• Transform magazine
  • September 27, 2021

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Despite its claims, Coca-Cola's redesign is anything but intuitive

Nir headshot

Nir Wegrzyn, founding partner and CEO of global branding agency BrandOpus, writes about how, despite being sleek and elegant, Coca Cola's refreshed packaging design lacks in relativity and therefore fails to create a truly intuitive design.

Earlier this month, Coca-Cola announced a refreshed packaging design system as part of the company’s ongoing evolution towards adopting the ‘One Brand’ strategy it has been working towards since 2015. Described as being driven by the universally recognised Coca-Cola red – an iconic asset for the brand – the redesign has also been heralded as featuring an “intuitive” navigation system.

The rebrand itself is bold, sleek and elegant. Designers have shifted the logo towards the top of the can, describing the decision as a ‘visual metaphor’ for the ‘uplifting’ feeling of drinking a Coke. A minimalist hand has also been taken to the product portfolio, sweeping away extra clutter – as described by the company – to leave the cans with a clean, pared back design.

The problem, as it has ever been, is that it’s hard to have an inherently intuitive design system when Diet Coke remains the silver elephant in the room. A truly intuitive design would create relativity – meaning they operate under the same principles – between each different product. As we have it, even under this refresh Coca-Cola still has two brand names (Diet Coke and Coca-Cola), three identity colours (red, black and silver) and two packaging colours – all of which is a bit much for three products if what you’re really aiming for is a ‘One Brand’ strategy.

However, to create relativity would require a significant rethink and would potentially jeopardise the cultural niche and meaning that Diet Coke has established in its own right. And, as we know, it is the meaning behind brands that can really have an impact on subconscious consumer decision making and trigger them to make a purchase. Is that worth losing in pursuit of a ‘One Brand’ strategy? Will the value of becoming a true Masterbrand eclipse the potential loss of cultural significance and customer loyalty?

At this juncture, we cannot know – simply because Coca-Cola is not yet a masterbrand. Instead, as with previous attempts, it has confused a masterbrand strategy with a packaging strategy. Should it continue to strive towards becoming a Masterbrand however, we might expect to see it adopt a similar approach to Pepsi (views about the design itself aside) which has strategically created an intuitive navigation system centred around the proud and large Pepsi symbol. Across the portfolio, this symbol stays the same with just the colour of the can or the size of the wordmark changing around it – creating a Masterbrand as a result and allowing the brand to be navigated intuitively.

Only time will tell which approach Coca-Cola will take, but I would expect that it has not finished its evolution quite yet, whichever route it goes down.