Coca-Cola continues to lead, although challengers are emerging
Beverages ranked ninth out of fifteen industries in the 2019 Brand Intimacy Study, maintaining the same position it held in 2018.
The category of Quotient Score saw an improvement from 24.7 in 2018 to 28.5 in 2019. The dark horse in this year’s study is Mountain Dew, which rose from #10 to #2, kicking the previous second-place holder, Coors, down to #9. Pepsi saw a slight improvement in its standing too, rising from #4 to #3. Alcoholic beverages as a subgroup within the industry improved their performance in this year’s study as well. As was the case last year, indulgence (creating a close relationship centered around moments of pampering and gratification that can be occasional or frequent) is the most prominent archetype for this category, and Jack Daniel’s is the top-performing beverage brand for indulgence.
Coca-Cola is an iconic brand with a long history that has imbued it with a significant amount of emotional equity. For the past three years, the brand has enjoyed a strong showing in the beverage rankings, steadfastly holding its #1 place. From a Quotient Score perspective, Coca-Cola has remained relatively unchanged, though, with each passing year, its score has declined slightly: 46.2 in 2017, 45.2 in 2018, and 44.1 in 2019. The brand continues to enjoy success as an intimate brand due to a number of factors including its linkage to many archetypes and its broad appeal to both men, multiple age groups, and different income levels.
Coca-Cola demonstrates strength across almost all the Brand Intimacy archetypes, although the brand saw mixed results in its archetype performance in 2019. It improved its performance in fulfillment (exceeding expectations), enhancement (customers become better through use of the brand), and identity (aspirational or having shared values). However, Coca-Cola did decline in its associations with the archetypes of ritual (when the brand is ingrained in daily life) and nostalgia (focused on warm memories of the past; although even with a decline, Coca-Cola is still is the highest ranked beverage brand for nostalgia).
Coca-Cola is not only the top brand in its category, but it is also the most popular brand among both men and women. Coca-Cola’s success with both genders could be in part due to the brand’s focus on diversifying its product portfolio to appeal to both genders, with Diet Coke historically being very successful with women while the original Coke drink and Coke Zero (its low-sugar alternative) being well received among men. Coca-Cola is also popular across income levels too, suggesting it is able to build emotional bonds with a broad array of audiences. This wide appeal does align nicely with Coca-Cola’s most recent brand platform, “Taste the Feeling,” which was first launched in 2016 and centers around the idea that Coke is for everyone.
Coca-Cola also saw improvements in other important Brand Intimacy measures in this year’s study. Its score for fusing increased by three points, which is significant because fusing is the most important and advanced stage of Brand Intimacy. Furthermore, users continue to respond positively to the brand, with 31 percent stating that they cannot live without the brand and 55 percent expressing that they formed an immediate emotional connection to Coca-Cola, the highest in the category. Coca-Cola has also been able to build sustained, long-term relationships with its intimate customers. This year, 81 percent of Coca-Cola users in our study reported they have been buying the brand for more than ten years.
While Coca-Cola is the leading beverage brand, there are indicators that challengers are emerging. Mountain Dew’s sudden rise in this year’s rankings is an important signal of this changing tide for several reasons. First, Mountain Dew was the most popular brand with millennials, which is a critical market. Coca-Cola also saw a sharp decline in how millennials ranked it this year, going from 53.5 in 2018 to 30.6 in 2019. Second, Mountain Dew scored highly for the ritual archetype this year, indicating that engagement with the Mountain Dew brand has become a more habitual behavior for its users. Conversely, Coca-Cola saw a decline in its ritual archetype performance. Finally, it is worth noting that Mountain Dew is owned by Pepsi, Coca-Cola’s oldest rival. When we look at the top three brands in this industry, two of the three are Pepsi brands, and while Coca-Cola is still leading, the gap between it and the second and third brands is shrinking with each passing year.
Recently Coca-Cola announced that it was, for a limited time, bringing back one of its biggest marketing mishaps. Tied in with the launch of the third season of Netflix’s Stranger Things, Coca-Cola will be rereleasing New Coke as part of its “Take a Sip in the Upside Down” campaign in July. New Coke was the brand’s infamous misstep in the 1980s, when it decided to reengineer its classic recipe to combat declining sales. The move was met with fierce criticism by consumers who disliked the new taste and resented Coca-Cola for attempting to tinker with its brand. As fortune would have it though, the misfire turned out to work in Coca-Cola’s favor, as it soon relaunched its “classic” flavor, which led to a massive boost in sales for the brand. This has led some to theorize whether the whole misstep was engineered from the beginning to arrive at this result, a view that Coca-Cola fervently denies. Now it appears that the brand is banking on New Coke again, this time to engage younger consumers. Stranger Things is set in the 1980s and has been widely popular since it started, in part because it digs deep into nostalgic triggers to tell its story. In the years since New Coke’s release (and discontinuation), the product has taken on a legendary status as both a universally despised and revered marketing case study. By bringing it back, Coca-Cola appears to be tapping into the nostalgic boom that is currently unfolding, not only to reach those consumers who faintly remember it the first time around but specifically to attract the younger (millennial) consumers who may have only heard of it, watch Stranger Things, and are curious about the 1980s pop culture phenomenon.
Coca-Cola’s continued Brand Intimacy success demonstrates its staying power and ability to build strong bonds with consumers. There are some indicators, however, that the brand may need to recharge its emotional batteries. Although steadily #1 in the beverages category, its performance has declined slightly each year. This year, we also see a more pronounced downward trend with millennials. Whether Mountain Dew’s success was a flash in the pan or is a signal of shifting loyalties in the category, time will tell. However, judging by its recently announced marketing tactics, Coca-Cola is keen to continue engaging and reaching younger consumers. Iconic, established, and beloved, will Coca-Cola continue to decline slightly each year, or will it find its own recipe for expanded emotional success?
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