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Polar bear Coke can gets recycled

Today’s lesson: Never change anything! For this year’s seasonal holiday can, Coca-Cola introduced a white can featuring polar bears. I thought it looked cool, but it ended up starting a customer rebellion, and now Coke is hurriedly switching to a red polar bear can instead.

It’s a familiar story. (See also: Tropicana, 2009, SunChips, 2010.) As The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday (and which, in retrospect, should have been obvious to Coke) customers are confused about the white can. Justifiably so: The polar bear can looks similar to the Diet Coke can, which is red and silver. People who handle loose cans, such as shoppers at small stores and flight attendants on airplanes, have been mixing them up by mistake.

Coke’s first response was to issue a fact sheet about the new cans. (“When looking at the labels on these cans, consumers should look for the following,” etc.) When you have to publish instructions for how to read the design story on your soft drink cans, it’s time to fix the cans.

Then, this week, Coke announced the white polar bear can is history and will be replaced by a more familiar red polar bear can. Here’s how they spun it:

People have told us they love the limited-edition white “Arctic Home” Coca-Cola cans, and we know they love our iconic red cans, especially during the holidays.  So we’re introducing the next limited-edition “Arctic Home” can, which will still feature the same polar bears, but with our iconic red Coca-Cola background.

Starting in early December, people will find new red “Arctic Home” cans on store shelves. This limited edition can continues to advance our campaign efforts to protect the polar bear’s Arctic home. The limited-edition white “Arctic Home” cans will remain on store shelves until supplies last. There has been no change to the classic Coca-Cola formula that everyone knows and loves — it’s still the same great-tasting, refreshing Coke, but in a limited-edition white package.

Phase II of “Arctic Home” will kick off with an enhanced integrated marketing program, prominently featuring both the polar bear and our iconic Santa Claus icon. Red can imagery will be on new point-of-sale in stores and featured across our television, cinema, print, digital and out-of-home advertising. In addition, we’ll feature our Sundblom Santa just in time for Christmas. He will be displayed in stores, in Times Square advertising, on 8-ounce glass Coca-Cola bottles and on our traveling Coca-Cola Holiday Caravan. And we are releasing an exciting new “Shake up Christmas” Santa spot, with music from Natasha Bedingfield, across TV and cinema.

Coke probably should have just stuck with the Santa can this year, a familiar tradition that customers love.

Remember also, the white can was part of a charitable effort to help conserve polar bear habitats. That message may have gotten through, but it probably didn’t buy the goodwill among customers Coke hoped it would.

Customers love polar bears, but they love red soda cans more.

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under Marketing


  1. Michael M. says:

    Just a thought: this reminds me of Coke’s recipe change from the 80s, which literally caused revolts until Coke changed the recipe back, resulting in dramatically higher sales than could have been expected if the whole “flub” had never happened. Not to come across as cynical, but perhaps this is a clever move right out of the old playbook?

  2. Bianca says:

    “Justifiably so: The polar bear can looks similar to the Diet Coke can, which is red and silver.” No. It is not justifiable. All you have to do is READ the damn box or cans to know what your buying. I loved the white cans – it was cool, different, and for a limited time! Those people who were upset about the so called “blasphemy” with the cans not being red – Give me a god damn break! It’s just a can of soda, and it was for a LIMITED TIME!!! Now because of a bunch of seriously lazy and/or disturbed whiners, as well as enablers such as authors of articles who agree with the whiners (thank you Daryl), we have lost those cute, unique cans for the same old same old. Yet another reason to lose my faith in my fellow American.

    • Anonymoose says:

      It’s not ‘blasphemy’, it’s IGNORANCE.

      How many people EVER READ a product they buy frequently? Why do you think Coca-Cola comes in red cans and Pepsi-cola comes in blue cans?? How often do you read what type of milk you buy at the grocery store when 1%, 2%, homogenized, skim, etc all come in different coloured cartons?

      It’s very simple psychology- colour association, and frankly the Coke marketing team should be put up against the wall and shot for doing that. Creating customer confusion with another product is something you NEVER want to do.

      I don’t care if it’s limited time, or special edition or for charity. YOU DON’T DO IT. You cause customers to mistake one product for another you sell with a different formula and taste, and you’re going to anger them. If they wanted to save the polar bears, they’re free to put a white band around the can, or some sort of design on it.

    • Ell says:

      I have one of the white cans with the polar bears! I didn’t know of the controversy over it until a friend of mine told me about it. I think the white cans are cool!

  3. Brandon says:

    I can’t believe this is happening and I also can’t believe people are blaming coke and calling this such a failure like the recipe change. They are trying to do something very noble and helpful, but because people are to ignorant and illiterate they have to back peddle. I like the white cans and I am a die hard coke fan. It is only to last a short time and is to help raise a lot of money to help and endangered species. But the average American can’t apparently read so they blame the company instead of their own stupidity. Diet Coke says Diet Coke on the can same with caffeine free and so does the regular Coca Cola thats all it says. Learn to read.

    Obviously you can’t tell how angry I am that Coke has to do this cause people are stupid. Its not permanent it is a fundraiser.

    • Kyla says:

      I agree with you, it jut a can of soda for heaven sakes, although i did undertand the confustion at first, i experienced it for about a minute, you are right thats all it took, i too did mistake the white can for diet until i looked closer at the can it clearly said Coca Cola not diet coka cola , any coke drinker like myself realized it right away and till bought the product they were cool, i went out and bought to case of the white cans last night jut to be able to keep one

  4. Brett says:

    Hahahaha all this says is that Americans can’t read. I think what Coke has done is super. Most of the so called complaints are from the great nation of the USA. Learn to read retards.

  5. karen says:

    this is just dumb if you would READ the can we would not have this problem it shows how lazy people are and how they cant wait about a month with something they have to read plus it isnt healthy anyway i love it but i dont have it every day

  6. Tara Jessop says:

    When I first saw the commercial for the polar bear cans I thought it was such a great idea! Not only is the design so nicely done, but the cause and meaning behind the temporary design change was amazing! I couldn’t wait to go out and buy a couple cases of my favourite beverage so that I can have a can and participate in this great campagn!
    But in a world that it is impossible to make people happy, I don’t know how I was surprised to find out that customers went out of their way to complain. I’d like to thank Coca Cola for the great idea! I was defiantly impressed! And sorry for the outcome.

  7. craig says:

    will there be a santa coke can this year

  8. Debbie pendergraft says:

    I didn’t buy any of the cans.I am tired of everyone wanting to make a political statement.Let Cocca-cola be just a refreshing drink

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