Diet Coke today introduced the biggest product and marketing makeover in its 36-year history as it looks to regain momentum in the struggling diet soda category by more aggressively targeting millennials. Changes include a logo redesign and four new flavored varieties, such as "twisted mango," that will be sold in slim cans.
The overhaul, shown in this Coca-Cola-produced video, is backed by an aggressive marketing campaign by Anomaly featuring the tagline "because I can" that seeks to inject Diet Coke with a new swagger and grow the brand beyond its loyalist following of female baby boomers.
Ads starting later this month will feature a blend of male and female celebrities and influencers. But the spots steer clear of A-list pop stars like Taylor Swift that have backed the brand in the past. Instead, Diet Coke will use the likes of Karan Soni, an Indian-American actor known for playing a supporting role in "Deadpool." The intent is to keep the focus on the product.
"It used to be that Diet Coke was very glossy … superficial, skewing female," says Rafael Acevedo, Coca-Cola North America's group director for Diet Coke. The new marketing will be "more authentic," he adds, "and is a lot more gender neutral and diverse."
Sticking with aspartame
Notably, the refresh will not include a major formula change, beyond the edition of the the four new flavors, which also include "feisty cherry," "zesty blood orange" and "ginger lime."
That means Coca-Cola is sticking with aspartame. The much-maligned artificial sweetener is often under the cross-hairs of health activists that have linked it to health issues. But the evidence is mixed. The American Cancer Society's position is that "for most people, no health problems have clearly been linked to aspartame use." Diet Pepsi removed aspartame in late 2015, only to see the move backfire as consumers complained and sales dropped. The brand responded by selling aspartame and aspartame-free versions. For its new flavored versions, Diet Coke added another artificial sweetener called acesulfame potassium, or Ace-K, along with aspartame.
For its core variety, Diet Coke marketers did not want to risk a similar backlash as Diet Pepsi, which is why the brand did not tweak its sweetener formula. "We want to make sure that we don't do anything that will compromise in any way the taste," Acevedo says. "We have a huge loyal following that absolutely loves the taste of Diet Coke."
But that following has shrunk in recent years as as calorie-conscious drinkers gravitate to other options like sparkling water and zero-calorie energy drinks. Diet Coke's dollar sales fell 3.7 percent in the 52 weeks ending Dec. 2, according to Nielsen data recently reported by Wells Fargo. But the brand still dominates the diet soda category with 26.3 percent dollar market share. Some 20,000 Diet Cokes are consumed every minute in the U.S., according to the brand. Diet Pepsi, whose sales fell 8 percent in the period, has 13.4 percent share.