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Sprite Got Rid of Its Green Bottle. Its Fans' Reactions Were Very Telling

The most important question: What can change, and what cannot?

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The iconic green Sprite bottle is going away.

Soon, Sprite will be sold in a clear plastic bottle instead.

This was easily the biggest branding news of the week, which is why everyone from Today Show to NPR to People covered it.

But if you want to see why this was such a smart decision, don’t go looking at the glowing press.

Instead, go looking for the critics — because that will tell you everything about The Coca-Cola Company’s strategic brilliance here. It should also embolden everyone to make smart changes… even to the things that seem unchangeable.

So, what were people saying?

The Coca-Cola Company, which owns Sprite, had a simple and positive story to tell: “Even some of the most iconic and historic brands need to meet the demands of today,” said A.P. Chaney, the company’s director of creative strategy for sparkling flavors (quite a job title!), in a widely printed quote.

For Coca-Cola, this all goes back to its 2018 “World Without Waste” pledge. The company promised to significantly improve its carbon footprint, and now, to contribute to that effort, it is eliminating colored plastic from its product lines. That’s because coloring makes plastic harder to recycle.

As a result, Sprite’s green bottle had to go. Similar changes are coming for its Fresca, Seagram's and Mello Yello brands.

Rebrands don’t always go well, and Coca-Cola knows that. “Consumers are startled by change sometimes, and we are prepared to hear our consumers discuss it,” Chaney told reporters. “But we know this is the right way to move forward with the brand.”

So I wondered: What are critics saying? Are Sprite lovers feeling betrayed?

I Googled around, and the only serious result I found was this very telling Newsmax story:

Sprite Got Rid of Its Green Bottle. Its Fans' Reactions Were Very Telling

Image: Newsmax screenshot

Sadly, this was not a story specifically about costume-wearing Sprite lovers. I think they meant to write consumers in the headline?

Anyway, this sounded interesting — what did the critical “sound off” sound like? The story was based on a roundup of four tweets by random people, which I clicked to read in full. Here was one of them, which was typical of the rest:

Sprite Got Rid of Its Green Bottle. Its Fans' Reactions Were Very Telling

Consider what this consumer (constumer?) was saying: They’re sad to see the green bottle go, but “Sprite is my drink” and that’s not going to change.

The Coca-Cola Company should print this tweet out and hang it on the wall. It is their trophy. This is a consumer saying: “I liked the bottle, but I love the brand. And I know the difference.”

That’s our challenge too: We must know the difference between what truly matters, and what does not.

A few months ago, we ran a story in Entrepreneur about exactly this problem. It began:

“Do you know what makes your company successful? You may think you do. Perhaps it's a certain feature, strategy, or signature ingredient. But what if you're wrong? Sometimes, letting go of what seems important becomes the very thing that drives your growth.”

Then the writer shared stories of founders who experienced that exact confusion.

For example, she told the story of wellness brand Sunwink. Its first product was a beverage, and the bottle was coated in paint. The look was distinctive and the product was a hit, but the packaging was hard to scale. The founders worried that consumers really loved that blue paint, and that it was integral to the brand’s success, and therefore that they’d lose business by changing it. But they did it anyway. Everything was fine.

"You have to protect yourself against getting attached to one thing you thought was going to work," Sunwink's co-founder said.

What do people love about you, and what do they merely like about you? When you know the difference, you gain the freedom to make change. Then you can double down on the love while finding new things for them to like.

Coca-Cola surely did a lot of market testing before this Sprite change. Here’s my guess: Consumers said they didn’t care much about the bottle, but they did worry that the product and brand itself would change.

That’s why Coca-Cola kept everything else consistent — same green color on the label (just not in the plastic), same brand identity, same voice, same aesthetic, and of course, the same taste. When it announced the change, it also released a commercial that emphasized “new bottle, same Sprite" — and the message came from NBA players, which has been part of the Sprite playbook since 1986.

The spot features NBA stars Anthony Edwards and Trae Young riffing on the difference between “same” and “new” — like “same jam, new style points.”

In other words, it’s saying: Yeah, you might miss the bottle, but this is still your drink.

Which is exactly what that slightly unhappy customer tweeted.

When we understand the true value we bring to people, we can find new and innovative ways to deliver it. This helps us see clearly into the future — as clear as a brand-new Sprite bottle.

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Cover credit: The Coca-Cola Company