Coke's giant step backwards cans superior 'Always' theme

By Published on .

Marketer Coca-Cola Co.
Agency: Edge Creative, Santa Monica, Calif., and Leo Burnett USA, Chicago
Rating: Two stars

Ah, yes. The enjoy of cola.

In recklessly ditching the transcendent "Always" theme line and resurrecting the timeless, but inferior, point-of-sale tag "Enjoy," Coca-Cola Co. has taken a giant step backward. Recent reverses have persuaded the company that it needed to freshen its message and prepare U.S. consumers for the end of price wars, but this new advertising from Edge Creative, Santa Monica, Calif., and Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, does the opposite.

Despite a sound strategy and some fetching digital effects in several of the spots, in style and attitude this campaign is a headlong leap back to the lame-ass bad old days at McCann-Erickson. The images are namby-pamby. The music is terrible. There is little humor, little storytelling, little ingenuity, little emotion, little evocation of human reality--little anything, except eight portrayals of the joy of cola, a concept that, as we understand it, is previously spoken for.

Note to new Coke management: We know you want to put your imprimatur on the brand. However, you might have tried to just stop poisoning Belgians and left the greatest tagline in soft-drink history, maybe in marketing history, alone.

The very best thing about the new work is its effervescence. Half of the spots hinge largely on carbonation, the bubbly fizz so integral to cola refreshment. In fact, fizz is the strategic infrastructure of the whole campaign, reminding consumers about the essential feel of the Coke experience.

In the most beautifully filmed spot, "Message in a Bottle," Coke bubbles are superimposed on a seamless montage of various dance genres, in which the energy of hip-hop, tango, tap, etc. is metaphorically linked to the dynamic qualities of carbonation.

Similarly, in the spot titled "Bounce," set at a rock concert, a throbbing mosh pit is shot in a sweeping vertical arc ending in a bird's-eye view, whereupon the heads in the crowd morph into Coke bubbles, which dance in a bottle held by a teen-ager listening to his boombox on an apartment rooftop.

The heads-to-bubbles effect is brilliant--but utterly neutralized by the kid's silly grin and head-bobbing. The stilted unreality of his demeanor--grimly reminiscent of soft-drink advertising past--is jarringly Pollyana and staged.

Nobody listens to music that way. If the idea is to be youthful and contemporary, this is not the path. If the idea is to have teen-agers snort contemptuously, bravo. Well done.

Elsewhere, in place of bubbles, refreshment is conveyed by flakes of snow or the spray of water. In one spot, a teen-ager jumps down an 80-foot waterfall, you know, the way teen-agers always do.

Editor: "Do you know any teen-agers who jump over waterfalls?"

Ad Review: "Let me answer your question with a question. Have you ever walked down the street and seen a woman spontaneously twirl?"

It's another dated TV-ad convention, and the editor is right. It looks just like a Mentos commercial. Moreover, it encourages mighty dangerous behavior--although not as dangerous as the "Bounce" spot, in which the kid listening to music is sitting on the building parapet, one overzealous head bob from tragic death.

What's frustrating is that the concept of this work is quite strong. We have always thought that the best advertising for Coca-Cola is a tight close-up and tight audio of a contour bottle being opened and its contents poured over ice in a contoured Coke glass. Period.

If refreshment is intrinsic, why beat around the bush? Why adulterate it with happy-go-lucky, central-casted characters who look and behave like no actual person has ever looked and behaved? Why, when you are trying to position yourself as the real thing, the compulsion to appear so false?

Even the best of the new spots is ridiculously contrived, although it alone captures a glimmer of human truth. It features a little Moroccan boy tasting Coca-Cola for the first time. His father has said it's like kissing a girl. He takes a swig.

His friend asks: "Is it like kissing a girl?"

The boy smiles: "I hope so."

Charming. And no breakdancing whatsoever.

"Always" is gone, so there's no use crying over spilled Coke. And "Enjoy" is apt to be around for a long while, so maybe some better commercials will emerge. But for when management gets restless, here's a suggestion for the next tagline. We propose:


Copyright January 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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