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The polar bear debate

Like many others, I was confused when Coca-Cola launched its flagship Coke product in a primarily white and silver polar bear can. To me, the beverage I call “Coke” comes in a can that is red.

Like many others, I was confused when Coca-Cola launched its flagship Coke product in a primarily white and silver polar bear can. To me, the beverage I call “Coke” comes in a can that is red. Period, end of story. Any can that’s silver or white, on the other hand, is one that has some kind of artificial sweetener in it, a flavor I can’t stand.

As you know if you’ve been following Coke’s tempest in a tin can, Coke switched back to its familiar red about a month after introducing its white polar bear can for the holidays. What you may not have noticed is how quickly the media on both the left and the right jumped on Coke’s polar bear initiative within days of the now-defunct can’s debut. While our more liberal friends at the Huffington Post applauded Coke’s contribution to the “save-the-polar bear” movement, Rush Limbaugh took the opposite stance. He opined that it was wholly inappropriate for Coke to put its weight behind such a movement because there’s no such thing as climate change in the first place and, consequently, the well-being of the polar bears is not threatened.

The folks who belong to the Packaging World LinkedIn Group also made some interesting observations on the polar bear can war. Ellery West, CEO of both Eco-Vision and Organic Essence, was first with this observation: “From Coke’s perspective, a $2-3mm donation is chump change. Getting so much PR mileage from such a tiny investment is the hallmark of a profitable consumer goods company.” The discussion took a more overtly politicaly tone when Lester Stephenson, a consultant with experience in workplace learning, wrote: “Not one polar bear will live longer because of this campaign. As usual, Rush is right.”

“Can we please keep the political b.s. out of LinkedIn pages dedicated to packaging?” wrote Brian Tomson, a supervisor in biotech manufacturing at Intercell USA. In response we heard from Ellery West again, who expressed his concern that packaging will only become increasingly political. He fears that a selective focus on statistics to convince the uninformed will turn the packaging community into a place of bitter partisanship where only part of the picture is focused on and promulgated. Packaging, he wrote, “is ripe to be ruined because it is in a disruptive transition state with ‘Sustainability’ as the buzzword. Consumer goods packaging is a $180Bn a year industry, which is more than enough money to catch political attention. When the partisans get involved it won’t matter if you wear a blue shirt that trees want to hug or a red shirt that stockholders want to hug; honest business people and the environment will lose.”

Eventually the discussion veered back in the direction of package design when Tina Chovanec, owner of Eat Cake Communications and offsite marketing director for CL&D Digital, submitted this comment: “While I agree that the silver polar bear can Coke has introduced can be easily confused with Diet Coke, this isn’t a permanent change. It’s temporary, and more important, it’s being implemented for a good cause. The fact that we’re talking about the can is exactly what this move has done from a public relations perspective! One thing’s for sure, I think we can all agree this isn’t going to hurt Coke to any dangerous extent, and any negative buzz will just reinforce that the brand should stick close to its signature RED can on a long-term basis.”

We close with this comment from Cherie Moore, CEO at Concepts4Today: “Oops! Just goes to show that any company can make a mistake. With the design in mind the Coke can could have easily stayed red, with the honorary polar bears in white just as on the can Coke is pulling off the shelves. That would’ve been great! I really liked that polar bear design. And they could have added a little bit of polar bear Publicity for their environmental charity cause and donation which is notable.”

By the way, if you want to join the more than 3,000 other packaging professionals who are participating in the discussions generated by the Packaging World LinkedIn Group, visit 

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