Coke - A trademark used for a soft drink - a hugely popular soft drink - from a company known worldwide for being a dominant marketing force.
Mexican Coke is finding its way onto U.S. shelves and folks love it. Why? Word has it that it tastes better. It's made with sugar cane instead of high-fructose corn syrup. It feels better in the mouth. And the bottle is way retro, too; looks cooler, makes a statement, feels like home.
So, why is Coca-Cola trying to beat back a flood of not-so-illegal immigrants along the US border? Some reports say that they simply discourage the imports 1
while others say they have applied some manpower to policing the situation and thwarting the sale of Mexican Coke. Readers are simply left with the impression that they are flailing away in piñata-like strokes at one of their own products, Mexican-bottled Coke.
Mom Likes Me Better ...
Is it understandable that Coca-Cola would like to maintain the myth that all Coke, worldwide, tastes the same? 2 Is that part of selling the American lifestyle to folks who crave it? (“Dude, check me out. I am holding the very same drink that David Hasselhoff caresses in Baywatch.”) If consumers prefer to buy Mexican Coke why is the Coca-Cola Company favoring the American-bottled product? In a business that fights to the death to maintain a two-cent profit margin, is the willingness of consumers to pay up to 25 cents more per bottle for Mexican Coke a sign that can't be overlooked?
Let's face it. Some PR teams are charged with the task of minimizing the very actions of the company that employs them. Certainly, we can sympathize with the PR professionals at Coca-Cola who, in recent months, have been dealing with, among other things, their company's disdain for its own product from another region. Some reporters classify it as just plain bad corporate behavior and most readers won't grasp the complexity of sugar pricing and bottler franchising contracts that are behind the behavior. To the reader, it just seems wrong. Should we call Tony Soprano to clean this up now that Warren Buffett has left the Coca-Cola board of directors?
The Parent Gets Hurt Too
Is damage being done to the Coca-Cola Company's reputation? Yes, independent PR measurement shows that the topic is causing damage to Coca-Cola's reputation in the press - damage that could be avoided by capitalizing on consumer interest in the Mexican product rather than punishing their south-of-the-border bottlers. Press coverage about Coca-Cola's efforts to discourage the sale of Mexican bottled Coke has been featured in major publications (like the front page of the Wall Street Journal, 1/11/2006) and caused a 10% surge in negatively rated impressions in their press coverage in the last 3 months, not to mention considerable blog and chat room conversation online.
How Long Will It Take to Heal?
How long does bad behavior haunt a company in its press coverage? Coca-Cola should know the answer already. When it comes to a two word summation of bad ideas that are epic in scale and biblical in proportion -just soooo BAD - it is difficult to beat "New Coke." Well, every time the Coca-Cola company exhibits new bad behavior, they suffer another round of reminders of previous bad behavior from 21 years ago. Not a year has gone by where the media has not reminded us of the New Coke debacle from 1985.
It Could Be Worse...
Actually, being the mother of New Coke and persecuting Mexican versions of your own product is not the worst reputation-thrashing activity in the history of business. Arthur Andersen single-handedly changed the lexicon for an entire industry. Think about it. Big Five accounting firms? No more, it's now Big Four. Some things just aren't all that surprising when they happen ... and, in both nature and business, some animals eat their young.
1. Is Mexican Coke the real thing? By Louise Chu, ASSOCIATED PRESS
2. Coca-Cola: Preserving the myth of the real thing, by Michael Hampton, Homeland Stupidity/del.icio.us