Can’t beat the ‘Real Thing’? Coca-Cola isn’t so sure anymore

Company will use English Premier League sponsorship to promote no-sugar drinks

In the era of sugar taxes, the weight of Coke’s marketing spend is set to shift further away from the classic variant. Photograph: Remy Gabalda/AFP/Getty Images

In the era of sugar taxes, the weight of Coke’s marketing spend is set to shift further away from the classic variant. Photograph: Remy Gabalda/AFP/Getty Images

 

How the fashions change. There was a time, not so long ago, when it would have been unthinkable for Coca-Cola to shell out for a soccer sponsorship in the hope that this would “raise awareness” of sugar-free drinks.

Coke’s British and Irish subsidiary’s new partnership with the English Premier League, which begins next January in a newly announced 3½-year deal, will do just that.

Alongside the familiar red of “classic” Coke, football fans can expect to see promotions for the brands Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, Diet Coke and Fanta Zero as well as marketing for lesser-known brands in the Coke basket such as Glacéau Smartwater, fruit drinks brand Oasis and the globally popular iced tea drink Fuze Tea.

Three years after Coca-Cola Zero Sugar was the “hero” product in Coke’s sponsorship of the Rugby World Cup – the first time the company led a sports deal with a no-sugar drink – the pattern is clear. Coke in 2018 wants consumers to know that it is more than just Coke.

The original drink may still be the portfolio leader in Britain and Ireland, general manager Jon Woods indicated recently, but if its light variants Diet Coke and Coca-Cola Zero Sugar (originally known as Coke Zero) are combined, they outsell Coke 60:40.

Now, in the era of sugar taxes, the weight of Coke’s marketing spend is set to shift further away from the classic variant, while non-carbonated beverages are being given much more than cursory attention. Coca-Cola, under the reign of chief executive James Quincey, is chasing after growth markets like a Premier League full-back hunting down a striker in their box.

So, Watford versus Crystal Palace, in association with Diet Coke? Well, that’s maybe not quite how this partnership will work. But with each passing season, it looks increasingly like other brands can beat “the real thing”. All Coke needs to do is own those other brands too.