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Do Better Diet Coke

It’s 2018 and I’m sitting starring at a re-run of something on Dave although I’m not taking any of it in. Mouth open, brow furrowed. I can’t shake an uncomfortable, uneasy feeling. My head is a mixture of annoyance and bafflement. I rush to the mirror to check I haven’t aged before my time; maybe this is it, I think. Maybe this is the moment I officially lose touch; I had after all just turned 30.


In a way it was all very comforting, in another it was all very disturbing. After two years I’m finally ready to talk about it, actually I need to talk about it, it’s part of my process. These are my thoughts on the Diet Coke ‘Because You Can’ Campaign.


Purpose. Authenticity. Inclusivity. Diversity. Those were the words on everyone’s lips in 2018. The woke and wellbeing bandwagon was truly rolling and brands were piling on. Diet Coke had been struggling with how to target Gen Z and saw an opportunity.


The ad started innocently enough; a girl reaching for a Diet Coke…then she starts talking, the music starts playing and it all goes to shit.


The opening lines ‘Look, here’s the thing about Diet Coke; it’s delicious and it makes me feel good’ set the condescending, patronising tone of the advert. Before you have time to properly think about it you’re flooded with thoughts about what the hell kind of shop this is. Wait, did she just pay in exact change without any kind of interaction with the person on the checkout?


Then the real fun begins. Outside, we’re greeted with some kind of corporate Wes Anderson style world. Then. THEN. Inexplicably the following lines are uttered “Athleisure because it’s comfy casual” which doesn’t really make any fucking sense but again before you can properly process that, you are hit by the worst part: “Look (stop telling to me to fucking look)…life is short. If you wanna live in a yurt. Yurt it up”


That is main problem with this advert. Someone somewhere figured random and quirky is cool, the problem is when you try to be random and quirky it quickly becomes very uncool. After we’re told running a marathon sounds “super hard” we’re enlightened with the fact that if we want a Diet Coke, to have a Diet Coke. A line that is so baffling it had me questioning if I simply hadn’t got the whole thing.


Was it a generational thing; was this actually on point for Gen Z? Maybe it was an intelligence thing; perhaps it was all just a bit too clever for me. I rushed to the internet for help and was relieved to find hoards of people in the same baffled and annoyed state.


The thing is, I can see how this happened. It’s not like Pepsi’s disastrous, obviously flawed Pepsi “Jump In” TV spot. This advert in concepts, pitches, meetings etc. probably sounded pretty good and ticked a lot of boxes. But when it came down to the execution it felt exactly like what it was: a massive multinational corporation trying to pass themselves off as alternative. Someone somewhere had said this sort of thing is popular, lets be like that. It felt creepy like the opening sequence of a Black Mirror episode.


Coca-Cola has been struggling with the Diet Coke brand for a while. Numerous visual identities, a fluctuating positioning strategy and a range of tone of voices have meant a tough job for their ad agencies. But this advert felt particularly out of touch, it wasn’t just bad it was downright annoying. There’s even a worse ad than this that was part of the same campaign but I can only assume has been taken down due to such bad feedback.


If like me, you have repressed the memory of this ad, or if you’re lucky enough to have escaped it first time around then it is only fair to warn you to watch at your own risk.





Diet Coke is still trying to find its positioning and tone of voice, and it’s reassuring to know that one of the biggest marketing budgets in the world still gets it wrong. Brands need to understand that they can’t just force their way into trends, it needs to be authentic. Their latest ads have got even more desperate, simply putting pop culture phrases next to a Diet Coke can.


Holly Brackwell summed it up with her tweet at the time.

“Congratulations to Diet Coke for going on the internet for the first time ever this year” (@Holly)


Diet Coke need to go back to basics and create their own conversation rather than trying to attach themselves to something already going on. If they want to be purpose driven and tap into Gen Z then they need to find a cause and conversation that relates to their brand and use that as their platform. To finish off in true Diet Coke style I’ve selected a few popular GIFS from something called the internet that sum up the coke ad for those that couldn’t be bothered to read the above.

Written By:

Head of Digital @ Orb

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