Coca-Cola's (KO) bold move of distributing seasonal white cans of regular Coke has been met with a host of negative public responses ranging from confusion to distaste -- literally.
The company says this year's design was meant to raise awareness about the dangers of global warming to polar bears and their habitat, part of the company's partnership with the World Wildlife Fund. The white cans were meant to be reminiscent of snowy days.
It turns out they were reminiscent of something else: Diet Coke.
Customers have complained that the wintry Coke cans look too much like Diet Coke cans, with some small businesses reporting that opened sodas were being returned once purchasers realized the contents weren't what they expected. One diabetic Diet Coke drinker told ABC News that she drank a whole can and "wondered why it tasted so good" before realizing that she'd purchased three six-packs of regular Coke instead of diet.
A Matter of Taste
Incredibly, others claimed that the Coke in the seasonal cans "tasted different" than Coke in red cans, with one couple posting a video on YouTube in which the wife did a blind taste test and identified the Coke from the white can as "the funky one."
Others simply called the color change "blasphemy" and criticized the company for straying to far from its "classic" design. In the wake of the grassroots backlash, Coke announced that it would soon be releasing red seasonal cans that will also include polar bear images. The company claims it's likely that the white cans will be completely phased out in favor of the red cans by February.
Ye Olde Coke
Perhaps these reactions shouldn't be a surprise to Coca-Cola. Unlike PepsiCo (PEP), which is branded as a "young" and "fresh" brand, Coca-Cola relies heavily on nostalgia and its "classic" image. Who could forget the New Coke fiasco of the 1980s, when the company attempted to switch up its soda formula? Consumers would have none of it.
While special seasonal designs have long been utilized by the company to generate customer excitement, its brand limits what it can do to maintain loyalty while getting people excited. This latest design generated a lot of buzz -- but not the response Coca-Cola was looking for.
Jim Royal, Ph.D., does not own shares of any company mentioned here. The Motley Fool owns shares of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of PepsiCo and Coca-Cola. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a diagonal call position in PepsiCo.