Just look at the bottle though. And that label. It’s got the batch number on it. It’s got the stretchy, all-caps sans serif, orientation-at-right-angles thing going on with the type. So craft. So premium.
I’ll take a moment out from being facetious and jumping straight on the damned-if-they-do bandwagon to say upfront that there’s a lot that’s intriguing about the Signature Mixers range that Coca-Cola announced last month. And there are most likely a few things they’ve got right. The cynicism of this launch is so obvious it doesn’t merit discussion, but it would be too easy to write this off as simply the hyperglobalmegabrand showing up late to the party doing an embarrassing dad dance.
IT’S BEEN DONE WORSE PREVIOUSLY
Certainly, it’s nothing like as crass as Fosters slapping Crafted to Refresh on its cans and being done with it. Don’t believe me? Then look no further than the hideous render below dear readers. Whereas Coca-Cola has gone to no small amount of effort on the branding exercise. More than that – it’s actually come up with a new product. But the early signs smack of this placing a little too much emphasis on the former.
For one, take a lot at the slapdash copy used to launch the range. Of course, the product landing page confidently proclaims it “expertly crafted”. Not like the regular stuff. We get a hoard of work experience kids to piss on a hill of brown sugar cubes for that. Then there’s the opening line:
There’s nothing better than relaxing with the refreshing taste of Coca-Cola.
There we are. Nothing. Better. I take back the cheap sugarpiss shot. Now, knowing how little attention is typically paid to the extraneous content around the creative – like, oh, how you actually communicate your product in long-form copy – I’m tempted not to read too much into this. But it is notable how heavily the brand continues to lean on how its flagship product tastes. Equally significant, of course, is the launch of Coke’s new energy drink, which is pegged on “the great taste of Coke”. The Signature Mixers are a departure from that.
Now, tasting notes are notoriously prone to bombast, pretentiousness and downright nonsense. You know – pretentious copywriting shithousery of the highest order. And these are no exception. I direct your attention to the herbal one:
Balancing refreshing notes of lemongrass with the earthy tones of dill seed and tagetes, it is an inviting mixer with a refreshing, simple profile that pairs beautifully with amber whiskies and most types of rum.
Tagetes, obviously. Well, they’re not tasting notes unless there’s at least one ingredient you have to Google. How else will you remember what a worthless, pathetic moron you were before your rum and coke was transformed by the earthy tones of… marigolds. (The flowers; not rubber gloves – though I’d be interested to see what kind of improving effect they could have on the great taste of Coke.)
Upshot: it doesn’t quite taste or look like Coke. Of course, it can’t and be a convincingly premium product. But the warning sign is that it seems to be relying more on packaging and a list of esoteric ingredients than a fully formed proposition.
An apt analogy: Walkers was enormously successful in positioning Sensations as a classier product because it realised that posh crisps fitted a specific social function. Friends round; birthday party; Friday desk beers and snacks. The magic dust of maltodextrin and garlic powder had comparatively little to do with it – new flavours that sound sufficiently premium and well-executed branding, both of which led the product to fill a gap in the national shopping basket.
Coke’s proposition seems more to be formed from a vague notion that dark spirits are having a moment and the Coke you’ve been mixing them with until now isn’t up to the task.
Craft drinks – alcoholic and soft alike – have come to prominence for exactly that reason: taste over mindless consumption. But for a brand built on the “great taste” of its flagship product, that narrative requires a very clear story to circumvent. The one that Coke is peddling with the Signature Mixers range is just a little too muddled, too tenuous and too niche to do so successfully.
I could well be wrong, but I find the idea that anyone will earnestly be cracking out the posh Coke “because it goes with woody whiskies” this summer a stretch.
I ought to be curious enough to make the effort to try the Signature Mixers series as soon as I see it on shelves (which is imminently). But, full disclosure: as someone who’s always found Coke repulsive, I don’t find the prospect of marigolds in the stuff that much of a sell.
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