The Why #03: Why do cans of Coke, Diet Coke and Coke Zero suddenly all look the same?

Dan Monheit, 28.08.20

“Why do cans of Coke, Diet Coke and Coke Zero suddenly all look the same?” From Bianca, Prahran

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Coke owns three of the most iconic cans in recent history, so it’s a great question to ask Bianca.

OG Coca Cola stood alone for 45 years before Diet Coke arrived Down Under in ’82 to capitalise on the Australian health kick revolution. Silver seemed lighter (and oh so futuristic), so a silver can just made sense. As we entered the new millennium, Coke noticed that guys preferred to “max” their lives with Pepsi, which opened the gates for the launch of a masculine, jet-black Coke Zero in 05’, supported by a breezy A$18m marketing campaign.

By the time 2015 rolled around, you’d have been hard pressed to find an Australian over the age of seven that couldn’t tell you which type of Coke was synonymous with which colour can (except maybe that nasty Coke Life stevia debacle).

And then it all changed. Three of the most recognised cans in the world, and the hundreds of millions of dollars spent making them famous, all but disappeared.

Distinctive brand assets trashed.
Brand codes abandoned.
Icons buried alive.

In their places, three cans that are almost identical to one another, save for a small, coloured band around the top, indicating which Coke variant they contain. And all this, from one of the greatest marketing organisations of the last 100 years.


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Research conducted by Robert Zajonc in the 1960’s demonstrated that the Mere Exposure Effect is so strong, and so primal, that it even presents in newborn chicks. Zajonc played tones of two different frequencies to two different groups of fertilised, unhatched eggs. Once hatched, the tones were again played to both groups of chicks. Remarkably, each set of chicks consistently chose the tone that they had been previously exposed to — even though the previous exposure occurred when they were still eggs!

The more times we’re exposed to something, the more familiar that thing becomes.

This familiarity brings a sense of safety, as well as increasing our perceptual fluency (how easy it is for our minds to process something). It might seem obvious, but things perceived as ‘safe and easy to understand’, tend to be more likeable than things perceived as ‘dangerous and difficult to understand’. Repeated exposure can be a major contributor to both.

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Behaviourally Yours,

Dan Monheit

PS. If you missed last week’s, you can still find out why people queue up outside full restaurants here.

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Bad Decisions Podcast
Learn more about the Mere Exposure Effect and how brands can use it on episode 24 of the Bad Decisions Podcast.

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Want more?
Check out Dan’s short write up in CEO Magazine on why Zoom won’t kill business travel.

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