“TaB Diet Soda: The customer lifeline”

(“TaB Diet Soda: The customer lifeline,” Advanced Brand Management, 2002 — by Paul Temporal)

TaB has a shrinking market share of less than 1% and yet it has been spared the axe by Coca-Cola. The brand, once so successful, now resides at the bottom of the category heap. It was launched in 1963, and immediately became the drink of the “free” generation, the “Beautiful Drink for Beautiful People.” But in 1982 Diet Coke was introduced to add more power to the Coke brand, and TaB began to go downhill. Basically, its demise has been determined by a cannibalization of sales by Diet Coke, and a simultaneous competitive attack from Diet Pepsi and other such carbonated drinks. The company made several attempts to revitalize TaB in the 1980s and 1990s, through various product changes (fro example, reducing the content of the carcinogen saccharin and increasing the amount of aspartame, adding calcium, and making a clear alternative), and even by repositioning TaB as the drink with “sass.” However, all these efforts have failed to revive the brand.

The big question is, why should a company renowned for managing successful brands hang on to one that is certainly underperforming and may even be almost dead? The answer appears to be the fear of adverse customer reaction and publicity. Possibly at the back of Coca-Cola’s mind is the terrible mistake they made in attempting to replace Coke with the new Coke in 1985. Customers around the world clamored for the old Coke, which had been positioned so strongly as “the real thing,” and the new Coke had to be withdrawn.

In this respect, regular TaB drinkers (although relatively few in number) have been very vocal about their brand, so much that they have been described as “TaBoholics.” Those who still drink it are very loyal, and have gone to extreme lengths to prove this. Even though few distributors now stock TaB, some customers have reportedly driven faw out of their way to find a store that sells it, and have complain vigorously to the Coca-Cola headquarters about the availability problem.

Herein lies another part of the answer to the question as to why the brand isn’t deleted. The Coca-Coal distribution system allows the bottlers some autonomy in production, and if they cannot make a profit from a brand they will tend not to produce it. With many bottlers now not producing the brand, the few that do are meeting markets needs, and Coca-Cola itself isn’t out of pocket. It stopped putting marketing resources behind TaB several years ago, but is content to receive a small profit from a select market.

But back to the consumer. What does Coca-Cola say about the TaB situation? Douglas Daft, chairman and chief executive, says it shows the company cares: “We want to make sure that those who want TaB get TaB.” Executives are now studying possible ways of selling TaB on the internet. So, it would appear that some companies, under certain conditions, will continue to support dying brands and not delete them–that is if the consumer shouts loudly enough.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. ILoveTaB.com has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is ilovetab.com endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

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