Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Coke and


Brand Winner…

And Loser…


Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week

Winner: Coke


Loser:  Oreo



Folks, sometimes a company needs to be the voice of reason when it comes to defending its brand.

This is what happened last week to Coca Cola after a New Zealand woman’s death was laid on its doorstep.

The woman died of a heart attack at 30 and the news story that flew around the world was that drinking Coke killed her.

Not a great headline especially when Coke has been battered through the years by the health brigade, implicating the soft drink in everything from stripping the paint off cars to obesity.

But Coke did the right thing, they defended themselves without sounding defensive.  You might not be able to retract the headline –and my guess is that “Coke killed a woman” is going to percolate down into urban myth– but you can inject some common sense.

Turns out the woman was drinking up to 2.6 gallons of Coke a day (not to mention smoking 30 cigarettes).  Coca Cola pointed out that drinking too much water is fatal and supported the coroner’s findings that that there were other factors too (like the woman not seeking proper medical attention long before the fatal heart attack).

Some brands are lightning rods for certain kinds of media attention.  Coke and McDonald’s will probably always battle health claims.  The key is knowing when to push back.

After all, many devoted Coke drinkers have lived to a ripe old age!


I’ve talked about the cross-border branding problem before, but this week Oreo’s botched breast feeding tie-in has underscored the issue like nothing before.

Basically, a concept for a South Korean ad that had a nursing baby holding an Oreo cookie seems to have gone viral.

Two issues: 1) what works for a brand in one country won’t in another.  In the past this wasn’t such a problem but with the Internet, an image or concept that’s shocking to another market will likely hit that market and the blowback can hurt the brand; 2) is this an Oreo viral campaign gone wrong?

Let’s tackle #1 first.  Folks, this one’s an obvious problem for brands with a complicated solution.  The problem is that multinational brands must play to different tastes to get pickup in different countries but sometimes doing this can really offend other consumers of the brand.  The solution is almost always going to be case-by-case and means brands need to tread even more carefully, knowing that a single mis-fire in one country can stain the brand worldwide.  One rule of thumb is this: stick to the core message of the brand and the key benefits delivered and you probably can’t go too wrong.

#2 is something we don’t know about.  The question is how did this supposeduly preliminary concept get out?  If it was leaked as part of a viral campaign, you have to ask yourself why the lunatics are running the asylum.  After all, in the key market, the US, combining Oreos with breast feeding is obviously totally wrong headed.  Yes, there is such a thing as bad publicity –this is it. 

The lesson, if this is viral, is for Oreo to immediately institute a much tighter approvals process.  It might seem too cautious and boring, but preserving a brand’s value demands keeping the creatives in line!

Startups can shock.  Mature brands need to avoid shock at all costs.

And remember, it’s always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind.


TODAY’S TANTILLO TAKEAWAY: Mature brands can’t afford shock.








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