Has Coca-Cola failed at being the new Disney?

There’s no denying that Coca-Cola is iconic. From the logo to the bottle to the ‘Holidays Are Coming’ advertising, it has ingratiated itself into American and world culture. But, would you want to wear it?

Coco-Cola, the $40 billion business has seen revenues stay pretty much static over the last decade and its diversification into other food and beverage areas – Costa Coffee, Innocent, Smartwater – is well documented.

Clearly eyeing the potential of collaborations, and wondering why Coke has sat back and watched as the world has been inundated with numerous fashion collections from other iconic American brands such as Disney, Barbie or KFC, somebody at Atlanta HQ had the unenviable task of making Coke the new Disney. (Indeed Coca-Cola and Disneyland Paris collaborated on a limited edition collection earlier this year, see main image).

In April, this year, a flagship store, the first of its kind in Europe, was opened in Covent Garden hoping to provide consumers with a ‘Real Magic’ retail experience. Shoppers had the opportunity to buy Coca-Cola limited-edition apparel collections, exclusive designer collaborations, and sample unique Coca-Cola serves at the ‘Beverage Bar’.

The Coca‑Cola store’s exclusive clothing collections included a range of sportswear and workwear as well as a sustainable apparel and accessories collection made from recycled plastic. Fashion collabs. included Soho Grit, Alma de Ace, BAPE, Herschel, Staple and [email protected]

At the time, Michelle Moorehead, Vice President of Licensing and Retail, The Coca‑Cola Company said: “We have opened the doors in London to our first new concept store in Europe. This store is a chance for us to provide Coca‑Cola fans with a premium array of fashion and collectibles, and fresh ways to experience our drinks.”

It was announced in October 2022 that the store would close in December 2022, just over 8 months since it opened. On a positive, new Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak told two school pupils in March 2021 that he “collects Coca-Cola things”. They will need younger generations to be more engaged.


The Coca-Cola London store is to close next month

The brand still has Coca-Cola stores in Atlanta, Orlando and Las Vegas.

What went wrong and can this sugary American giant still succeed in the fashion arena?

Brand and culture expert, Nick Ede, says, “Coke is an iconic brand with a history of being more than just a beverage. The logo has been seen on many occasions in film and TV and going into fashion and merch is a natural progression for them. Not only does  it solidify the brand identity it also makes younger generations  buy into the brand even if they don’t consume the actual product,” he says.

“A brand like coke can’t just rest on their heritage, they need to engage new audiences and like M&Ms and Lego there are really strong ways of expanding the brand, but keeping the identity intact,” says Ede. “Gen Z are much more conscious of the health side of drinking and that Coke has zero benefits to your health, so for the brand to keep in touch with its audience and engage they have to look at ways of cleverly driving interest,” he says.

Ede believes that a Coke shop in London is a tourist destination, but with footfall being at its lowest post-pandemic a dedicated store just isn’t sustainable.  Coke needs to create demand in a retail space and currently it doesn’t have the product to justify this. “It’s a strong brand, but not in the merch space, there is only so much you can do with an iconic logo.” he says.

Ede believes Disney’s strength is in the characters and a roll out, annually, of new ones to meet demand with toys, apparel and then rides at theme parks.

“I don’t think (Coke) will be the new Disney, but I do think that they will look to create more interesting immersive experiences to engage a new audience,” he says.

“They need to look at how they can create characters or maximise on iconic things like their Christmas advert. They say, Santa in the form we see him today, was created by Coca-Cola so that is where I would start and create a world, whether that’s a pop up experience that is powered by the association between Santa and Coca-Cola and how holidays are coming.” he says.

There is a line between fashion and merch. It does blur, but it’s usually on the say-so or of a respected fashion name or brand.

Kate Moss for Diet Coke

Kate Moss for Diet Coke

Diet Coke has more success in fashion and has become associated with fashion figures such as Jean Paul Gautier and Karl Lagerfeld who once famously said “I drink Diet Coke from the minute I get up to the minute I go to bed. I can even drink it in the middle of the night and I can sleep. I don’t drink coffee, I don’t drink tea, I drink nothing else.”

The brand recently appointed Kate Moss as its new Creative Director and released a ‘Love What You Love’ Kate Moss campaign, partnering with London Fashion Week.

The main Coca-Cola brand could be better off trying to emulate Hard Rock if the aim is to be a tourist brand, starting with fun, family-friendly cafés and restaurants, rather than retail and having the logo-ed merchandise as an add on. The huge, new Brewdog at Waterloo has a complementary section selling branded T-shirts and hoodies.

Coca-Cola famously turned Father Christmas from wearing green to red to suit their advertising, so seasonal grottos would make perfect branding sense.

Coca-Cola is cool, but just not cool enough to wear right now. It has deep pockets so you do wonder why they are closing the store so quickly. Central London’s lower levels of visitors and footfall wouldn’t have helped, but they will bounce back particularly in the run-up to Christmas.

Coke will need brands and designers to want to work with them naturally and not just for the royalties or pay cheque. They will also need to be less protective of any icons it has and let people play and have fun with them. If Balenciaga can do £1,600 Lays crisps bags (although that brand has its own challenges beyond making crisp packets attractive) then an iconic Coke “hobbleskirt” shouldn’t be too far behind.

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