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Lessons in Branding: The Importance of Design to Your Brand

(Although this is old news, I felt it such an important lesson that I needed to share my own thoughts on it.)

This past Christmas, Coca-Cola® released their annual Christmas themed can. As usual, it incorporated images of polar bears, as this is part of their holiday branding: polar bears enjoying a cold, crisp Coca-Cola in sub-zero temperatures (who wouldn’t like that?).

This year though, they upped their game. Coca-Cola teamed up with the World Wildlife Fund to call attention to the polar bears’ plight by promoting the Arctic Home project. A noble effort, and one that should be applauded. Unfortunately, it completely back-fired.

While trying to raise awareness, Coca-Cola made a huge mistake. They removed the iconic red from their normal Coke packaging and replaced it with white and silver. What’s the problem with that you may ask? They wanted a big impact, right? You’re correct. And the new cans did make a big impact. A little too big.

Holiday Coke cans— Coca-Cola and Diet Coke. The designs on these cans are so similar that they caused serious brand confusion among consumers.

Holiday Coke cans— Coca-Cola and Diet Coke. The designs on these cans are so similar that they caused serious brand confusion among consumers.

You see, Diet Coke’s normal color palette is white and silver. So when regular Coke used the same color palette, guess what happened? Complete and total brand confusion. Coke’s customers thought regular Coke was actually Diet Coke. Some even claimed the regular Coke in the new packaging tasted like Diet Coke.
I can remember my wife bringing home a case of Coke in this new packaging. She opened it, and exclaimed, “Oh, no! They put all Diet Coke in this case!” It took a few minutes for us both to realize that it was in fact regular Coke, with completely different colors. Both of us agreed that this was a huge mistake on Coca-Cola’s part.

We were right. Within a few weeks, Coca-Cola had pulled the redesigned cans and replaced them with ones that included red. See them both below:

The original holiday Coca-Cola can design and the revised can design.

The original holiday Coca-Cola can design and the revised can design.

So, what’s the lesson here?

Never underestimate the power of visual design on your brand.

Colors, fonts, forms, and shapes—all of these elements make up the visual design of your brand. Consistently using these elements is paramount in building and maintaining a healthy brand.

Of course, branding also includes words, phrases, images, etc. — even sounds and scents can be a part of a brand. Ultimately, your brand is the emotional and psychological relationship you have with your customers. It’s the feeling that your customers get when they see or think about your product or company.

But, as Coca-Cola so clearly demonstrated this past Christmas, without consistent visual design to back up your brand, you’re skating on thin ice.

At Cygnet Midwest, we always remember the importance of design in our client’s branding. Have a question about the health of your company’s or products brand or want a free brand consultation? Contact us today!

Special thanks to Peter Erickson at C2 Creative Consulting for inspiration on this post.