It’s no secret that consumers have discerning taste buds, especially when it comes to their beverages. It’s a study in science and human behavior that is core to the industry’s innovation and marketing. So when The Coca-Cola Company faced a challenge in Germany winning mass appeal for a new sugar-free product, it went straight to the big leagues.


Coca-Cola Zero Sugar launched in Germany in 2006, providing a no-calorie, no-sugar alternative to traditional Coca-Cola. Despite a demand for this type of beverage, many consumers didn’t realize Coke Zero was, in fact, sugar free. So, in 2013, the company temporarily sidelined Coca-Cola Classic to put Coke Zero in the starting lineup of one of the most beloved sports in Germany: football (or as Americans call it—soccer).

Coke Zero Taps a National Icon to Tell the “Zero Sugar” Story

Germany’s Bundesliga football league attracts the highest stadium attendance in the world, and offers marketers a massive landscape for elevating brands. In fact, 52 million Germans—roughly 65 percent of the population—are football fans. For Coca-Cola Germany, Bundesliga is its largest annual sponsorship marketing asset and, for years, was the platform to promote Coca-Cola’s flagship product. Shifting gears three years ago to make Coca-Cola Zero Sugar the marquee brand for Bundesliga was a twist on traditional marketing. For the first time in the league’s long-standing relationship with Coca-Cola, Coca-Cola Zero Sugar was the standout in packaging and advertisements that supported the league sponsorship throughout the country.

To help consumers understand that “Zero” means zero sugar, the brand enlisted Manuel Neuer—often considered one of the best goalkeepers in the world— as Coca-Cola brand ambassador in 30-second TV spots. The commercials and, Neuer’s endorsement, served to remind consumers of their options in choosing beverages that reduce the amount of added sugar in their diets.

Team-Spirit Packaging Lets Fans Choose Unique Coca-Cola Experiences

As fans and football teams grow more connected, so has Coca-Cola Zero Sugar’s role in bringing them together. The largest specialized packaging effort in Coca-Cola Germany’s history was introduced this year, with designs unique to each Bundesliga team, player, and stadium.

“This marks the first time that the Bundesliga edition activated two Coca-Cola brands at the same time with a unique concept cans and bottles,” said Lars Senhen, Germany’s Coca-Cola Brand Director of Carbonated Soft Drinks. The effort resulted in 1,174 variations of the Coca-Cola Germany packaging, and showcases the breadth of the company’s expanded product offerings.

The power of the football clubs translates to the beverages. “The abundance of designs is less about collecting, and more about letting the fans pick what they want,” explained Senhen. “Consumers are always drawn to personal preferences and that’s increasingly a focus of ours in how we bring products to market. With Bundesliga, choice was linked to a love for the game and heightened demand for Coca-Cola Zero Sugar.”

Uniting Coca-Cola Germany Under “One Brand” to Drive Meaningful Growth

Coca-Cola announced earlier this year an ambitious “One Brand” global marketing strategy that unites Coca-Cola, Coca-Cola Light/Diet Coca-Cola, Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, and Coca-Cola Life under one worldwide creative campaign. The move underscores the company’s commitment to offering consumers real choice—a wide portfolio of options that suits any consumer’s needs and makes the sugar consumption choices clear and easy. To that end, Coca-Cola’s Bundesliga promotion expanded to include regular Coca-Cola this year, and will grow again in 2017 to include two additional brands: Coke Light and Coke Life. The team is tapping into the existing club contracts to accelerate growth for the entire Coca-Cola franchise.

“Displaying the brand close together really emphasizes the choices we provide and the choice consumers want,” said Senhen. “Germany is just one part of the overall global strategy to offer the right product in the right size,” he added, pointing out that their goal is “to shape choice in a way that allows consumers to still feel good about drinking their favorite beverages responsibly.”

The Bundesliga campaign will continue to evolve over time. The collaboration proves that offering an array of choices, all under Coca-Cola’s iconic red logo, has the ability to drive overall sales growth and increase consumer knowledge. The proof? Coke Zero Sugar’s annualized growth rate in Germany has shot up 16.9 percent since 2006, with more than 60 million unit cases of Coke Zero Sugar sold.