Why Diet Coke is so wrong to ditch the hunk

Matthew Charlton is the CEO of Brothers and Sisters. He was a founder of BETC London, has run agencies in London, Amsterdam and the US and has worked on brands including Johnnie Walker, PlayStation and Sony Ericsson.

Farewell (again) the Diet Coke hunk

The last Diet Coke ad, 'The Gardner', was the most popular piece of advertising that Diet Coke had produced for 20 years. I know that because I spent a great deal of time persuading Coke to do it and enjoyed its success.

It took a long time because of course it needed to be handled very carefully. Nick Robinson, the guy who ultimately bought it, deserves big respect. Now, a new campaign has been produced and the dear old hunk has been sent back to the historic vaults of advertising once more. I for one am really sad to see it go again because it’s perfect for the modern world where brands meet entertainment and actually something that I believe most modern brands should be striving to build, not kill.

Apparently the hunk does not represent the values of modern confident women. But this was also the fear in 2013 and with some skill it was flipped around. The women were 100 per cent in control of the narrative. And nearly all of the "confident modern women" I have met since its launch who love Diet Coke also enjoy the ad.

So not withstanding whether one likes or doesn't like the new ad – which absolutely is not my point – I think it’s a big shame that one of the most famous global advertising ideas ever created and a genuine creative franchise has again been thrown away just at a time when it would be more valuable than ever.

The truth is that ideas wear in with consumers, not out, and advertising has a terrible habit of ditching things just as consumers have got into them. This year, for the first time, all of the likely top-rated box office movies are sequels in famous franchises. If you like the original you want to see the next instalment. The identity of the new hunk and extending the story would, in my view, have been a box office smash.

Sure, the original Diet Coke ad was written 30 years ago by Lee Garfinkel, but that advert created a franchisable entertainment property that, updated 30 years on, is still a huge crowd puller for the audience. How many brands on the planet can claim to have one of these? And the value is enormous.

I expect that many of the facts that ultimately tipped the balance into making the decision to bring back the hunk in 2013 are still true. Diet Coke’s audience had felt increasing remote from what they loved about the brand – it is an everyday pick-me-up full of caffeine and bubbles – and as a result the focus was increasingly on what it was made of and why it was potentially bad for you. The sales had declined and as a result the media budget had declined a lot. The best way to solve all these issues was to bring back the only idea that was much much bigger than just an ad campaign.

When The Gardener was launched it was a PR and social media tidal wave with publications all over the world clamouring to interview the new hunk, Andrew Cooper. It ran on the Oscars (the first non-US made Coke ad ever do this I was told), the social feeds switched to 99% per cent positive sentiment and the whole Coke organisation got behind the brand again. I meet people two years on all over the place who remember and enjoyed the ad and it did a decent job in dealing with the declining sales issue.

So it’s gone now and time will tell if consumers want it back. They are all nice people at Diet Coke so I am sure they have thought about it. But my view? What I believe is that a brand that has a popular global entertainment franchise is very very Lucky Vanous.

Matthew Charlton is the CEO of Brothers and Sisters

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