Is Coke still it?

There’s opportunity for beverages to be more inspiring


When we talk about inspiring brands, we’re looking at brands that have a point of view and stand for something consumers want to be a part of – brands committed to making the world a better place and that consumers are proud to be associated with.

Beverages take a back seat to technology and automotive brands like Google and Audi, and to personal care brands like Dove.  Is that purely a reflection of the sector, or could beverages do more to get people on board?

In Coca-Cola’s case, the company has required that all of its brands focus on, ‘making the world a better place,’ weaving into its brand stories some aspect of making positive change. And it’s not just a marketing story, the company has put its money where its mouth is: it makes significant philanthropic contributions as well as efforts to support sustainability, providing 52 new sustainability grants in 2012, accelerating global production of plastic packaging made from plants, bringing clean water to communities around the world, funding fitness and nutrition programs.  So why isn’t Coca-Cola seen as more Inspiring?

Does Coca-Cola need more time? Or is spreading happiness not enough when a brand like Dove is fundamentally changing the way we look at women and beauty, and Apple and Google have fundamentally shifted the way we connect.  As a company it is still heavily reliant on and known for carbonates. Its recent foray into the American crusade against obesity has been a controversial, and arguably rare, misstep for the company. Despite its growth in waters and fruit juices, being known for selling sugary and artificially sweetened drinks means it may have to do something far more radical to be acknowledged for making the world a better place.

What makes Coca-Cola more Visionary, Bold and Exciting?



Coca-Cola is by far the most Visionary of the beverages in every market we studied, greatly eclipsing the other beverage brands. Since 2010, Coca-Cola has been working with a clear and consistent corporate 2020 vision, developed to help them double the size of their business.

Coca-Cola has envisioned doing things differently, and is following through on all aspects of its plan, “creating compelling content and experiences that spread seamlessly and spark conversations to keep [the company’s] brands vibrant and relevant” (source: Coca-Cola Annual Review 2011). The company has done this by creating a cohesive corporate strategy, wherein each aspect of what it set out to do is integrally linked to the whole.  For example, many companies have content creation, storytelling, 2-way consumer dialogues, and sustainability on their agendas.  But only Coca-Cola has seen how they interrelate, woven them seamlessly together, and made its integral to every brand’s agenda.

Stepping out ahead of the pack, the company has taken risks and acted on its intent.  Look at the Corporate Website — it is now a content-rich social platform that focuses not only on company news, but on important causes and social issues.  It’s a place for people to engage and share.  And a way of enabling consumers to give Coke the lion’s share of their stories.  All of this has won them recognition as more influential, courageous, trendy, & cool…far more of a mover and shaker than others.


Today, more than ever, it is critical that brands stay apace of culture. Why?  Because as much as consumers can tell you about how the world is changing, the world can often tell you a lot more about the consumers of tomorrow.

And when you consider the role technology plays in our lives, it’s not surprising that brands like Google and Apple, or automotive brands like Audi and BMW, top the list of brands with global cultural VIBE. But it sure is a surprise to see a beverage brand sitting in the top 10.

Coca-Cola is a stand-out. #9 on our list of brands with global VIBE, it is the only beverage brand that rises to the top.  The others lag far behind – ranking between #20 and #30.

Coca-Cola has been a cultural icon for over 100 years, but that’s a heavy load to bear. To stay an icon means getting out ahead of cultural changes. But cultures shift constantly.  So what is Coca-Cola doing right?  What is it doing differently?

Coca-Cola has stayed ahead of global shifts in values and attitudes, committed to making the world a better place, been influential in a cool yet substantial way, and has excited consumers by shaking things up and doing new things.  It is consistently seen as Visionary, Bold and Exciting, in every one of the 10 markets we studied.

Coca-Cola has been about creating a “better-world” for the last 100 years, refreshing what that means time and time again to maintain its cultural vibrancy. A synonym for happiness and optimism, Coca-Cola steps in when belief in those values is threatened, and finds a culturally relevant way of reassuring us. The brand knows that at the heart of all good stories lies a tension or conflict. And if it can tap into what consumers feel are the central conflicts affecting the world, it can adapt to the tensions of the times, tell a good story about making the world better, and stay culturally relevant.

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