The famous Coca-Cola secret formula is becoming just a little less secret.
For more than a century, Coke has fiercely guarded its recipe, created in 1886 by John Pemberton, a druggist in Atlanta who was trying to concoct a health drink. In recent decades the company has spun an aura of mystery around the formula - partly for competitive reasons, but also as a marketing tool.
In a campaign introduced last month in Britain, Coke divulged a few factoids about the formula. It has "no added preservatives or artificial flavors." Its mastermind, Pemberton, selected "the best spices from around the world." And the recipe has not changed in 122 years.
That final detail has cut both ways for Coca-Cola, which faced near-insurrection in the 1980s when it attempted to tinker with the formula but now must confront public perceptions that its flagship drink is unhealthy or unnatural.
"When we talked to consumers about Coke, we realized they didn't know that it has no added preservatives or artificial flavors," said Cathryn Sleight, marketing director of Coca-Cola Great Britain. "We felt it was important to reassure Coke drinkers of this fact."
Coca-Cola Great Britain will print the line "no added preservatives or artificial flavors" on the tens of millions of cans and bottles of Coke it sells each year in Britain. It has also set up a Web site, letsgettogether.co.uk, where it answers questions about the formula - without giving away any secrets, of course.
One consumer put the question to the Web site bluntly: "What are the ingredients?" The answer was: "You'll find all the ingredients in Coke and all the other drinks we sell on their can or bottle." For Coca-Cola, the site explains, that means carbonated water, sugar, caffeine, phosphoric acid, caramel for color, and "natural flavorings."
The Web site, part of a campaign called "Pemberton," was created by Santo, an Argentine agency, and is being rolled out around the world throughout this year. The campaign, which has television and print components, hit Austria and Switzerland in April, then broke in Britain in July. In the United States, it began airing July 4 and will run through the Olympics on NBC.
"'Pemberton' is more fact-based, affirming for consumers that Coca-Cola never has had, and never will have, added preservatives or artificial flavors," said Cristina Bondolowski, global brand director for Coca-Cola.
Carbonated soft drinks have waned in popularity as people have turned to alternatives that they consider more natural, like waters and teas. Coca-Cola and other cola makers have also been under pressure from health lobbies and government officials about childhood obesity.
The "Pemberton" campaign is not aimed at depicting regular Coke as a diet drink. The Web site says that a 250 milliliter serving - about 8.5 ounces - has 105 calories, which represent 5 percent of the recommended daily intake for an adult.
The campaign is a bit of a departure for Coke, which usually tries to link its brand to the image of young, vibrant people having fun.
Jasmine Montgomery, managing director of FutureBrand U.K., a brand consulting division of McCann-Erickson WorldGroup, said Coca-Cola took a risk by deviating from its "long history of very entertaining, aspirational advertising." People rely on Coke to produce commercials that influence pop culture, she said.
"I'm very skeptical about whether a campaign about no additives or preservatives is the way to go," Montgomery said. "Coke's big strength has always been the lifestyle and the attitude of the brand - not its health credentials."
Many previous campaigns have celebrated the drink's taste, saying that it is "less sweet" than Pepsi, but this is the first time the company has focused squarely on the ingredients.
The change of tack may have something to do with a new drink, Pepsi Raw, that was introduced in Britain in February. PepsiCo says that by replacing corn syrup with cane sugar in Pepsi Raw, it has reduced the calorie content of a 300 milliliter serving - about 10 ounces - to 90 calories from 120.
For the time being, the drink has only been introduced in Britain, where it is the first new formulation Pepsi has added to its line in more than 10 years. Pepsi also boasts that Pepsi Raw is made from natural ingredients and contains no artificial preservatives, colors, flavorings or sweeteners.
Coke and Pepsi seem to be "responding to a global trend," Montgomery said. "Obesity, and health issues in general are hot topics at the moment, and they are not going to go away."
Companies that make sugared soft drinks "are having to work out what their future looks like in this very health and diet-obsessed world, and it is a source of considerable anxiety," she said.
While the "Pemberton" campaign highlights Coke's ingredients, a second campaign introduced last month in Britain, "Intrinsics," focuses on the taste.
A TV advertisement called "Share the Love" shows a man phoning a friend who is sitting on a crowded commuter train then opening a Coke, pouring it and drinking it, to make his friend jealous.
"Intrinsics" includes TV ads by Wieden + Kennedy, plus outdoor and radio components by Mother, a British agency. Mother has also contributed a series of so-called blipverts, or five-second TV ads, which depict the sounds and noises associated with drinking a Coke, together with images of the cap being taken off a bottle of Coke, for example, or ice being put into a glass.
Because they are so short, the blipverts themselves are an unusual departure. Coke has used them before to advertise Fanta, but they still represent a relatively new approach.
"The aim of the blipverts is not to try to tell a big story," said Andy Medd, a partner at Mother. "We're simply creating anticipation of desire. It's very simple."
Bondolowski, the Coke brand director, said that "Intrinsics" made a more emotional appeal than "Pemberton." The goal is "reminding consumers of the pleasure of enjoying an ice cold Coke, evoking positive feelings and memories about the brand and the product," she said.
6 months ago