Who owns the brand?

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Coke cans

Iconic brands successfully build their creative collateral to bring immediate consumer recognition. The process takes extensive analysis, planning, research and consultation. Often, logos and creative themes are updated to remain fresh. Digital typography is a passionate subject for many designers and brand managers (proven in Gary Huswit’s 2007 documentary Helvetica) as fonts gain deeper artistic significance. Consumers interpret these logos, slogans and brand creative to connect to add meaning to their brand experience.

Coca-Cola recently sent 1.4 billion white cans to market in support of the Arctic Home campaign in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund. The white can featured polar bears in support of the WWF’s campaign for polar bear and Arctic conservation. Coke pledged up to three million to this cause.

The 125-year-old brand made a bold statement by changing its iconic red can. Spokesperson Scott Williamson told the Wall Street Journal that Coke’s marketing executives wanted a “disruptive” campaign to get consumers’ attention.

Disrupt they did – in the form of consumer confusion. Upset customers mistook the new white cans for the aesthetically similar Diet Coke. After less than a month, the white cans were pulled.

Coke reacted almost immediately to the voice of consumers. This outcry is reminiscent of Coke’s 1985 blunder. Following the intense competition of the cola wars, the company introduced New Coke, complete with a new design and taste. The original coke was discontinued, and it did not take long for emotional customers to start complaining in droves, feeling passionate enough to protest, with signs reading “we want the real thing” and “our children will never know refreshment.” The original formula was reintroduced and branded as Coca-Cola classic, and New Coke is no longer available in North America.

There is no better example of consumer sentiment and loyalty than the efforts of L.A.-based Dusty Sorg and Michael Jedrzejewski, who back in 2008 created the famous Coke fan page that went on to become one of Facebook’s most popular. Instead of shutting it down, Coke approached Dusty and Michael and asked them to continue the page themselves. The two created a video (that would make any brand manager proud) to document their experience. If the world’s top global brand allows for consumers to have such a strong voice, should all brands be so receptive to consumer reaction?

Back in the fall of 2010, The Gap also made an attempt to make a change that would be met with fierce consumer opposition. The company decided it was time to update the brand and change its ubiquitous blue and white logo. The inexplicable change was met with widespread dislike. Following the backlash, the logo was pulled and The Gap called upon its fans to share their designs through a crowd sourcing platform. Fast forward to over a year later, and the original logo remains untouched.

Classic brands like Coke and Gap inspire so much fierce brand loyalty that drastic changes like a logo redesign or a change in taste can leave consumers uneasy, confused, and even wounded. More importantly, they beg the question, who really owns the brand?

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