Is This The End of Our Hero, Coke Zero, Part III: The Final Zeronation
News arrives to me today that the Coca-Cola company is yet again tweaking both the formula and look of Coke Zero (more formally known as Coke Zero Sugar, but literally no one outside Coke’s marketing department calls it that). This is the second time Coke has tweaked the Zero formula, the first time being in 2017. Coke Zero fundamentally differs from Diet Coke, Coke’s other zero-calorie cola, in that it is based on the “classic Coke” taste profile, whereas Diet Coke was a new flavor profile at the time of its release (and indeed was the basis for the infamous New Coke). Coke Zero also differs from Diet Coke in that it’s traditionally been marked more toward men than women, hence the lack of the word “diet” anywhere on the labeling, because as we all know men don’t go on diets, that would make them look weak in front of all the other men, who would fall on them and tear out their viscera or something sad like that. The new taste and look are apparently debuting in Manhattan tonight (it’s “Manhattanhenge“) and then will start appearing in US stores this month.
As with last time the formula was tweaked, people are wondering what I, who basically lives on Coke Zero (not because I have fragile masculinity I SWEAR but because I prefer the taste to Diet Coke), thinks of the plan to fiddle with the taste profile. My response is basically the same as last time: If it ends up tasting more like regular Coke, great, because that’s what I want; if it goes horribly wrong and I hate it, well, then, it’s a very fine time for me to give up my cola addiction, which as a 52-year-old man is probably doing neither my pancreas or my kidneys any favors. That said, the last time Coke tweaked the Zero formula, I was perfectly fine with it; it was only subtly different. I imagine they’re not going to mess with it too much this time around either. I suspect I will be perfectly fine with it again. I will let you know what I think when I get the new stuff.
What I actually find more interesting is the new look, which has totally gone over to a red can after a decade at least of black being the primary color profile for the brand. This suggests to me two things — one, Coke is going to start trending away from making Coke Zero their “dude” zero-calorie beverage and open up the marketing to a wider audience of consumers, and two, Coke also realizes sugared sodas are a consumer sector that is likely in a permanent state of decline, both as consumer tastes change and as governments start taxing sugared sodas as the empty-calorie-laden candy water health hazards they are. Every marketing tweak brings Coke Zero that much closer to just being “Coke.” Diet Coke can’t do it — after nearly forty years its own brand is too strong — but Coke Zero can do it just fine. It was meant to be just like Coke from the beginning.
In a larger sense, I am struck with the recent ascendance of the “Zero Sugar” labeling in the sodasphere. It’s not just Coke who uses it: Dr. Pepper now has “Zero Sugar” lines, as does Pepsi, and other smaller soda companies as well. The era of “diet” sodas appears to be ending, again, because the soda companies don’t want to associate lack of sugar in their soda with commentary about losing weight or getting healthy. This is honestly just as well, since at this point it appears deeply questionable whether drinking unsugared sodas is either healthy, or helps with managing weight. And, again, fragile masculinity doesn’t “diet.” So, fine: “Zero Sugar” it is.
So, yes: Behold the New New Coke Zero (Sugar), also possibly the soon-to-be-new-old-Coke (but not, to be very clear, the new-old-New-Coke). I will almost certainly drink it! And it will probably be just fine.