Diet Woke or Nope?

July 12th, 2019

At Bozell, we pride ourselves on being an open environment that fosters ideas and varying points of view. The freedom from being judged for having a differing opinion is how we never settle and strive to generate the best work for our clients. Below is an example of how two Bozellers saw a campaign and had contrasting reactions.

Diet Woke by Bruce Hartford, Senior Art Director

If you want to chat about the effects and motivations of corporate social responsibility you may want to take some Dramamine first. On one end of the spectrum, you will see boardrooms full of people who misunderstand, misappropriate, get it wrong, and show up late. On the other end, you will see entire movements inspired by the culture that founded the business. Think Pepsi’s 2017 Super Bowl misfire vs. TOMS foundational social intrapreneurship.

This dichotomy should be expected. After all, we are seeing a philosophical confluence of people and motivations which are not always symmetrical. A business should exist to further enhance society. Its structure isn’t devoid of humanity – it’s built on it. I can’t make shoes, you can. You can’t make bread, I can. Let’s trade. Recently Diet Coke repurposed a 2015 Middle Eastern campaign stateside, just ahead of two socially contentious events designed for and by the LGBTQ civil rights communities; the Heritage Pride parade and the Reclaim Pride march. Movements that are identical in their inclusion efforts with one very salient difference—corporate involvement. Reclaim Pride wants nothing to do with companies that historically have missed the boat and muddied the message, versus Heritage Pride’s desire to leave absolutely no one out of the conversation. What do we do with Diet Coke’s effort in a cultural climate where the soapy residue of pinkwashing still has unpopped bubbles?

Well, it depends on your focus. Here’s what we can’t say: it’s none of their business. Diet Coke could very well be saying the wrong thing, to the wrong audience, at the weirdest time, but they do get a say. In fact, it may be their duty to have a voice. From a PR perspective, it’s scary. From a marketing perspective, it couldn’t be more elemental. Everything a company does should be an expression of their brand. Period. Diet Coke pushes a narrative that their thumbs are on the pulse of society, which means their voice has to be bold, take a stance, be nimble, and never silent. “Just for the taste of it” won’t cut it anymore. This “Because I Can” brand overhaul introduces a through-line that supports this overarching consciousness. There’s new flavors, a new package protocol, and an effort to utilize talent in broadcast that is “…a carefully curated cast of recognizable, up-and-coming actors […] who reflect the attitude we want Diet Coke to convey.”

You’ve heard the argument that with social media, advertising is no longer a monologue. It’s a dialogue. This means you can pivot your brand to the tides of the conversation. In fact, you might be obligated by your brand statement to do so. As any first-year marketing student or veteran brand ambassador will tell you, the only mortal sin you can commit w/r/t branding is to lie. You must be true to your company’s mission. You can mess up. Get it wrong. But if you lie, you will have abused the trust of your audience and this is almost impossible to recover from. Also, it’s just a morally shitty move.

But just because you see the shot, it doesn’t mean you have to pull the trigger, right? Diet Coke may bite it with this effort. Their timing is asking for trouble. But, their effort is a positive flex in potentially the right direction because it is based on the truth of who they are and who we should be. The intention should be celebrated and studied, not feared. Fear is how good things die. In a world where everyone has been handed a social media megaphone, it would be ridiculous to suggest silence – whether you are a multimillion-dollar company, or a couple of strangers trying to trade shoes for bread.

Keep in mind, however, I’m writing this as a blog piece for my company. I may just be dizzy.

Diet Nope by Robin Donovan, President

If I’ve got this right, you are going to remove the label on your Coke cans for events where the people attending would rather not be labeled? This is not going to help those people. And it will only confuse the issue.

Label is a word that has multiple meanings. One kind of label is something you attach to an object to give information about that object – that’s your kind of label. Another kind of label is to classify a phrase or name applied to a person or thing, especially one this is inaccurate or restrictive – that’s the kind that can be problematic – not your kind of label.

Here’s another question. A lot of people don’t like their teachers. Will you remove labels at all school-related events? Why not? Teachers can be a much-maligned group. If you’re not removing labels for teachers, where are you drawing the line?

I get that you’re planning on attending controversial events throughout the summer, ones where the attendees might be likely to take offense at their “labels.” But I still don’t see how taking a label off a can will help these people. Your gesture seems shallow and meaningless.

I can’t imagine anyone being offended or objectified by a label on a can. The only folks aggrieved by the Campbell’s Soup label are most likely the folks at Progressive Soup.

Even if you chose to make this gesture, I could appreciate the connection if it were on a larger scale with a more effective offering. It’s not as though money should be a problem. But on its own, or as just a “conversation starter” – no. In fact, I’m sure this gimmick will cost a pretty penny – and I’d rather see the money invested in something that goes beyond an empty gesture and into the realm of actually making a difference. If you wanted to “start a conversation,” couldn’t you have come up with something actually useful and far more profound and placed it where people aren’t already having the conversation? Something that in itself, could motivate change for good?

Your cans may not have a label, but I’m labeling this effort – lame.