Prepared Foods August 23, 2005, enewsletter

What is Coke Zero lacking besides calories? Effective marketing and strong sales, says the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Two months after Coca-Cola launched Coke Zero with high hopes, the drink has failed to find a significant following, according to some industry watchers.

Part of the problem is that consumers do not know what the drink is.

To try to fix that, Coke is launching new commercials that explain Coke Zero has no calories.

Morgan Stanley analyst Bill Pecoriello put out a report that called initial sales "relatively weak." Pecoriello said part of the problem had been ads "which do not adequately communicate the benefits of the product."

Pecoriello cited scanner data showing that Coke Zero snagged just 0.8% of the carbonated soft drink market in supermarkets through July 10. Pecoriello does not expect that number, which has fallen short of his original projections, to improve significantly when the early August numbers are released.

Coke spokesman Scott Williamson, however, said the product "has met or exceeded" the company's expectations so far.

With a lot riding on Coke Zero, the company needs to devise new carbonated drinks that appeal to consumers who are increasingly abandoning sugary drinks. Diet soda, unlike regular soft drinks, is still a growing market segment.

With much fanfare last year, the company launched C2, a reduced-calorie drink that flopped.

Coke Zero was designed to taste more like regular Coke and appeal to consumers who are cutting back on regular soft drinks but do not like traditional diet drinks. Because the company was trying to stay away from diet marketing, it created commercials that did not mention the word diet or even calories.

The Coke Zero commercial is a remake of the company's popular 1971 ad "I'd like to buy the world a Coke," which was filmed on a hilltop. The remake features singer G. Love and the tagline "Everybody Chill."

The vague marketing, however, may have backfired.

Source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution