Soda sales are down. Diet soda sales are down. Major athletes are choosing to endorse milk and water, instead of taking an easy soda paycheck. Someone in Coca-Cola headquarters seemingly thinks they have a salve for soda’s downfall in a new typeface called TCCC Unity, which “encapsulates elements from Coca-Cola’s past and its American Modernist heritage.” Because when you think “American modernist,” you think Georgia O’Keeffe, Paul Strand, and a polar bear sipping on a Coca-Cola.
TCCC stands for “The Coca-Cola Company” and “unity” stands for, I guess, the idea that this one font can unify much of Coca-Cola’s messaging, but also hints at Coca-Cola’s long-standing advertising narrative: That fizzy corn syrup has the power of unifying the world.
Coke is far from alone in focusing on typography as a way to undergird a renewed marketing push. As It’s Nice That points out, Coca-Cola’s move comes after fellow giant companies like IBM and YouTube have released custom fonts of their own. For a company that spends over $4 billion a year in global advertising to own 3% of the consumed beverage market worldwide, a well-built custom font makes it easier to spin up quick advertising campaigns. Plus, it hides subtle branding right inside the lettering itself: “Geometric flair and circularity drawn from the archive form the basis of the Latin script,” the presentation explains. The classic curves of Coca-Cola branding have been translated to the glyphs, like a teardrop that sits in the small “a” and the Coca-Cola hyphen making its way into the lowercase “t.” Beyond those subconscious nods, the typeface gives the company a means to type every word in a Coca-Cola shape for the first time in the company’s history. I get it!
But don’t lose the forest in the trees. Coca-Cola continues to operate under the mindset that its sinking soda ship is a brand problem rather than a product problem. It believes a green can of Coke will exude feelings of longevity, and that self-referential nostalgia will be enough to re-anchor it in the hearts of consumers, if presented again, and again, and again. These are the sentiments of VPs who don’t realize that the world has changed.
People have extraordinary concerns about what they put into their bodies today, so much so that they will consume a Doritos Locos taco while drinking water. Anyone who thinks that products don’t need to adapt to survive should take a lesson from the U.S. auto industry. And anyone who thinks that good ‘ole days of marketing will save a product that likely kills people would do well to remember that Betty Draper died of lung cancer after smoking all those Lucky Strikes, and Don likely followed. As a 2015 study in a journal run by the American Heart Association put it, “Sugar-sweetened beverages, are a single, modifiable component of diet, that can impact preventable death/disability in adults in high, middle, and low-income countries, indicating an urgent need for strong global prevention programs.” It claimed 184,000 people died a year due to these drinks.
A “modern” typeface is not a new idea–whether or not Atlanta’s modern design museum puts its stamp on the project. No, it’s time that Coca-Cola rethinks its core convictions, and what it can do with a global distribution network other than sell more soda.