Randall Hull, The Br@nd Ranch®

Last November a polar-white holiday Coke design forced Coca-Cola to kick the can off store shelves after a swift and vocal backlash from Coke imbibers. The endothermic reaction was like they had changed their formula or something. Oh yea, they did that already.

The arctic can design lasted only a month in the marketplace after it was confused with the silver Diet Coke container, which really frosted some diet drinkers, and members of the Coke-nation saw red over the change in the iconic foundation color. A tie-in with the World Wildlife Fund, though well meaning, couldn’t wrap the new look in warm and fuzzy feelings.

Even though Coca-Cola regularly rolls out seasonal embellishments to its flagship Coke packaging, this background color change was a first – and proved too much of a departure from the expected and revered rouge.

Coke marketing folk were seeking a "disruptive" campaign hoping to grab attention during an extended holiday season reaching into February. Disruptive it was! A new red "polar" design had to be produced immediately and stores were restocked in early December.

This can color kerfuffle is instructive to marketing types of how customers become connected to the identifiable elements of a brand and, also, how they feel a sense of ownership. After all it is the customer and the marketplace that defines a brand, marketers merely manage it, and in many ways need their customers’ permission to alter what is de rigueur.

Tweaking elements of an iconic brand is risky business, particularly for short-term marketing goals. Further, product clarity is essential in the crowded retail beverage environment and color plays a key role as a differentiator – not only from competing brands, but from your own product lines as well.

Coke-fanatics expect a certain brand and product experience, even in the "look" of their preferred soda. Coca-Cola should have learned from the debacle of 1985 that the "formula" is sacrosanct – and that includes their product packaging.

If you’re going to "teach the world to sing", caveat venditor if you consider tweaking the tune.