Why Coke in the UK Has It All Wrong

Jens Stoelken | Apr. 7 2020

Today, Ad Age published a story titled “History Shows Marketers Who Keep Spending During Downturns Fare Much Better.” I couldn’t agree more, and I’d go even further to say that, during a crisis, we need to go beyond what’s best for the health of the brand and look at the well-being of the consumer. Brands need to step up and step in where hope is needed, but not all of them are.
These are crazy times. With no concrete end to COVID-19 in sight, the long-term implications this will have on our daily lives are unknown. I understand that it’s extremely challenging for anyone to determine what to do next. Brands included. But that doesn’t mean the answer is doing nothing, like Coca-Cola Great Britain. That’s right, Campaign recently reported that Coke in the UK would be suspending all of its Q2 brand marketing efforts with Q3 currently “under review.”
Really? That can’t be the best they’ve got.
There are certain brands that we count on to make us feel good during universal moments that unite the world, and Coca-Cola is one of those brands. Whether it’s polar bears giving us that warm, fuzzy holiday feeling during the Christmas season or an ode to “America The Beautiful” drumming up Olympic pride across the U.S., Coke has the power to bring us together like few brands can. So, where is the rallying cry we need now? It must go beyond a new “socially distanced” logo.
Fight, don’t flight: I realize Coca-Cola in the UK is just one piece of a much larger network. But now is not the time for any division of a brand with such reach and size to halt all Q2 marketing activities. As a massive global brand, now is the time to lead the way.
People need leaders. Politicians are wavering and indecisive in action, and celebrities are exposed and criticized for their lack of emotional support and awareness despite good intentions (cue Gal Gadot’s assemble cover of ‘Imagine’ that became “proof that even if no one meets up in person, horribleness can spread” – yikes).
Enter brands, our everyday companions who are stepping up to be those leaders in today’s Coronavirus world. Burger King changed its sick leave policies, Crocs donated thousands of pairs of shoes to frontline healthcare workers, Sam’s Club handed the spotlight over to the real people working behind the scenes to keep the world moving, and one of our very own clients, Chameleon Cold-Brew, delivered coffee to hospitals across the U.S.
You can do this, too, Coke, even in the UK. In fact, you can be doing this everywhere.
Brand communication is more important now than ever. Inspire us, invest in us, teach us, help guide us. Live up to your reputation and even make it even stronger while you have the chance. And consider how your actions trickle down. This goes for everyone.
In a world that feels like it’s crumbling, it’s the Coca-Cola’s that can use the power of communication to become a beacon of hope to light the way. Maybe Coke has other plans to do something profound for the world—I hope they prove me wrong. In any case, it’s time to “open happiness” in a whole new way. We’re waiting.
Jens Stoelken is a founding partner at The Many.