Getting to Zero: Coca-Cola & AIDS

Getting to Zero: Coca-Cola & AIDS

As you probably know, Coca-Cola has a product named Zero that’s heavily promoted around the world.

‘Getting to Zero’ is the strategy made by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

The vision is: Zero new infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths.

In my mind, Coca-Cola scored a victory with this one.

Whether this decision was made with Coke in mind or not isn’t clear. But let’s remember, Coke is the world’s number one brand. It has deep pockets and its needs to activate and reactivate the brand are endless.

World AIDS Campaign Africa Director, Linda Mafu, says,

“The potential for creative, connected and meaningful campaigning is really exciting.”

This is why I think it’s a good fit.

Youth and Music

Coke’s target audience is young people.  It is a youth brand. Generations come and go, but Coke always targets young people.

Why not middle-aged drinkers or kids? It’s well known that if you can capture a market young, you stand a good chance of retaining that loyalty for a long time. A child consumer becomes an adult consumer. There’s no need to target the other generations. f you make it relevant for young people, it’s always relevant.

Coke has long used the power of music to add emotion to its brand.

They say that the music you love as a teenager stays with you as music you love for the rest of your life. Something to do with the body’s hormones and first sexual experiences that I won’t go into.

Here, Coke is inviting the world to share the “sound of an AIDS-free generation.”

By using music, Coke says it aims to target teenagers with this campaign. Music is powerful. Everyone would have felt music’s visceral ability to lift a heart, churn a gut, evoke a tear.

As such, the Coke AIDS campaign has used a William Orbit remix of Queen to seed the new vanguard.

Social Marketing

Coke is smartly tapping into all the emotion, struggle, celebrity and profile of this disease, in much the same way as beer or fast food brands tap into similar attributes of sports competitions.
And if anyone likes a social cause, it’s the millennials. That means high shareability.

The strategy states in its foreward that the fight against HIV “serves as a beacon of global solidarity.”

It also wins on the ‘global’ criteria for a Coke sponsorship.

Brand War

In 2012, Coca-Cola enlisted as a partner of the (RED) campaign, together with other brands such as Nike, Girl, Bank of America, American Express and Converse.

The campaign’s tagline is “Fighting For An AIDS Free Generation”.

The (RED) manifesto states: “Every Generation is known for something. Let’s be the one to deliver an AIDS FREE GENERATION.”

Pepsi used to run with the tagline, ‘the next generation’ Remember the Michael Jackson TVCs?

Now Coke is flying the campaign flag “share the sound of an AIDS free generation” making the Pepsi’s old tagline seem meaningless in comparison.


One downside of the campaign is the sheer number of different articulations coming from various AIDS organisations around the world.

It’s such a common problem. Organisations clamour for attention and then try and say too many things at the same time. They need to stick with one message. I suppose it’s not uncommon, but it is a problem. No one can remember a twenty-word campaign name. No one remembers passive sentences and weak verbs like ‘reducing’ or ‘supporting’. We like Zero! It states the vision in no uncertain terms.

All of the others are long-worded and fail on simplicity and memorability. They may be more accurate, but they’re not marketable. At least ‘Zero’ is easy to remember. And for Coca-Cola, that means consumers may just as likely think of a can of Coke Zero than reducing HIV.