Was Coca Cola in white can a good Sustainable Marketing strategy?

Coca Cola’s White can

Before we dig into it, let’s first understand what Sustainable Marketing is. I have another post specifically answering this question (What Green Marketing will achieve that Traditional Marketing won’t?)

But for the purpose of this post, very briefly,

Sustainable Marketing is an extension of traditional marketing, in that, it goes beyond customer delight and firm’s bottom line goals – it also considers the ecosystems compatibility within its operating framework.

In short, it increases the decision making boundaries to encompass the entire product’s life cycle – both before and after the product is made and consumed

Why Coca Cola’s white can was a bad Green Marketing strategy?

Coca Cola’s “white can” in collaboration with WWF is a classic case in point which was also tied to the donations for the protection towards polar bears. Coke was to give out $2 million to the WWF’s polar bear conservation efforts up front and another $1 million in the form of matching donations from individuals.

On the surface, it looked a sure success. But it failed! Why?

It was viewed as a potential green wash by the loyalists. In an effort to green-up its image, Coca Cola hurt the real eco-conscious customers (who demand green products, are well informed, educated, & have surplus income) as these consumers are among the toughest audiences and can sense any fake claims – and sensed they did!

Also read Is Sustainable Marketing realistic?

Sometimes also referred to as Green marketing or Eco-marketing, companies in an effort to portray their green and environmentally image, include green marketing strategies into their marketing mix. To successfully deliver sustainable marketing, companies pass their product through the environmental impact that the product might be having. Only when it clears in this area, can sustainable marketing be effective in its goals.

But Coca Cola sold exactly the same product. It sold “old wine in a new bottle” and hoped it to work. Now, here is what Green Marketing is not:

The aim of sustainable marketing is not to lure consumers into buying green

Rather it practically presents the information that the product’s life cycle has impacted on the environment and then leaves it on the consumers to make the choice.

Marketing has always been about creating consumers – not forcing them into consumers. Once consumers get the sense that they are being forced into using a certain product, it just might back fire – as it did for the “white can”.

The minuses

But the potential disadvantage of sustainable marketing strategies is that if it doesn’t have any commercial feasibility or a handsome return on investment (ROI), it will be dropped. Since the process of developing a comprehensive sustainable marketing campaign covers the full-costing of the product, it is time and resource consuming – so if the payback is not quick enough, it may fail.

The pluses

But Sustainable Marketing techniques do help reduce a company’s carbon footprint, help develop an effective sustainability and CSR strategy and convince more people about the company’s intentions to serve the consumer by having minimum environmental burden as possible.

Culture is RED

Joan Rooks, founder of SOAP group, in the Environmentaleader website (www.environmentaleader.com), states, “thus far, green marketing has been about mechanics – about engineering bad out. But we are now ready to come at it from a new angle – cultural”.

And that is where Coke’s white can missed the mark – The culture is Red not White!

Coca Cola has smart and sustainable strategies in place – even while promoting sugared water it manages to successfuly deliver its bottomline goals through Sustainable Marketing.

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7 thoughts on “Was Coca Cola in white can a good Sustainable Marketing strategy?

  1. Thanks for mentioning green washing! That’s definitely something consumers should be aware of when buying products as it doesn’t do any good to buy something marketed as green if it doesn’t have any beneficial implications for the environment! Great post, look forward to reading more!

  2. Thanks for your comment! Yes many companies engage in green wash unknowingly…but the big ones have the resources to thoroughly investigate the life cycycle of the product- no excuse for them.

  3. Epic fail of Coca Cola
    There was only one problem – these white cans were too similar to the silver Diet Coke cans and it got too many consumers confused and angry. Many of them tweeted or emailed their complaints to the company. The result – the white cans are history and the red cans are back in.

    This is another story of good intentions gone wrong, and there are some valuable lessons to be learned. Some are commonsense – such as not to mess with the brand – but some are green marketing-related, reminding us again that even large companies should go over basic marketing rules before they give a green light for such campaigns.


  4. Very true Sander! We don’t know how well intentioned goals of donating millions of dollars were finally met, but the white can backfired – viewed as potential greenwash, eventhough it wasn’t.
    Some good lessons for marketers here.

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