Fast Company

Coke is What?

The many faces of no-cal Coke show what can happen when market segmentation runs amok.


For a long time, the reason to drink Diet Coke was "Just for the Taste of It." Things are a lot more complex these days as Coke marketers parse demographic segments and create drinks for each niche. There's now a new Diet Coke sweetened with Splenda and Coca-Cola Zero, which, as its name implies, has zero calories -- as opposed to the regular and Splenda versions of Diet Coke, both of which have, um, zero calories. And then there's still Coke's original no-cal cola, Tab. All of which leads to some very creative marketing-speak.


Product Core Demograpic Brand message, as found on Coke.com Brand message from Katie Bayne, a senior VP, Coca-Cola Brands Actual brand message, as translated by Fast Company Flavor profile according to Scott Williamson, Coca-Cola spokesman Flavor profile, according to admittedly unscientific Fast Company taste test
Diet Coke: Launched in 1982; sweetened with aspartame

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Very broad footprint, with marketing efforts focused on those in their late twenties to early thirties, skewing slightly female "Diet Coke is your style, it's your sass, it's doing what makes you happy. . . . So flirt, laugh, dance, prance, giggle, wiggle -- do what feels good." "The adult cola taste that uplifts with style -- it's a very stylish brand. It's upscale. It's sophistication, but an invitational sophistication." "Tastes just as good while watching Sex and the City reruns as it did while watching the original episodes on HBO." "According to lore -- I've never heard this internally disputed or confirmed -- it resembles what used to be New Coke." Sweet nectar of the gods
Diet Coke w/ Splenda: Launched in May 2005; sweetened with Splenda [sucralose] and acesulfame potassium

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30- to 40-year-olds, skewing slightly female "For those who love the sweet and intense taste of Splenda Brand Sweetener, now there's one more way to enjoy Diet Coke!" "An adult cola taste, it uplifts with style, and it's sweetened with Splenda, which is a sweetener people say they want. It's that simple." "Hey, we'll sweeten it with denatured monkey sweat if that's what the carbo-phobe crowd wants." "It's meant to mimic Diet Coke. But with Splenda, you will taste a difference, and the Splenda lover loves this new flavor note." Clean and crisp but a bit short on depth. There's no there there.
Coca-Cola Zero: Launched June 2005; sweetened with aspartame and acesulfame potassium

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18- to 34-year-olds, skewing slightly male "A new kind of beverage that features real Coca-Cola taste and nothing else. Nothing that could potentially get in the way of your chill." "It's really the pause that lets them recenter in this fast-paced, time-warped world, and keep going. That's the 'just chill' part of the positioning." "We're still trying to figure out what those crazy gen-X and gen-Y kids are into, but one thing we're sure of: They don't like the word 'diet.' " "It's formulated to match regular Coca-Cola." Sure enough, it really does taste remarkably like Coke.
Tab: Launched in 1963; sweetened with saccharin and aspartame

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Urban-sophisticate baby boomers with a sense of ironic kitsch "Tab has achieved a retro pop-culture status and has the reputation of being somewhat hard to find." "It's continuing to meet the needs of the small but unbelievably passionate group of people who continue to love Tab, but it isn't actively marketed." "We can't believe anyone's still buying this stuff." "It has a strong cola flavor, with that distinctive saccharin sweetness." Singularly metallic and synthetic in a "You can tell it's a diet drink because it totally makes you lose your appetite" sort of way.

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