Does Diet Coke have a Trump problem?

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US President Donald Trump makes a toast during a working luncheon hosted by the Secretary General of the United Nations on Tuesday.
US President Donald Trump makes a toast during a working luncheon hosted by the Secretary General of the United Nations on Tuesday. Credit: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Diet Coke has poured major marketing money into rehabbing its image to appeal to more diverse, younger drinkers. Donald Trump does not seem like an ideal endorser. But the brand is clearly stuck with the polarizing, 72-year-old president.

Trump, whose Diet Coke habit is well-documented, gave the brand another high-profile plug when he used it to toast a Tuesday luncheon before world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly meeting. Carlos Barria, a Reuters photographer, posted a close-up on Twitter.

The shot drew plenty of reaction on social media, with some people rightly defending the option to toast with something non-alcoholic. (Trump does not drink.)

But when judged through a marketing lens, Trump's Diet Coke obsession is potentially problematic for a brand trying to grow its base beyond aging baby boomers. Brands spend a lot of time and money getting their products seen in the hands of celebrities who appeal to their target. Trump's approval rating with people ages 18 to 29 years old is 26 percent, compared with 41 percent for all adults, according to an Aug. 29 Gallup poll.

Diet Coke's millennial lust is embodied in its latest ad campaign, which features up-and-coming young actors like Gillian Jacobs, known for roles in NBC's "Community" and Netflix's "Love," and Karan Soni, an Indian-American actor with a supporting role in both "Deadpool" movies.

The campaign, along with a packaging overhaul and new flavors, has helped improve sales trends for a brand that had been stuck in a long-term decline. Diet Coke sales edged up 0.9 percent in the 52 weeks ending Sept. 8, according to Nielsen data cited by Wells Fargo.

But Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, says Trump's Diet Coke love "drags the brand older and it puts it right in the middle of controversy." He suggests the brand "probably wouldn't mind it if he started drinking a little less Diet Coke, or he started drinking an occasional Diet Pepsi."

Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist who studies millennial consumers, disagrees, calling Trump's Diet Coke on-camera gulps no big deal. "I don't think it will hurt the brand," she says." It speaks more to the ubiquity of Diet Coke."

A Diet Coke spokeswoman declined to comment.

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