A rose by any other name…


Coca Cola has announced it is changing the name of its Coca-Cola Zero to Coca-Cola Zero Sugar in the UK, at a cost of £10m.

Coming in the midst of an ongoing and fierce debate about the role of sugar in the rise of obesity, and the proposed sugar tax, this move is set to be somewhat of a landmark. But what does it mean for Coca-Cola, and for consumers?

Coca-Cola have said it’s in response to a lack of awareness that the Zero variant is sugar-free, but it’s hard to imagine what consumers understand by the ‘Zero’ part of the name, if it’s not sugar content.

From a consumer perspective, what’s interesting is that focus is moving away from positioning products as ‘diet’ and towards ‘sugar-free’. Does this mean consumers are not interested in dieting, that the word ‘diet’ itself is outdated and old-fashioned? Relatedly, during the New Year New You rush, magazines and social media influencers rarely feature diets or weight loss any more, choosing to focus on promoting clean eating and colourful recipes.  Of course the aim is the same, but the sense is less that we’re cutting back on foods perceived as bad, and more that we’re making a positive choice to eat well.

In a similar vein, this week saw Mars Brands announcing it will include suggested frequency of consumption on the labelling of its pasta sauce brand, Dolmio. Taken together, does this suggest that brands are becoming more open about the place of their products in the diet? Or are they trying to pre-empt more stringent labelling regulation?

As communicators, we know language is both nuanced and important. Understanding why consumers make choices, and how this changes over time, as well as what information they are receptive to, is critical to developing compelling messages that influence behaviour. So is this what Coca-Cola is doing? Or is it an attempt to deflect criticism that they are simply marketing high-sugar products?

This is one to watch – as probably the best known brand in the world, and a brand at the forefront of the battle over sugar, what they do, and how it’s received by their customers, will set the tone for the food and drink industry.

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