Screenshot of one of the latest “Just for the taste of it” ads

Commercial Breakdown #4: Diet Coke (‘Just for the taste of it’ featuring Batman, Demi Moore, Paula Abdul and friends)

If you know me, you know Diet Coke is like a running gag in my life. So, naturally, I felt I had to write a blog post about it. Since Diet Coke revived their old slogan, “Just for the taste of it,” now seems to be as good of a time as any to write one.

The slogan, “Just for the taste of it,” (initially “You’re going to drink it just for the taste of it”) has been used in Diet Coke ads since its launch, virtually worldwide. (If you don’t believe me, check out this early Australian Diet Coke commercial.)

Screenshot of “You're On” Diet Coke ad

Diet Coke quickly dropped the “You’re on” campaign as people thought it was referencing being on cocaine (screenshot via YouTube/Diet Coke)

The revival of “Just for the taste of it” might have something to do with Diet Coke’s “You’re on” campaign being reportedly mocked on social media and eventually scrapped because, well, people took it to mean you’re on cocaine.

Screenshot of Paula Abdul “Just for the taste of it” ad

Paula Abdul had some epic Diet Coke ads in the early 90s (screenshot via YouTube)

However, the slogan, “Just for the taste of it,” as far as I’m concerned, is based on a lie. When have you ever heard anyone say, “You know what I’d really like, Coca-Cola, but not just any Coca-Cola, but Coke with the taste of artificial sugar. I could use one right now…just for the taste of it.” Never ever. Well, that’s unless you remember the old Diet Coke campaign, which featured the likes of Paula Abdul dancing in something resembling a crystal palace or on a giant piano while singing “just for the taste of it.”

Screenshot of Batman Diet Coke ad

There was even a Batman “Just for the taste of it” Diet Coke ad (screenshot via YouTube)

Paula Abdul wasn’t the only celebrity shilling Diet Coke, there was also Whitney Houston [One ad tied into a concert of hers in Toronto.], Elton John [Paula did a few epic Diet Coke ads with him as well.], Demi Moore, skaters Kurt Browning and Katarina Witt and even Batman (for the 1989 feature film) and Indiana Jones. I thought Paula’s Diet Coke ads, which originally aired in the early 90s were incredibly catchy, however, so forgive me if I pay particular attention to them.

Groucho Marx/Paula Abdul Diet Coke ad

Paula Abdul hung out with old Hollywood stars in their prime without a time machine (screenshot via YouTube)

Louis Armstrong and Elton John Diet Coke ad

Elton John got to kick it with Louis Armstrong in a similar ad (screenshot via YouTube)

There was one in particular where Diet Coke went all out. They had Paula dance with Gene Kelly in 1945, Groucho Marx in 1933 and drink a soda with Cary Grant in 1958. No, they didn’t build her a time machine, but rather used some pretty sophisticated digital trickery for the time, which basically digitized the films the actors appeared in, and lifted the movie stars from them and superimposed the actors next to Paula. (They also did a similar ad with Elton John.) It was apparently one of the most expensive Coke ads at the time and in this behind the scenes video (possibly from Inside Edition, but I can’t tell for sure) it all looks absolutely labour intensive. Paula had to complete the dance moves flawlessly and to get Gene Kelly’s shadows just right, another guy physically danced in his place next to Paula. [They do something similar with Tatiana Malansy on Orphan Black in scenes where the clones interact with one another.] The Coke ad seemed to get even more complicated when it came to Cary Grant who was pouring champagne in the original footage. As Diet Coke didn’t exist in the 50s, [Its star ingredient Nutrasweet only recently received government approval of use in soft drinks by the time Diet Coke hit the market in the 80s.] they had to create a digital hand that poured the soda precisely as Cary did in the film and superimpose that in the commercial as well.

However, “Just for the taste” as Paula said in the ad? Really? [If you’re wondering, the “of it” part of the slogan was dropped for that ad.] As much as I like Coca-Cola, Diet Coke is one of the vilest things ever produced, mainly because of the awful aftertaste due to the artificial sweetener, which some say may be a cause of cancer. Coca-Cola seems to be aware of the taste issue and they tried repeatedly to create a low calorie, low sugar option of Coke, over the years.

There was Diet Coke with Splenda, which seemed to have all but disappeared. Remember Coca-Cola C2? That was a hybrid of sugar and aspartame, and also had half of the carbs and calories of Coca-Cola. That turned out to be a compromise no one was willing to make and it was pulled off the shelves in a few years. Then came Coca-Cola Zero, which tastes a lot more like the Coca-Cola we know and love and had zero calories, opposed to C2’s mere reduction of calories. Now Coca-Cola is bringing over Coca-Cola Life, an Argentinean version of Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola Life is sweetened with stevia and sugar and has roughly 40 per cent of the calories of Coca-Cola proper.

Diet Coke Be Ambitious. Not Thirsty. ad (Details)

This Diet Coke ad appeared in men’s magazine Details possibly signifying a shift from marketing exclusively to women to a wider audience (screenshot via Details/Next Issue)

The way each of these sodas were marketed or virtually not marketed at all in the case of Diet Coke with Splenda, which I only recently remembered after stumbling across it on the Diet Coke Wikipedia page. In recent years, Diet Coke was marketed nearly exclusively to women, while when Coke Zero was launched it was geared largely to men because apparently men have an aversion to anything marketed as “diet” for whatever reason. It seems as if they’re breaking away from that, however. I recently came across an ad for Diet Coke alluding to the life of an app developer in men’s magazine Details. Perhaps they altered their marketing strategy as Coca-Cola proper seems to be having a hard time shedding the perception that it’s fattening, not helped much by the recent Bloomberg Businessweek cover story on Coke “admitting that it has a fat problem.”

The latest Diet Coke ads, as with many soda ads, appear to be marketing a lifestyle opposed to a product. The new “Just for the taste of it” ad is essentially a bunch of happy people doing nothing in particular (dancing, rolling down a hill on a beach, painting or making a big mess) with the only message aside from Diet Coke has a fantastic taste (which it doesn’t) is that Diet Coke makes people incredibly, inexplicably happy. The old Diet Coke “Just for the taste of it” campaign regularly reverted to similar ads between celebrity endorsements.

The older Diet Coke ads with celebrities added to the mix also essentially were saying the same thing. (I mean, look at how happy Paula Abdul is.) Depending on how you approach it, celebrities arguably confused the ad’s message or enhanced it. What they were trying to say wasn’t a particularly strong message that made me want to rush out and buy one anyway, so the fact that what it was trying to convey was diluted by throwing a celebrity into it didn’t matter. Actually, depending if you liked the star or their work you might find yourself gravitating toward it over other sodas if your mind was vacant at the time.
Taste It All—Diet Coke

“Just for the taste of it” was initially replaced by “Taste It All,” however, it was discontinued in only weeks starting a long running identity crisis that extends to this day with the brand. (screenshot via YouTube)

If you’re wondering what happened to “Just for the taste of it,” the campaign looks like it was supposed to be phased out in favour of a similar one called “Taste it all” in 1993. I found one “Taste it all” TV ad and another for markets where Diet Coke was known as Coca-Cola Light. The campaign also appeared in printAdWeek said the “Taste it all,” campaign would be MIA during the summer of 1993, but it appears they dumped it altogether and focused on the iconic Always Coca-Cola campaign, for what was then Coca-Cola Classic, as The New York Times said “Taste it all” was dropped after two months.
Diet Coke—This is Refreshment

“This is Refreshment” replaced “Taste it all,” however, it too was short lived (screenshot via YouTube)

The same article says a new campaign with the tagline “This is refreshment” replaced “Taste it all.”  That campaign seemed incredibly random. There was an ad with a guy repeatedly pulling out his lunch out of a lunch box to realize Diet Coke changed its can, and another ad with a boxing theme.
A mid-90s revival of “Just for the taste of it”

“Just for the taste of it” saw a short comeback (screenshot via YouTube)

By September of 1994, AdAge reported that Diet Coke was considering going back to “Just for the taste of it” and they did. I found three that used a new variation of the jingle, including a jazz variant. However, a few of them abandoned the jingle and used the “Diet Coke break” theme where girls stop everything and ogle a guy. Coca-Cola Light did something similar too.
“Do what you want” — Diet Coke (1995)

In 1995 the slogan “Do what you want” randomly popped up (screenshot via YouTube)

Around 1995 there was also at least one ad that used a different slogan, “Do what you want,” and by 1997 they adopted the tagline “You are what you drink,” which brought us the infamous window washer ad and one that played off of a fairy tale.

“Lighten the moment” billboard in Toronto (2014)

I came across yet another Diet Coke slogan a few weeks ago in Toronto

With Diet Coke recently jumping from “You’re on,” “Be ambitious. Not thirsty,” “Just for the taste of it” and now the “Lighten the moment” campaign I keep running into when I’m in Toronto, it looks like Diet Coke’s identity crisis isn’t coming to an end anytime soon.

(Featured Image: Screenshot of a 2014 “Just for the taste of it” ad via YouTube/Diet Coke)