How C2 Came Unglued

In the inaugural issue of BevNET IBQ, we’ve done a lot of talking about innovation – who the great innovators are, what products are making a difference, and the trends that are paving the way for the future of the industry.

But this column won’t be about any of those things. This column is about the losers.

That’s because, in this industry, there are lots of concepts and products that never make it. Certainly, some of them were just bad ideas. Others, however, might have been truly innovative, but were either ahead of their time or failed in their execution.

In the spirit of helping current and future beverage developers and marketers avoid similar mistakes, we’re going to provide this column as a place to debrief ideas that might have had some effervescence at the start, but ended up going flat.

For our first autopsy, we’re going to look at a product that’s only recently dead…although it arrived on the market barely breathing: C2.

This Coke product, which was launched in the U.S. in June of 2004, had a rocky life before ending up in the recycling bin earlier this year. The product was intended to offer the flavor of Coca-Cola Classic with half the sugar, carbohydrates, and calories, but it was never more than a blip on the CSD radar. What can we learn from a corpse study – I mean, case study – of C2?

Lesson 1: Excite someone with your brand When Coke created the brand C2, they were trying to create something that was hip and fun. The C2 logo was modern, simple, and clean. However, Coke didn’t also want to take advantage of the iconic Coca-Cola logo, so they rolled it all together and tried to create something that had the best of both worlds. The result was an awkward looking design that had lost its modern edge. Although it didn’t offend anyone, it didn’t have any specific appeal, either. Contrast that with another “2” brand, Crate & Barrel’s “CB2” – where a modern acronym met modern design, while distancing itself from it’s parent company’s style a bit. The point is that it’s better to have focus than to try to make a product for everyone. Just be sure that the target consumer represents a meaningful segment of the market.

Lesson 2: Purpose should be obvious Aside from being a cola, there was nothing obvious about what was inside a can of C2. What does it taste like? What does it do? Why should I drink this over regular (or Diet) Coke? C2 didn’t answer any of these questions, instead relying on intrigue to drive the consumer’s purchase decision. While intrigue might work for Coke for a short while, it isn’t a long term strategy – in fact, it’s over once someone opens a can and finds that, well, C2 is a cola that’s not quite diet, not quite Coke. Consumers want to be excited about the benefit a beverage has, even if it’s just refreshment. Save the cliffhanger for the movies. The lesson is that the function of the product should be simple, and appeal to a basic need that a consumer is likely to have. Even calling it “Reduced Calorie Coke” might have given it a more tenable hold in the marketplace.

Lesson 3: Choices are good, to a point Consumers like choices, but not when they overlap. Even over the course of C2’s short, unlamented life, Coke introduced a dizzying array of diet products: Diet Coke with Lime, Diet Coke with Lemon, Diet Cherry Coke, Diet Vanilla Coke and Caffeine Free Diet Coke. Before C2 was finally pulled, Coke also introduced Diet Coke with Splenda and Coke Zero. A consumer can’t possibly invest the time to sort through all of these diet options. A brand like C2,which certainly needed more attention and explanation than something like Caffeine Free Diet Coke, quickly got lost in the shuffle. The lesson here is that a new product introduction needs to stand for something meaningful amongst its fellow products, or else it isn’t going to have legs.

Lesson 4: Food trends aren’t always winners Coke was undoubtedly hoping to take advantage of the low-carb trend that was sweeping the nation back in 2004. That angle worked in some beverage categories (e.g. Bud Select, mid-cal energy drinks), but not in the cola category. Zero calorie was already a mainstay of the category, unlike, say, zero-calorie/zero-carb cookies – so C2 was as much of a retreat for a dedicated low-carb dieter as it was a potential healthy step for a big Coke Classic consumer. Second, advances in sweetener technologies had already greatly improved the taste of zero calorie products by the introduction of C2, making the need for a reduced carb product pretty well obsolete. Was it a case of one department not knowing what the other was doing? Was it a case of gambling on a bunch of products, hoping one of them would catch fire? We don’t know. What we do know, however, is that fad diets die. And sometimes, they take millions of dollars in R and D and marketing with them. Just ask Coke.

Got a favorite DOA product you want us to look at? Just email. We’ll be here, in the morgue, looking at the remains.