Coke changes can, offers millions to protect polar bears

Coca-Cola is helping polar bears -- an animal that's long been associated with its image -- with a packaging change and hefty pledge.

Coca-Cola Ltd. is changing its iconic can – and pledging millions of dollars – to help scientists plan how other icons such as polar bears can survive in Canada’s melting Arctic.

Coca-Cola and the World Wildlife Fund have announced a project called Arctic Home, to which the global corporate giant has committed $2 million over five years, with another million promised to match donations from the public. The money is to fund research programs in the High Arctic related to habitat and wildlife survival, particularly with regard to polar bears–which have featured prominently in Coke’s holiday advertising for years.

Arctic experts say it’s vital work that governments aren’t doing as they increasingly focus on research directly related to development.

“We need to find these private partnerships with non-governmental organizations that want to work with northern communities to try to establish long-term conservation monitoring programs,” said Andy Derocher, one of the world’s leading polar bear scientists from the University of Alberta. “We are not seeing that leadership come from the federal government.”

Some of the money is to pay for ground-level conservation, such as migration research or polar bear fences in communities that have lots of nearby bears. But Arctic Home also has larger advocacy goals, said WWF Canada CEO Gerald Butts.

“What we’re after is looking at all of the change that’s going to take place in the Arctic over the next 25 to 60 years and getting ahead of it by predicting where the last permanent sea ice is likely to persist and protect that area, not just for polar bears but for every ice-dependent species in the Arctic.

Coca-Cola Canada president Nicola Kettlitz said the project is a chance to do something for an animal that’s been closely associated with the soft drink’s image for years.

“It’s part of our overall campaign of how we interact with the communities in which we operate,” he said. “It will continue to get stronger over time and better.”

An indication of how seriously the company takes the campaign is that Coke cans in Canada and the United States will change starting Nov. 1 until Jan. 15 from the well-known red to white.

“Branding is connected to colour and to walk away from your primary colour is an important step,” said Kettlitz. “It makes a very big statement of support.”

The only other time Coke has changed the colour of its Canadian cans was during the last Olympics, he said.

Coca-Cola and WWF also have partnered MacGillivray Freeman Films and Warner Bros. Pictures to co-produce To The Arctic 3D, scheduled for release in 2012. Footage from the film will be featured in Coca-Cola’s “Arctic Home” TV spots and on ArcticHome.com.

The film follows a mother polar bear and her cubs as they navigate the changing Arctic landscape.

How much impact can changing the look of an iconic brand have with consumers? Does changing the colour of the can seem like a brave move to support an environmental cause or just good PR? Post your thoughts in our comment section below.
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