It's never a good idea to have a drug reference in an advertising campaign, especially if you're one of America's biggest marketers and your product actually once included cocaine.
That's the lesson learned by Coca-Cola, which is dropping Diet Coke's new "You're on" campaign after it was mocked on social media. Ad industry trade publication AdWeek even asked, "What has Diet Coke been snorting?"
While the tagline may seem innocuous, the problem is that the phrase and logo are positioned in such a way that it appears to read, "You're on Coke." It's not likely that the reference was intentional, especially given its initial 19th century formulation, which included coca leaves and trace amounts of cocaine. The flub is an embarrassment for the beverage maker, considered one of the country's savviest and biggest-spending marketers, as it seeks to reverse a slump in Diet Coke sales.
Coke didn't immediately return a request for comment from CBS MoneyWatch. The campaign will be replaced with an older tagline, "Just for the taste of it," which first appeared in 1983, The New York Times notes.
When critics first started pointing out the drug allusion in "You're on," the company said in a statement to AdWeek that the tagline was meant to celebrate "ambitious young achievers from all walks of life and reminds them that Diet Coke is there to support them in the moments when they are at their best." It added, "Diet Coke in no way endorses or supports the use of any illegal substance."
The ads meant to portray Diet Coke as an enlivening drink, one consumed by on-the-go professionals and artists, such as one bus-stop ad that read, "You've moved to New York with two turntables, a microphone and a really cool DJ name. You're on Diet Coke."
While the tagline at DietCoke.com had already been changed as of Wednesday morning to "Just for the Taste of it," the mockery lives on in social media, with people retweeting images of signs with the offending slogan, as well as jokes and satirical takes. (Gothamist has collected several of the jabs.)
Still, one Coca-Cola executive told The New York Times that the mockery was mostly within the advertising industry. "Iconic brands always create a conversation," Stuart Kronauge, general manager for sparkling beverages at Coca-Cola North America, told the publication. "We felt it was mostly limited to the marketing community."