Why Coca-Cola Light and Diet Coke?

In order to open the blog of SARA YEST, I would like to share with you a very interesting analysis of the Coca-Cola Light brand name translation I did in the final dissertation of the degree in Translation and Intercultural Communication studies. At that moment, I started to be interested in Marketing and that was thanks to culture and my relentless curiosity to analyze it.

People in Spain used to identify the brands of the Coca-Cola Company with the names of Coca-Cola and Coca-Cola Light. It could be quite shocking for Spanish people travelling to the UK to realize that Coca-Cola Light is called Diet Coke. It is not only the name of Coca-Cola what changes, but also the term light. People know that light is an English word and obviously in English-speaking countries people speak English. Thus, when people observe that it is called differently in both countries they will feel frustrated and they probably will ask to themselves, if light is an English term, why do they use diet in English-speaking countries? Or maybe, why do we use the term light instead of diet?

At the beginning of the research on this topic, a worker of the Coca-Cola Company in Spain answered to a questionnaire (used to obtain clues) with information given by his boss. This person introduced that this kind of changes have to do with the legislation of each country and with the oral reception and significance of the words in each place.

Before continuing with the analysis of these interesting questions it is important to know a little bit of the Coca-Cola history.

In 1886, John S. Pemberton creates Coca-Cola in Atlanta, Georgia. Coca-Cola was served in Jacobs’ Pharmacy as syrup for digestive problems. Frank Robinson, the company accountant, named the drink as Coca-Cola thinking that the two Cs would look well in advertising and he decided to use the Spencerian Script Logo (registered subsequently in 1893 in the U.S. Patent Office).

In 1887, John Pemberton registers his label Coca-Cola Syrup and Extract as a copyright in the U.S. Patent Office. The name of Coca-Cola comes from some of its ingredients. This is going to be explained in the next Coca-Cola advertisement from the 80’ (The Coca-Cola Company, 2011):

According to this advertisement, the Coca-Cola Syrup and Extract, which was used to elaborate the Coca-Cola beverage, contains the valuable tonic and nerve stimulant properties of the coca plant and cola (or Kola) nuts. Nowadays, the Coca-Cola recipe is still secret and the only thing they mention is that it contains natural flavourings including caffeine (Coca-Cola, UK, 2015).

In 1942, the Sprite Boy character is introduced in advertising to convey the message that CocaCola and Coke are two terms that reference the same product.

In 1945, the name Coke becomes a registered trademark of the Coca-Cola Company, thereafter Coca-Cola and Coke are officially two terms that indicate the same product. If we look up in the dictionary the meaning of Coke we will find is:

Coke1 (kəʊk) 

® short for Coca-Cola (Collins, 2015). As coke is also the short name for cocaine.

After, in 1982 Diet Coke is introduced in a celebrity-filled ceremony in New York becoming the first extension of the trademarks Coca-Cola and Coke (Coca-Cola, UK, 2015). According to the Collins dictionary definition a brand extension is:

The practice of using a well-known brand name to promote new products or services in unrelated fields Also called: brand stretching (Collins, 2015).

However, why do exist two terms (Coca-Cola and Coke) to refer to the same beverage? Why do some countries use Diet Coke and others Coca-Cola Light?

There are undoubtedly a few reasons to argue these changes. As we could see in the Valdés and Torresi theory (section 8-. Translation or Adaptation of Brand Names) there can be different reasons why brands change their name in some countries.

After many years of success and the continued growth of the company, young people started using the term Coke to refer to Coca-Cola because of the easiness when asking for “one Coke please” instead of one “one Coca-Cola please”, i.e. it has much to do with the pronunciation of it in each language (Busse, 2011). This is why, later in 1945, the Coca-Cola Company registered Coke as a trademark; in such way they were also avoiding possible plagiarism. Hereafter, we can see the registered trademarks of each country.

In Spain:

Coca-Cola® y el resto de marcas son marcas registradas de The Coca-Cola Company (Zona Coca-Cola, 2015).

In the UK:

©2015 The Coca-Cola Company, ‘Coca-Cola’, ‘Coke’, ‘diet Coke’, ‘diet Coca-Cola’, ‘Coca-Cola Zero’, ‘Coke Zero’ and the design of the Coca-Cola Contour Bottle are registered trade marks of The Coca-Cola Company. All rights reserved (Coke Zone, 2015).

In Germany:

Coca-Cola, Coke, Coca-Cola Light, Coke Light, Coca-Cola Zero, Coke Zero, das rote Rundlogo, die Konturflasche und die dynamische Welle sind eingetragene Schutzmarken der The Coca-Cola Company (Coke-Light, 2015).

In line with the argument that the way people call the drink has much to do with the pronunciation of it in each language, we will see now how is it called in Spanish, English and German:

In Spain, people usually order a Coke this way:

  • Una Coca-Cola porfavor
  • Una Coca-Cola Light por favor, una Coca Light por favor, or even una Cola Light por favor.
  • Una Coca-Cola Zero por favor and the same as for Coca-Cola Light.

In English-speaking countries, people usually order a Coke this way:

  • One Coke please
  • One Diet Coke please
  • One Zero Coke please

In Germany, people usually order a Coke this way:

  • Eine Cola bitte
  • Eine Cola Light bitte
  • Eine Cola Zero bitte

Despite the fact that the German advertising Campaign of last summer Trink ‘ne Coke mit deinen Freunden (Drink a Coke with your friends) uses the word Coke, German people normally ask for a Cola. This advertising campaign is part of the Guerrilla Marketing strategy, where companies try to achieve conventional goals such as profits and joy with unconventional methods such as energy instead of money (Guerrilla Marketing, 2014). Coca-Cola made this creating and emotional reaction in the clients writing names in the cans (adapted to each country) to encourage people sharing a Coke with friends.

The German advertising campaign uses the word Coke because it would be long to say Trink ‘ne Coca-Cola mit… (mit deinen Freunden) instead of Trink ‘ne Coke mit… In addition, sentences, slogans and brand names are also used to define the brand corporate image and therefore they have to be easy to remember and to pronounce.

Moreover, in Pons dictionary (Deutsch-Spanish) Cola refers to any cola beverage, and the Coca-Cola Company probably wanted to differentiate itself calling it Coke (which is a registered Trademark), although, normally, when you ask for a Cola in a German Bar they will serve you a Cola-Cola (Pons, 2015).

In Spanish is different because the advertising campaign goes with the sentence Comparte una Coca-Cola con… and Spanish people, normally, do not use the word Coke because it sounds like a foreign word, i.e. for Spanish people is easier to pronounce Coca-Cola.

People from English-speaking countries normally use the word Coke instead of Coca-Cola, because it is shorter and easier to pronounce Coke (kəʊkə) rather than Coca-Cola (kəʊkəˈkəʊlə) (Collins, 2015). In the UK for example, the advertising campaign is Share a Coke with…

Legal restrictions could also be a reason why brand names change. Belch and Belch explain how in Germany for example, Diet Coke has to be sold under the name of Coca-Cola light because the word diet can only be used for products which fulfil certain medical requirements (Smith&Klein-Braley, 1997:176). In the UK, Diet Coke contains aspartame and acesulfame K as sweeteners (Coca-Cola, UK, 2015), whereas in Spain and Germany Coca-Cola light contains: aspartame (E-951) acesulfame K (E-950) and Natrium Cyclamat (E-952) (Coca-Cola, SP, 2015) (Coca-Cola, GE, 2015).

When you look up in Collins English dictionary for the definition of diet drink we will find:

a type of drink, usually a version of an existing drink, that is marketed as being good for slimmers because it is low in calories (Collins, 2015).

While if we look up the word light in the dictionary we do not find any definition that refers to a drink or a food low in calories. Nevertheless, when we look up in Spanish-English dictionary the word light, we can find the English equivalent low-calorie (Collins, 2015). Thus, the next question people can asked to themselves is, where does the word light comes from in Spanish then? In the Real Academia Española (RAE) we can find the next definitions:

1. adj. Dicho de una bebida o de un alimento elaborado: Con menos calorías de las habituales.

2. adj. Dicho de un cigarrillo: Que se presenta como portador de menos elementos nocivos.

3. adj. irón. Que ha perdido gran parte de sus caracteres esenciales. Un comunista light (RAE, 2015).

For now, we know that the word light exists in Spanish and is regulated by the RAE. In English the word light does exists, but normally accompanied by other word such as for example light breeze, which is define:

  a very light wind of force two on the Beaufort scale (Collins, 2015)

    According to the Diccionario Panhispánico de Dudas the word light is an Anglicism and comes from an English term, but there is always the possibility to use Spanish words to replace it, for example: bajo en calorías or ligero (RAE, 2015).

In the case of Coca-Cola the word light is used in Spanish: first because nowadays it is used to refer to low calorie products, but also because of the brand image. Between 1923 and 1926 Coca-Cola was available for the consumer in some parts of Spain, but the first Coca-Cola factory was opened after the Second World War in Barcelona (Coca-Cola, SP, 2014). After those years of war, Coca-Cola started to be a very well known beverage and everybody knew that it was a foreign product. When a foreign product is introduced in a country it creates curiosity, and sometimes, when it comes from a very developed country it seems to be better. Therefore, on the one hand, the word light was established in Spanish as a low-calorie because of legislation and on the other hand it also defines the brand image of the Coca-Cola Company. Hereafter, we will see one very good explanation of the Coca-Cola Company in its FAQs:

In certain countries, the term «diet» is not used to describe low-calorie foods and beverages. In these countries, we offer Coke/Coca-Cola light. The sweetener blend used for Coke/Coca-Cola light is formulated for each country based on consumer preference (The Coca-Cola Company, 2015).

Apart from the meaning of the word diet as being a food or drink low in calories in Spanish and in English, this word is also used in both languages to refer to the food or drinks that a person or animal consumes. The difference is that in English it is used to refer to low-calorie Coca-Cola whereas in Spanish we use the world light and the same happens with German. The English word light was probably taken from another compose word in English as the one above light breeze.

In Spain, as we have seen in Hofstede’s theory people really appreciate quality of life, and as part of it, food is a very important topic for them. Spanish people talk a lot about the Mediterranean diet, which does not refer to low-calorie foods; it refers to a healthy, natural and tasty food. Hence, using the word light would create less ambiguity.

To conclude with the analysis of Diet Coke and Coca-Cola light, it is important to highlight that the technique used in this case is the adaptation of the brand name, because of the existing legislation in each country and the oral reception (i.e. phonetic adaptation) and significance of it.

Brief used to do the analysis of the adaptation of Coca-Cola brand name.


  • the purpose: To sell the product with the philosophy of refreshing the world… To inspire moments of optimism and happiness… To create value and make a difference (Coca-Cola Global, 2015).
  • the target: In accordance to their diversity value, people of a wide range of age, nationality and gender, i.e. everybody.
  • possible channels of distribution: On account of the magnitude of the company and its history, Coca-Cola has been advertised in brochures, leaflet, press, TV commercials in thousands of channels, radio commercials, websites, in products packages, snail mails, mails, trade fairs, everywhere. There are even artists that created real songs for Coca-Cola (not only the short ones for the commercials for example) such as Hilda Clark, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Katy B, Gogol Bordello and so on (Coca-Cola Global, 2015).
  • values and brand/corporate image: Leadership: The courage to shape a better future. Collaboration: Leverage collective genius. Integrity: Be real. Accountability: If it is to be, it’s up to me. Passion: Committed in heart and mind. Diversity: As inclusive as our brands. Quality: What we do, we do well (Coca-Cola, Global, 2015).
  • the product promoted: Coca-Cola Light and Diet-Coke.


P. Sara. (2014) The Analysis of the Adaptation of Different Brand Names. Analysis.

Last consulted: 17th of November 2017.

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