Ad Report Card: Diet Coke’s Underwear Strategy

Diet Coke is currently promoting itself with the tag line “That Certain Something.” It’s easy to understand why the pushers of any product want to associate their wares with vague but positive sentiments along these lines. It’s less easy to pull it off. One new Diet Coke ad in particular offers up an example of “that certain something” that is, to put it mildly, unique. You can see this spot on Diet Coke’s Web site, although I should probably warn you that you won’t get anywhere on the site without Flash 5. Once it finishes loading you’ll get a window with a choice for “Diet Coke Ad Clips”; click on that, then click on the third of the three ad screen shots presented to view the commercial I address here.

The Ad: A man, whose face we never see, is folding laundry in his bright and airy loft. Specifically he’s folding a pair of women’s underwear, white with little yellow flowers.  Inoffensive music plays in the background as a man’s voice narrates. (This is a well-known actor who, as part of the campaign’s gimmick, isn’t named; I’ll say who it  is below.) “When we first got married, she’d wear really sexy underwear, like you see in underwear ads,” the young husband muses. Here we see his blond wife, I guess in a flashback, cavorting sexily in black undergarments in the dark. A quick montage finds her looking not a day older, but in the morning light and a roomy pajama top. “After a while,” the narrator continues, “she started wearing the kind of underwear that I saw in the hamper when I was a kid.” Here one of the shots is of him sort of handling the underwear. “There’s something oddly reassuring about thin, washed-out, cotton underwear, with little yellow flowers.” Some Diet Coke cans are in evidence as the laundry-and-domesticity montage winds down and closes on an image of the blond wife and the “That Certain Something” tag line.

Reassuring? This is a strange ad. It’s a really strange ad. For starters, let’s just pause to note that Diet Coke apparently wants its brand to be as familiar to you as old underwear. OK? Now, let’s put that aside. What’s this bit about his wife’s underwear being like “the kind of underwear that I saw in the hamper when I was a kid”? What does that mean? It’s like his mother’s underwear? Who among you entertains a wistful nostalgia for your mother’s underwear? Let’s see a show of hands, please. Actually, let’s not.

The narrator then goes on to say that there is something “oddly reassuring about thin, washed-out cotton underwear.” Well, if  he finds that reassuring, I will agree with the “oddly” part. So, let’s clarify what that “certain something” about Diet Coke is: Diet Coke is as “reassuring” as “thin, washed-out” underwear, reminiscent of your mother’s, but worn by your wife. Run that by your  shrink sometime.

Perhaps I’m being too literal? OK, then, forget the underwear, what’s the basic theme of this little story? We have a young married couple. She used to wear sexy underwear. Although they’re clearly still young, this couple has gotten over that sort of thing and settled into a less exciting, quotidian groove, in which they will presumably remain until parted by death. And the husband finds this reassuring. I have nothing against the idea of domestic bliss, but usually the sort of epiphany that this man is having (i.e., we have reached the end of a certain road here and can only hope for comfort, never again excitement) is an occasion for deep existential, how-did-I-get-here angst. But the brand managers of Diet Coke have a different take—it is as if they have chosen to say, “Here you go, pal; enjoy an ice-cold, refreshing can of your very mortality.” Maybe that’s the certain something: a resigned sense of fatalism.

Anyway, the narrator is Ben Affleck, who delivers his peculiar lines with absolute conviction—which proves, I suspect, that he does have some acting ability after all.