On February 21, Coca-Cola released its first limited-time-only drink, Coca-Cola Starlight. The beverage was released under a new platform, Coca-Cola Creations, the company’s launchpad for upcoming limited-run drinks—sort of a playground for Coke innovations of all kinds. According to a press release sent to The Takeout, Creations is “driven by collaboration, creativity and cultural connections.” It’s also being driven by some serious marketing efforts.
Coke has a lot of thoughts about its new product.
“Its taste includes additional notes reminiscent of stargazing around a campfire,” reads the press release, “as well as a cooling sensation that evokes the feeling of a cold journey to space.” Yeah, well. I’ll be the judge of that.
I received a sample from the company and decided to see for myself if it tasted like any of those words above, because as interesting as that all sounds (campfires?), it feels like quite a stretch.
Starlight comes in both Original Taste and Zero Sugar varieties. I received a sample of the Zero Sugar (which is fine, since it’s my preference) in a 20-oz. plastic bottle. The drink itself has a deep reddish tone to it, like a slightly darker Cheerwine. After cracking it open, it did have that familiar Coke scent to it, with a slightly sweet, not-quite-berry note. Cut me some slack—I’m doing my best to play soda sommelier here.
As for the flavor, well, it tastes like Cotton Candy Coke. That’s the best way for me to describe it. While actual cotton candy tastes like wispy spun sugar, cotton candy flavoring always tastes like a toned-down generic berry flavor to me. You know what I’m talking about, right? So just imagine either a mild berry flavor or cotton candy extract supplementing the familiar taste of Coca-Cola.
But man, this outer space marketing is a huge stretch. No, it doesn’t taste like lounging by the fire and staring up at the sky (there’s no smoke flavor, so that was an odd comparison). And while I’m no Jeff Bezos and have never been launched into space, I can’t imagine space travel evokes the taste of artificial cotton candy. Astronauts, please correct me if I’m wrong.
What I suspect is that both this Starlight drink and the broader Creations platform are just excuses for Coca-Cola to invest in a massive cross-marketing push whenever it debuts something new, flashy, and temporary, which I’m guessing will be regularly. For example, this drink is being promoted by pop star Ava Max (whose music sounds like Lady Gaga’s), and she’s featured in an exclusive augmented reality (AR) performance that you can view by going to the Coca-Cola Creations website and scanning a Starlight product. I even gave it a whirl. This is what awaited me.
Every AR novelty app I’ve ever used has been terrible. This strange Ava Max concert was no different. My phone’s pretty new, so I thought the mini-performance would display okay. But it had difficulty rendering the show, and whenever I moved the phone around, the image lagged. Plus it was as grainy as it looks in the screenshot. Honestly, it sucked, and I turned it off after about 30 seconds. It’d be one thing if it was entertainingly bad, but nope, it was just bad.
Coke is Coke. It’s a familiar flavor and a fridge staple for a hell of a lot of people. It must be hard, from a marketing perspective, to find new ways to advertise the same beloved century-old product over and over again when it’s already so ubiquitous. That’s where I’m sure Coke Creations comes into play: The marketing team can flex, spend a ton of money, and make you think about Coke again in a big, tech-focused way, using a new flavor as an excuse to take up your brain space. The cotton candy drink at the center of it feels like the least significant part of the whole thing.
After poking around the Coca-Cola Creations website, I also discovered its merch store, where a flashy bomber jacket can be yours for $110, designed with some ethereal, nebulous colors. And of course, it features the Coca-Cola logo enormously on the back.
In the end, the drink is just fine, maybe worth a try if you’re bored with regular Coke, but it’s not that exciting. It’s all the cosmic background radiation that comes with it that you’ll want to filter out.