Brand citizenship or creative marketing?

Coca-Cola has just launched the ‘2nd Lives’ campaign, turning plastic bottle caps into a range of 16 different, useful objects. Water guns, whistles, paint brushes, pencil sharpeners and bubble-makers give the packaging life after use, but also begs the question—is this brand citizenship or just clever and creative marketing?

The simple answer is both; however, this campaign in isolation does not make Coca-Cola a good brand citizen. While it is encouraging to see global brands such as Coca-Cola actively promoting recycling, the reality is they could be contributing to more plastic waste through manufacturing additional components.

‘It takes-two-to-open’

Coca-Cola recently reinforced its brand promise of ‘happiness’ and ‘sharing’ with its ‘it-takes-two-to-open’ bottle. The revised plastic bottle features a cap that can only be opened when fitted together with another bottle cap and twisted. The campaign was targeted at students who had to pair up if they wanted to open their bottle of pop.

No question that the principle of campaigns such as these are sound, and provide practical and engaging solutions to reusing packaging in an innovative and creative way. However, what makes good brand citizenship is an all-encompassing approach to corporate social responsibility (CSR), which is much bigger than just the brand itself. Cola-Cola has embraced this principle.


The PlantBottle is the initiative from Coca-Cola that redresses the balance between good brand citizenship and creative marketing. Made partially from plant-based materials and 100% recyclable, the manufacturing process of PlantBottle thereby reduces the use of fossil fuels. Coke’s ultimate vision is that all its plastic bottles will be made from a combination of plant-based materials and recycled PET by 2020.

Could Coca-Cola be doing more to reduce packaging waste? Absolutely. But it is a brand with enormous product lines and change won’t happen overnight. Right now the brand is embracing positive change and sets an example for other brands to try harder to find practical solutions, instead of simply talking about improving CSR.

Many brands talk about CSR because they feel they should, rather than put it into practice. If you want to be a good brand citizen, you need to focus on one area of responsibility and do it well.


Another industry that has a lot to answer for is goods for children (and parents), in particular baby products. The UK throws away over one million tonnes of nappies each year, with parents like myself opting for disposable over reusable nappies, inevitably feeling the guilt of contributing to this huge challenge. However, Pampers—a brand with less product lines than Coca-Cola, but still faced with recycling challenges—has engaged with and developed true brand citizenship locally and globally.

Locally, Pampers supports parents—not just in choosing the right nappy for their child but by giving advice on all aspects of parenthood from pregnancy, child development, health, games and activities, safety and sleep. This can be a great resource to new parents from a trusted brand.

Partnership with Unicef

Pampers’ partnership with Unicef really cements its vision for ‘caring for children’s health and development’. The ‘1 pack of Pampers = 1 vaccine’ campaign was rolled out globally in 2008 and is still going strong today, with the long-term goal of eliminating maternal and newborn tetanus (MNT)—an infection that occurs in unsanitary birth conditions in some of the most deprived areas of the world, claiming the life of one newborn baby every nine minutes.

So for a brand that can be associated with contributing to huge waste to be recognised for supporting global health and well-being is a great success story for Pampers.

Tackling CSR

But who is tackling the waste? No one is really actively addressing this issue with the level and urgency needed. A good starting point would be more action at local governments level—consistency of kerb-side recycling collections would help the packaging industry put recyclability and re-usable packaging higher on the agenda in the design process and campaigns like ‘2nd Life’ could help reduce the ever increasing amount of domestic waste. And of course we as consumers, need to dispose of packaging more responsibly. Fundamentally, brands faced with the challenge of waste—like Coca-Cola and Pampers—need to follow through with their commitments to CSR.

About the Author

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Gillian Garside-Wight is packaging technology director at Your Packaging Partner, part of the Sun Branding Solutions family.