Five years ago, Koert Van Mensvoort at the Next Nature Network, envisioned a fake product called Organic Coke to spark discussion of how corporations use natural imagery or biomimic marketing and greenwashing to sell products. Now, it turns out, Coca-Cola has actually done it, launching a "natural" Coke called Coca-Cola Life in Argentina.
Like the so-called "Mexican Coke" that comes in glass bottles and contains real sugar, instead of high-fructose corn syrup, Coca-Cola Life is being marketed as a healthier substitute with more eco-friendly packaging.
‘Coca-Cola Life’ is said to be an all-natural, low-calorie soda packaged in a fully-recyclable plant-based bottle. The drink is made with a mixture of sugar and stevia-based substitute, and contains two times less the calories than regular Coke. The all organic sugar drink is launched in Argentina, with total world domination soon to follow. The website is a schoolbook parody of biomimic marketing, except that it is not a parody.
In addition to the type of sweeteners and bottle material, the marketing imagery for Coca-Cola Life also comes equipped with all the requisite accoutrements of a "green" or greenwashed product. From the earth-tone colors of the logo and consistent use of green, outdoor settings, it is clear Coca-Cola is trying to show this product as having a closer connection with nature and the environment.
Even the wooden "antique" bottle cases harken back to an earlier, healthier era for the soda industry (at least, healthier in the sense that it was before the high-fructose corn syrup era). Riffing on Michael Pollan's mantra to "Only eat food your grandmother would recognize as food," Van Mensvoort jokes, "Drink Coke only from crates that your grandmother would recognize as crates."
As silly and inconsequential as these branding choices may seem, they are not accidental and are clearly chosen to give this product an impression and narrative different from their other brands. Will it work? With the amount of money that goes into marketing at this level, I'm not sure how it won't take off.
There are myriad health reasons to not drink beverages that contain a lot of sugar, so I won't spend time talking about that, but I do want to say that in a way, products like this are a sign that the movement to a healthier society and more sustainable economy is making progress. If the voices calling for change weren't being heard, nothing would change. As annoying as it can be to some to see the imagery of "green living" co-opted by a major brand, another way of looking at this is that when a corporation as large as Coca-Cola feels the consumer pressure and sees the business opportunity, in creating greener plastics, less caloric and less sugary drinks and wants to be seen as closer to nature, that means that the pressure placed on these companies is working.
UPDATE: Two more points on the bottles. It is nice that companies are using plant-based plastics and trying to reduce their impact there, but as Lloyd points out in this great post on bottled versus canned beer, too often we're given a false choice.
Plant-based plastics may be an incremental improvement, but there was a time when Coca-Cola and other soda companies would sell the beverage in a glass bottle and you would return the bottle for them to be washed and refilled. If Coca-Cola wanted to truly change the soda business landscape to be more green, that would be a major way to do it. Unfortunately, as Lloyd mentions in his post on beer, the scale of distribution makes this harder since we've come so far down this road of disposable containers.
And lastly, products like SodaStream offer an even better alternative for bubbly drinks without as much wasteful packaging.