Taste the mixed feelings

Coca-Cola’s new global tagline ‘Taste the Feeling’ ticks all the boxes of a vacuous, formulaic, 21st-century brand line, writes Nick Asbury. But it’s attached to a smart strategy and looks like being the cornerstone of a great campaign. That should give copywriters a queasy feeling.

The line
First of all, there’s the line itself. It’s not a great line. No one could look at ‘Taste the Feeling’ and think it’s a great line. It doesn’t make sense in the way words normally try to make sense. It doesn’t have any aesthetic appeal – no memorable rhythm or something to make it lodge in the mind. Worst of all, it’s generic. There’s already a long-standing trend for brands issuing three-word instructions that make no sense.

In retrospect, Sky’s ‘Believe in better’ is relatively grounded – you can almost believe in the idea of continual improvement. But more recently we’ve had ‘Enjoy the Go’ by Charmin and ‘Be Your Way’ by Burger King – lines so abstract they resemble conceptual works of art.

Rather than being ‘written’, they seem to have been created using a corporate version of the William Burroughs cut-up technique (favoured by songwriters from David Bowie to Kurt Cobain). Simply slice up your strategy presentation, scatter the words across the floor, then combine randomly.

The strategy
The thing is, the strategy behind ‘Taste the Feeling’ is pretty great. Reading some of the press comments from new global Chief Marketing Officer Marcos de Quinto, I found myself mentally applauding at every turn.

In an interview with Ad Age, de Quinto talks about a one-brand approach, where every marketing dollar promotes a unified Coca-Cola brand, instead of pushing lots of competing sub-brands. Makes complete sense.

Make-it-Happy

Then he talks about the previous ‘Open Happiness’ campaign, which took on big societal issues like online bullying – the subject of the 2015 Super Bowl ad (above). While not disowning the campaign, he believes Coke has “started to talk in a preachy way to people. And Coca-Cola has always been a simple pleasure.” Yes.

And he goes on to say that, “The bigness of Coca-Cola resides in this humbleness, in its simplicity.” But the “more that we tried … to preach to the people, the smaller we made it.” Finally: “We have been just talking about the brand, but talking very little about the product.”

This is brilliant. In a groupthink climate where every brand has been straining to cast itself as a saintly hero tackling society’s biggest problems, here we have the CMO of one of the world’s biggest brands talking about weird concepts like humility and not being preachy. Building the brand by focusing on the product.

It’s also a shrewd recognition of Coca-Cola’s biggest asset – the iconic simplicity of a brand that has been built through decades of sheer focus. Design company Turner Duckworth recognised this in their single-minded packaging work for Coca-Cola back in 2009, stripping everything back to leave the raw iconography of its red and whiteness, elegantly scripted logotype and distinctive bottle shape (below). That thinking has had a lasting effect at Coca-Cola.

td-coke-hero-new

The campaign
So that’s the strategy, but what about the campaign? Well, that’s interesting too. There are six 60-second TV spots, with ‘Anthem’ as the lead. And there’s a whole ream of print work. None of it is ground-breaking on its own, and all of it has that big American quality to it, including the cheesy pop anthem (in which Conrad Sewell sings something about watching the waves and having a Coke). But that’s what we want from Coke.

And when you look at it as a set, it’s incredibly disciplined. The product is in every shot. At one point, a teardrop is expressed by a trickle running down the bottle. Product plus emotion. There’s a sense of a brand finding its confidence again. You can see it’s a single idea that lends itself to many executions.

(Inevitably, the press release makes much of the ‘personalisation’ aspect, where people are invited to create their own gifs – via tastethefeeling.coca-cola.com – expressing how Coca-Cola makes them feel, or something along those lines. I find it hard to be interested in that part.)

LiketoTeach-ad

All of it reminds me of the spirit of Coca-Cola in its better times. It’s not quite ‘I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing’ (the 1971 spectacular, above, which the Mad Men writers later hinted may have been written by Don Draper). But it has that quality of being about something bigger than itself, precisely because it’s not trying to be about something bigger than itself. At its best, Coca-Cola has always been linked to the best parts of the American dream – optimistic, naïve, consumerist, happy. But it does it by showing the product.

Of course, none of this will necessarily make people love the product again. Coca-Cola has an existential problem with changing attitudes to health. But it could make people love the brand again, and that buys you permission to evolve and think about where to go next.

Taste The Feeling 3

The conclusion
So back to the line. If it’s the cornerstone of a great campaign and a smart strategy, does that mean ‘Taste the Feeling’ is actually a brilliant line in disguise?

Well, not really. For copywriters in particular, it’s a shame all of this couldn’t have been achieved with a better line – something as original and powerful as the thinking behind it.

But the troubling thought is that it may not matter. Maybe the campaign will work better by not having a better line. Slogans are different things these days. They have become brand lines more than advertising lines. The classic advertising line used to act as a focal point for an idea – a hook for everything to hang on. It had to be clever and memorable – that was its job.

The brand line consciously avoids being a focal point. It’s more like a flag flying over a big, abstract territory. And writing that kind of slogan is like arranging big symbols on a flag – designed to be discernable from a mile away in a strong wind. It doesn’t make for great verbal artistry, but maybe that’s the way slogans have to be now.

Or maybe it’s just a bad line. We live in hope.

One last thought – a company in California recently advertised a writing position by asking for a ‘Language designer’. It sounds like a joke, but it could be the logical next step in a trend where copy has been morphing into design, with concepts like verbal identity and tone of voice guidelines – both consciously mirroring the way design presents itself. Something about ‘Taste the Feeling’ feels closer to language design than copywriting to me. I’ve an uncomfortable feeling it may catch on.

Nick Asbury is a writer for branding and design and one-half of creative partnership, Asbury & Asbury. He tweets via @asburyandasbury. The new Coca-Cola campaign features over 100 images shot by fashion photographers Guy Aroch and Nacho Ricci that will be used in print ads, billboards, in-store and digital media. More at coca-colacompany.com/tastethefeeling.

Taste The Feeling 2

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