, with doctors and health officials squarely pointing a significant portion of the blame at the aggressive marketing of soda to the populace by companies like Coke.
Apparently the only part of the previous two paragraphs Coke executives noticed was the part saying Mexico loves it some cola, which is presumably why the released an ad of painfully obnoxious looking white people handing out bottles of Coke to an indigenous Mexican community. Amazingly, Coke remained totally oblivious to the potential offense an ad showing pristine white teenagers handing out bottles of a substance that is literally killing millions of its people with smiles on their face could cause in that country until someone pointed it out. On the subject of marketing a product that’s terrible for you…
4. Coke once openly admitted Vitaminwater is terrible for you
Few words in tandem could seem more innocent than “Vitaminwater.” Neither word is dangerous, and when they’re put together they sound downright awesome, like “kitten party” or “chicken nugget.” According to Coke, though, you’re an idiot if you think that a product called “VITAMINwater” is in anyway good for you.
Just to be clear, Coke once said, in open court, that “no consumer could reasonably be misled into thinking Vitaminwater was a healthy beverage.” You know, that product that claimed it could help cure cancer before Coke bought it in 2007.
Despite Coke admitting that Vitaminwater is a terrible, awful drink with no discernable health benefits, the company continues to market it as being chock-full of awesome body healing nutrients and vitamins because apparently a reasonable consumer expects to be lied to just, like, all of the time, which… well, sounds fairly accurate.
3. That time Coke kind of called Nazi Germany “The Good Old Times” in an ad
As we’ve discussed in detail before, a number of companies are guilty of aiding, or at least supporting, the Third Reich during WW2 by selling them products and services while they committed numerous heinous atrocities. Among them was Coca-Cola who, due to an embargo on the usual syrup used to create their flagship drink, added orange syrup instead, creating Fanta.
Nowadays, Fanta is one of Coke’s most popular products and for the most part the company is incredibly coy when it comes to mentioning that the product was invented so their company could continue to turn a profit in Nazi Germany. Except, of course, for that time in 2015 they published an ad for Fanta celebrating the 75th anniversary of its creation in Germany, with a tagline reading “Bring the Good Old Times Back.” Now here’s the part that gets weird: it’s already pretty insulting to the average consumer that Coke assumed nobody would be able to subtract 75 from 2015 and realize that Fanta was invented when Hitler was in power, but the company released this ad IN GERMANY.
A Coke spokesperson quickly tried to quell the fires of controversy by stating that their product may have been invented in Nazi-era Germany, but it certainly didn’t have anything to do with Hitler or the Nazis. No, they just took Nazi money and then quietly pocketed all of the profits at the end of the war, which is much better.
2. Paying a company to take over people’s Facebook statuses, with predictable results
Countless companies have tried to utilize social media or teenage lingo in a sad, desperate attempt to appear “hip” and it’s inevitably a cringe-worthy disaster that leaves a worse taste in everyone’s mouth than a 4-day old Big Mac.
Which is presumably why, in 2010, Coke outsourced a social media advertising campaign to a company who specialized in it. By which we mean everyone who worked there was an immature jackass.
Basically the company Coke hired, Lean Mean Fighting Machine, was asked to run a campaign on behalf of the Dr. Pepper brand where they’d post embarrassing Facebook statuses on behalf of volunteers who’d be entered into a draw for a chance to win $1,000. The theme of the campaign was “what’s the worst that could happen?” and it’s moments like this for which irony was invented.
Soon after the campaign started, Lean Mean Fighting Machine began posting statuses on behalf of bored Dr. Pepper fans, as side-splittingly hilarious as “What’s wrong with peeing in the shower?” and “I watched 2 girls one cup and felt hungry afterwards.” If you say you’re not familiar with why that last one is an issue, hello to the spouse or work colleague you’re reading this with. When an unsuspecting mother of one teenage girl who’d entered the contest googled “two girls one cup” to see what it was, mommy blogs across the net went into meltdown and Coke was forced to apologize for something they absolutely should have seen coming.
1. New Coke
Of course New Coke is on this list. It’s the marketing decision Coke has never stopped being made fun of for, even though New Coke was better in every conceivable way. Wait, what?
Now, the story of New Coke most people reading this are familiar with is that in the ’80s, Coke toyed with the idea of changing the formula of their iconic soda, it failed, and they were forced to bring old Coke back. There’s a lot of conspiracy theories about New Coke being a ploy to replace the sugar with high fructose corn syrup, or that it was a deliberate effort to reinvigorate the brand, both of which aren’t true. In reality, Coke just wanted to make a better version of their product and they succeeded.
New Coke won in blind taste tests and was somewhat better for you than original Coke, since the recipe was based on that of Diet Coke. The problem, though, as is often the case in the world of business, was entitled customers. Early blind taste tests were often sabotaged by single, angry customers who took offense to the idea of Coke’s taste being changed even if they personally preferred New Coke and when New Coke was released, small groups of angry fans kicked up a fuss and generally acted like spoiled children who were having their toys taken away.
The backlash was so fierce for New Coke (which, remember, beat out original Coke in every single taste test conducted by the company) that Coke had to hire a professional psychiatrist to listen in on calls from angry Coke fans to see if they could figure out what the deal was. The psychiatrist checked out after a day and told Coke executives the only time he’d seen people so distraught before was when they were dealing with the death of a family member!
Faced with overwhelming negative press from the change, Coke killed the new flavor that everyone preferred and brought back the original formula as Coke Classic. This of course led to an explosion of sales for Coke and record profits for that quarter. So to recap: in the ’80s, Coke tried to introduce a better tasting, healthier version of Coca-Cola and were forced to recall it because customers insisted on only drinking the worse version. Man, with that in mind we can’t really complain when they treat us like idiots, can we?