brand as story


Shuffling the NO SUGAR cards at Coca-Cola

So Coca-Cola is set to remove Coke Zero from Australian shops with the launch of Coca-Cola No Sugar. This is the third sugar-free product the brand has launched, with Diet Coke launching in 1983 and then Coke Zero in 2006.

I helped Coca-Cola reposition Coke Zero shortly after it launched. When Coca-Cola launched Coke Zero they targeted young guys, assuming that girls looking for a no sugar option would choose Diet Coke. This isn’t in fact what happened. 25+ female drinkers stuck to Diet Coke since it was a taste they had acquired and now preferred. Young female drinkers chose Coke Zero because it tasted most like Coca-Cola, the taste they were used to and the taste they preferred.

So we went for a more gender neutral positioning: “Real (Coca-Cola) Taste. Zero Sugar.” This was the promise – you get the great taste of Coca-Cola, just without the sugar. But it seems Coca-Cola have now come up with something even better, declaring that Coca-Cola No Sugar is “the best-tasting no sugar cola yet”.

Oh, and here I am thinking that, that was Coke Zero. “Coca-Cola Zero is already a great tasting drink, but we think with this new recipe,” the press release says, “we’ve been able to get even closer to the taste of Coca-Cola Classic/Original Taste.”

OK, well lets have a look at the recipes of Coke Zero and Coca-Cola No Sugar (the list of ingredients anyway). Both contain caffeine, phenylalanine, and the exact same sweeteners (950 and 951). In fact both contain exactly the same ingredients except that Coke Zero has 28mg Sodium, whereas Coca-Cola No Sugar only has 10.5mg Sodium. I find this curious, since Coca-Cola (the original taste) has 25mg Sodium, more in line with Coke Zero. But then Coca-Cola No Sugar also has a thing called “Flavour”, which Coke Zero doesn’t have. This must be the “magic” ingredient that makes Coca-Cola No Sugar taste more like Coca-Cola that Coke Zero does.

Or is it all just brand and marketing hype? Same stuff with pretty much the same ingredients, just a different spin and use of the words NO SUGAR in a world that is turning away from sugar. Because just saying Coke Zero apparently isn’t enough, since too many drinkers didn’t know (apparently) that Coke Zero has NO SUGAR in it. So Coca-Cola needed to really spell it out for a world that has the attention span of a gnat.

On top of this Coca-Cola have changed their global tagline from “Open happiness” to “Taste the feeling”, with a very Instagram-looking type of photographic style and art direction. Personally I way prefer “Open happiness” – or “Happiness in a bottle” as an overall brand positioning and promise. “You can’t beat the feeling” was their global tagline in the 80s/90s, and so their new tagline takes me back to a time when Coca-Cola pretty much lost its way as a brand.

As for the people who now prefer the taste of Coke Zero … tough shit. This is business after all, and if there’s one thing Coca-Cola know how do really well it’s keeping and growing their “share of mouth”.

brand as culture


The smell of the place. 

Creating a workplace where people will thrive.

Every time I first walk into a new client’s offices I get an instant feeling for the place. The energy. The vibe. The smell of the place.

Same as when I visit new places and cities. I recently visited a small regional city [population 5 million] in India. Went for an afternoon stroll in the main local shopping and business district. And I gotta say that life for the 1.24 billion who live in India is pretty tough. Noisy. Hectic. Busy. All crammed in. Very stressful. And it showed on the faces of the people I passed. No smiles. Negative body language. A slightly tense look in their eyes. And that pretty much summed up the smell of the place for me in downtown regional India.

Then there are places I love. The smell of Byron Bay. Soak up the sun. Cool off in the ocean. Chill and chat. Be yourself. People who smile, have relaxed and open body language, and look you in the eyes.

It’s exactly the same in companies. Some companies have a constrained culture of compliance, control, and contract. These are the employees who don’t smile, have negative body language and a slightly tense look in their eyes.

And some companies have an exciting culture of promotion, positivity, and possibility. These are the people who do smile, have positive body language and a look of excitement in their eyes.

It all comes down to the smell of the place. The smell you get by taking a 5 minute walk through their offices. It has nothing to do with the actual people who work there. It has everything to do with the context in which they are working. Because it’s the context that shapes the way people feel and behave.

And so the task for companies who want to create a workplace filled with thriving employees is to change the context, not the people who work there. Create Byron Bay in your company. Or New York. Or Shanghai. Whatever your preference, and whatever works for your company’s needs. Just don’t create a context that is contaminated with bad memories, negativity and constraints.

Oh, and by the way, if you’re working at the wrong place, and you want to be working at “New York”, move to “New York”.

epa03814192 People dance in their underwear during an event billed as National Underwear Day which was hoping to gather a record number of people together in underwear, in Times Square in New York, New York, USA, 05 August 2013. EPA/JUSTIN LANE

brand YOU


What is your reality?

A frog’s eye is capable of perceiving 4 types of phenomena:

1. clear lines of contrast
2. sudden changes in illumination
3. outlines in motion
4. curves of outlines of small, dark objects

A frog does not ‘see’ it’s mother’s face, it cannot appreciate a sunset, nor even the nuances of colour. It sees only what it needs to see in order to eat and to avoid being eaten.

In the same way, human eyes are selective too. We think we see ‘everything’, until we remember that bees draw patterns on flowers in ultraviolet light and owls see clearly in the dark.

The senses of every species are fine-tuned to perceive information critical to their survival. In other words, you and I perceive only the information we are biologically programmed to receive.

Which begs the question, “What IS your reality?”

brand as story



Yugen is a Japanese word that sits at the core of the appreciation of beauty and art in Japan. It values the power to evoke, rather that the ability to state directly.

Zeami Motokiyo, a 14th century Japanese actor and playwright, described yugen thus:

To watch the sun sink behind a flower-clad hill.

To wander on and on in a huge forest without thought of return.

To stand up on the shore and gaze after a boat that disappears behind distant islands.

To contemplate the flight of wild geese seen and lost among the clouds.

All these are yugen, and I think its awesome! Methinks we could all do with a little more yugen in our every day.