Diet Coke is pulling their latest ad campaign just three months after introducing it in North America. The ad: “You’re on. Diet Coke.” The way it’s easy to read the ad: “You’re on Coke.” Oops!
— ▼ I C T O R I ▲ (@witchoria) February 19, 2014
Some of the print ads looked okay, actually, because the layout is different: A little pep talk (“You’ve got an 8 AM interview, a perfect black suit, and three letters in your future: CEO”) followed by the Diet Coke logo with the “You’re On.” at the very bottom of the page. In advertising, as in so many things, it’s really all about structure. But even the print ads, it turns out, are not spoof-proof. Jokes about the ad are all over Twitter, too: “You’ve been riding the C back and forth for 7 hours. You’re on Coke.”
In the official commercials, a series of people, including spokesperson Taylor Swift, are about to embark on a stressful activity—an audition, a class presentation, a toast at a wedding—and take a sip of Diet Coke to get their heads in the game. This is cute, if not exactly realistic (pretty sure I know what people throw back right before giving wedding toasts, and it’s not Diet Coke) and is also ripe for a comedic take. The most popular parody of the video, in which people prep for those “you’re on” moments by snorting a line of cocaine, is short but stellar:
A couple of months ago, Diet Coke issued a statement posted by AdWeek clarifying that “Diet Coke in no way endorses or supports the use of any illegal substance.” Somehow this did not do much to stem the tide of mockery, and the ads were pulled on Wednesday. The New York Times spoke to Stuart Kronauge, general manager for sparkling beverages at Coca-Cola North America (No wonder Taylor Swift is a spokesperson for the brand; that girl cannot resist a place with a sparkle manager). Kronauge said that “It’s not at all that ‘You’re On’ failed” and the only reason the ad campaign suddenly changed was because Diet Coke wanted “a different way to talk about the brand.” Sure. Kronauge also wasn’t having any of this “what about the cocaine thing?” question: “Iconic brands always create a conversation.”
So kids and Coke (or coke) lovers, what have we learned from this? No ad is safe from human nature. No ad is safe from the internet. Advertising is supposed to have power over consumers: effective ads try to change how we think and feel, not just about a product, but about ourselves. And as much as these companies talk about wanting to engage us in “a conversation,” they don’t really mean a conversation so much as a “we say things and you nod and go ‘wow, you’re right, I’ve never thought of it that way before!’-versation” Because as soon as people start to chime in, someone might have something sharp enough to say that it cuts down the whole campaign. Dove probably wanted us to “engage” with their Real Beauty ads, but not by making these parody videos that call out the bogus premise upon which their campaign was built.
The folks at Coke might also not be too thrilled about the parodies because they hit just a little too close to home. Diet Coke isn’t cocaine, but it’s not, you know, a kale smoothie of healthy, vitamin-filled goodness either. It’s carbonated, caffeinated aspartame. There is this addictive quality to Diet Coke, and that’s probably one of the underlying reasons why the connotation with drugs makes Coca-Cola so uncomfortable. It’s really not the kind of thing you should be chugging before that big job interview, and it’s highly unlikely Taylor Swift thinks a swig of Diet Coke coating her vocal cords is what she needs before going on stage.
Then again, maybe this is secretly what Diet Coke had in mind all along. The agency behind the advertisement, Droga5, have gone the tongue-in-cheek route before; they’re the people who brought you the Super Bowl spot for Newcastle Brown Ale that “almost starred Anna Kendrick.” (And as AdWeek points out, “Drogas” is Spanish for drugs.) Bet they’d rather all of us be laughing at Coke than thinking about Pepsi.