The world of digital marketing is rife with inspiring success stories and cautionary tales of failure. From New Coke’s rebranding debacle to Apple’s roller-coaster marketing journey, every big box brand offers valuable insights from which every marketer can learn.
The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of Big Brands
New Coke: The Perils of Messing with a Classic
Ever heard the phrase “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”? In the 1980s, Coca-Cola learned this lesson the hard way when they ventured into one of the riskiest rebranding exercises ever witnessed in the corporate world.
A Decision Rooted in Market Dynamics
During the early 1980s, Coca-Cola was feeling the heat from its arch-rival, Pepsi. With the latter’s aggressive marketing campaigns, notably the “Pepsi Challenge,” Coca-Cola’s once unshakeable market lead was dwindling. In response, Coca-Cola’s executives took a bold step. They decided to reformulate their century-old, beloved soda.
Enter, New Coke
In April 1985, to much fanfare, “New Coke” was introduced. This was not just a change in branding but a complete alteration of the drink’s original formula. Market tests had indicated that people preferred the taste of the new version. So, from a purely empirical standpoint, the decision seemed justified.
However, what market tests couldn’t gauge was the deep emotional connection people had with the original Coca-Cola. It was more than just a drink; it was a part of Americana, linked with memories, traditions, and shared experiences.
The reaction from the public was swift and fierce. There was widespread consumer outrage, with many feeling betrayed by the brand they’d grown up with. Letters poured into Coca-Cola’s headquarters, protests were staged, and loyalists began hoarding cases of the original drink.
A mere 79 days after the launch of New Coke, the company announced the return of the original formula, now dubbed “Coca-Cola Classic.” New Coke wasn’t completely pulled from the shelves right away, but its presence diminished until it eventually faded into the annals of marketing history.
The Silver Lining & The Ultimate Lesson
In an unexpected twist, the debacle turned into a blessing in disguise for Coca-Cola. The reintroduction of Coca-Cola Classic led to a surge in sales. The entire episode underscored the beverage’s deep-rooted place in the hearts of consumers, rejuvenating the brand’s image.
Yet, the paramount lesson remains: while innovation is crucial to stay relevant, brands must tread carefully when it comes to their foundational elements. These elements, whether a product, logo, or slogan, often have deep emotional resonance with consumers. In the pursuit of novelty, brands must respect and honor their legacy. After all, in branding, emotions often outweigh empirical data.
Apple: An Odyssey of Branding
Few brands evoke as much loyalty, debate, and admiration as Apple. The company’s marketing strategies, interspersed with moments of sheer genius and occasional missteps, offer an encyclopedia of lessons for brands and marketers worldwide.
The 1980s: Making a Mark
Apple burst onto the scene in the 1980s with its revolutionary products. But it wasn’t just the technology that set them apart; it was their audacious marketing tactics. Their iconic 1984 Super Bowl commercial, which introduced the Apple Macintosh, was a masterstroke. Drawing inspiration from George Orwell’s dystopian classic “1984,” the commercial positioned Apple as the harbingers of a new era, breaking free from the conformist world dominated by IBM. This daring move solidified Apple’s reputation as a brand that challenged the status quo.
The 1990s: A Period of Identity Crisis
After the roaring success of the 80s, Apple entered a tumultuous phase in the 90s. The departure of Steve Jobs, increased competition from Microsoft, and a few product misfires led the brand into murky waters. Their marketing strategies lacked the clarity and vision that once set them apart. Apple was losing its essence, trying to be too many things to too many people.
The Resurgence: “Think Different”
Apple launched the “Think Different” campaign in 1997, recognizing the need for reinvention. This wasn’t just a slogan; it was a clarion call, a statement of purpose, and a return to Apple’s core values. By celebrating mavericks, rebels, and visionaries, Apple was reasserting its commitment to innovation and challenging norms.
The commercials, featuring black-and-white footage of luminaries like Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King Jr., and John Lennon, were both poignant and powerful. This campaign revitalized Apple’s brand identity and set the stage for a series of groundbreaking product launches, from the iMac to the iPod.
The Key Lesson: Consistency & Authenticity
Through its highs and lows, Apple’s journey underscores the importance of brand consistency. While innovation in products and marketing is essential, it should never come at the cost of a brand’s core values. Moreover, brands must be authentic, ensuring their messaging aligns with their actions. Apple’s “Think Different” campaign resonated because it didn’t just talk about innovation; it was backed by products that truly were different.
In today’s saturated market, where consumers are bombarded with messages, a consistent, authentic brand story stands out, creating a lasting bond with its audience. Apple’s odyssey is a testament to this timeless branding principle.
Burger King: Tread Carefully on Social Media
In a digital age where brands compete fiercely for online attention, bold and edgy campaigns often seem like the quickest route to virality. Burger King, known for its disruptive marketing strategies, offers a compelling case study on the do’s and don’ts of social media marketing.
Going Viral: Risks and Rewards
Burger King has often adopted a bold approach on social media, attempting to stand out in a crowded fast-food market. Whether throwing shade at competitors or engaging in playful banter with customers, the brand was never shy of taking risks.
However, some campaigns that aimed for buzz inadvertently stirred up controversy. A prime example is Burger King’s tweet: “Women belong in the kitchen.” Though the intent was to spotlight the gender imbalance in professional kitchens, the clickbaity message was widely seen as tone-deaf, prompting significant backlash and boycott calls.
We hear you. We got our initial tweet wrong and we’re sorry. Our aim was to draw attention to the fact that only 20% of professional chefs in UK kitchens are women and to help change that by awarding culinary scholarships. We will do better next time.
— Burger King (@BurgerKingUK) March 8, 2021
Tami Kim, an assistant professor at the University of Virginia, has delved into such marketing strategies, specifically the ‘identity appeals’ approach where brands target ads based on specific consumer identities. Collaborating with researchers from Harvard Business School, she found that campaigns that lean on stereotypes, especially towards marginalized identities, often misfire. Burger King’s aforementioned campaign serves as a case in point: despite its goal to champion female employees, the message drew upon an antiquated view of women as domestic housewives. Kim’s research suggests that such tactics tend to alienate female consumers, making them more likely to avoid the brand, even if the actual product or initiative could be of value to them.
The Underlying Lesson: Tread with Caution 🚫
The pitfalls Burger King encountered underscore a fundamental principle: not all publicity is good publicity. While bold campaigns can lead to virality and engagement, they can also alienate and offend, especially if they’re not rooted in genuine understanding and sensitivity.
On social media, the line between edgy and offensive can be thin. It’s essential to be aware of cultural nuances, to listen to diverse voices, and to be prepared for feedback – both positive and negative.
Key Takeaways from the Successes and Failures
🔑 1. Respect your legacy but be ready to innovate.
🔑 2. Cultural awareness and sensitivity are non-negotiable.
🔑 3. Consistent branding is key to long-term success.
🔑 4. Digital trends evolve rapidly; brands must adapt or perish.
Steer Your Brand Towards Success
If there’s one lesson to take away, it’s that digital marketing is always evolving. Whether it’s a brand overhaul like New Coke or mastering the art of consistent messaging as Apple did, there are countless lessons to be gleaned from the giants.
Digital marketing is a treacherous sea, fraught with unpredictable storms and occasional sunny days. To chart a course to success, brands must be willing to learn from both their successes and failures and adapt rapidly to changing consumer demands.
Don’t let your brand fall into the annals of marketing history as a cautionary tale. Instead, choose to partner with experts who understand the intricacies of the digital landscape.
At D-Kode Technology, we’re passionate about helping brands craft compelling digital narratives. Ready to write your brand’s success story? Reach out to us today and set sail towards digital marketing excellence.