In Europe, Coke Zero, long a star performer for the company, is poised to surpass Coca-Cola Light.
The zero-calorie beverage that purports to have the "same great taste" as regular Coke already ranks as the market's fourth-largest brand, behind Coke, Fanta and Coca-Cola Light (called Diet Coke in the United States). But Gianluca Carpiceci, marketing director for Coca-Cola Europe, says the brand could vault to the No. 2 spot in four to five years.
In the European market, Coke Zero grew 14% last year, compared with 11% in North America. Spain, France and Poland have seen growth figures between 20% and 30% for the past few years, Mr. Carpiceci said. It is already Western Europe's fifth-largest brand, according to Euromonitor International.
"If Coke Zero continues on the same trajectory, it will overtake Coke Light," Mr. Carpiceci said. "The fact is that Coke Zero probably has the potential to have a more global and universal appeal than Coke Light. In the beginning, in the same way Coke Light is slightly [skewed] toward a female target , we thought [Coke Zero] could be more male. But Coke Zero has a much more universal proposition than we thought."
Coke Zero has been available in Europe since 2006, a year after the brand's U.S. introduction. Broad distribution -- it is available everywhere Coke products are sold -- has been key to the brand's success, of course. But the European markets have also doubled down on sampling, a practice typically reserved for new-product introductions in the U.S. Mr. Carpiceci says sampling drives trial and penetration, even though the brand has already reached critical mass. Case in point, red-can Coke is also still sampled in Europe.
"We're treating sampling as a science, measuring the conversion rate," said Mr. Carpiceci, noting that everything from the location to the temperature of the product is carefully maintained. "We're reminding people -- even current users -- about the drink and experience. It is very effective. Recruitment is a continuous effort. You can't just recruit a consumer once and expect them to last forever."
In Europe, Coke Zero works with Grey , Publicis, McCann and Ogilvy, among other agencies. Recent campaigns include "Swap" in Spain, a stunt that involved switching regular Coke with Coke Zero at cinemas. Prior to the movie, a one-minute ad aired featuring an employee at the snack bar, who revealed to the audience that they were drinking Coke Zero out of regular-Coke cups.
The "Swap" campaign contributed to 30% growth in the market and is now considered a best practice. "It's a nice way of demonstrating how close the taste is ," Mr. Carpiceci said.
In the U.S., Coke Zero recently tapped Droga5 as its creative agency, ending its relationship with Crispin Porter & Bogusky, which had been behind the brand's memorable "Taste Infringement" advertising series.