Coca-Cola’s ‘contour’ bottle is 100 years old this year, and two weeks ago the brand held a launch event at its Atlanta headquarters for a global campaign to mark the occasion.
Yet even as it celebrates its heritage of over a century, the future of its marketing lies with digital experimentation, according to senior vice president of global sparkling brands Katie Bayne.
The bottle was born in 1915 out of a need to differentiate the brand from competitors, but today Coca-Cola is focusing efforts on social and digital to stand apart from rivals.
At Mobile World Congress, which took place last week in Barcelona (March 2-5), the brand spent two days gathering together its marketing heads from key global regions to discuss a social and digital strategy – particularly where the company is heading, the vision, capabilities and investment.
“In some markets Coca-Cola isn’t growing. Either the quality of our work wasn’t good, our execution didn’t match up to the marketplace or we weren’t investing in remaining relevant.”
Katie Bayne, senior vice president of global sparkling brands, Coca-Cola
“For all of us to spend two days in Barcelona on one topic is a big deal,” says Bayne, speaking to Marketing Week in Atlanta, ahead of Mobile World Congress. “We usually cover digital as part of something else but it is a key focus. It’s critical for us and it requires continued investment.”
The Coca-Cola bottle’s centenary campaign is a prime example of what she describes as a shift towards global marketing concepts with a “digital backbone”. Activity includes 14 new television and digital films, a new song available on iTunes, an app for consumers to explore the story of Coca-Cola and a social media competition. Other activity includes an exhibition at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and a travelling art tour.
Bayne says that when planning campaigns, the brand now asks: “Are we thinking digital, not as an afterthought, but at the centre?”
The scale of the global Coke Bottle 100 campaign means it’s not intended to be activated in full in every market, but each region takes a pick-and-mix of elements from a global hub of assets. In the UK the activity is centred on digital and outdoor in a campaign called ‘I’ve Kissed…’ featuring Elvis and Marilyn Monroe, as well as a YouTube and Xbox digital takeover. The UK will also see new packaging and messaging about choice as the campaign continues in the summer months.
The ambition for Coca-Cola is to increase trial, drive transactions and build connections in the 140 countries where the activity is being rolled out. Bayne rejects any suggestion that this worldwide marketing approach lacks sensitivity to local cultural differences, claiming that the aim is to have a “strong global centre” with “breathing room for the brand to be locally relevant”.
She adds: “Nothing will go into the UK market that hasn’t been tested with UK consumers. The ‘I’ve kissed’ creative resonated, which is why Europe has a localised [TV ad] running and will run that heavier than other films.”
In another indication of the autonomy that regional markets are allowed, last week Coca-Cola North West Europe and Nordics announced that it would unify the marketing for all its variants under a single strategy, so that Diet Coke, Coca-Cola Life and Coca-Cola Zero are placed firmly under Coca-Cola’s main brand identity, rather than being seen as discrete, independent products with their own personalities. It followed research showing half of consumers are unaware that Zero contains no sugar and no calories.
Coca-Cola needs to reverse its sales decline in traditional markets. The latest quarterly results show that worldwide net income fell 55% in the fourth quarter to $770 million from $1.71 billion last year. On announcing the results last month, The Coca-Cola Company’s chairman Muhtar Kent noted that it sees 2015 as “a transition year” as the benefits from its marketing plans “will take time to materialise amidst an uncertain and volatile macroeconomic environment”.
“In some of our developed markets Coca-Cola is not growing,” admits Bayne, adding that where this is the case, it is because one of three things hasn’t happened. “Either the quality of our work wasn’t good, our execution didn’t match up to the marketplace or we weren’t investing in making sure we remain relevant to today’s consumer.”
In essence, Bayne says that Coke needs to respect its heritage while being recognised as up-to-date. “Why not be modern through people’s interpretation of the brand today. We’ll keep thriving in the future because we are open to hearing what people have to say about it.”
It’s an idea that Coca-Cola’s head of global design James Sommerville, who is curating a campaign that invites designers to reinterpret the brand, calls “progress heritage”.
It’s not just the flagship Coca-Cola brand that the company is prioritising, as it owns 500 non-alcoholic drinks brands across the world, the latest being Fairlife milk, which looks to take on soy and almond milk brands with a premium alternative. The company has also recently relaunched Glaceau Smartwater and debuted Coca-Cola Life, flavoured with low-calorie natural sweetener stevia.
“It’s a question of continually innovating to meet those needs through reminding ourselves where people need and want to go,” says Bayne.
“We are a brand that is 129 years old. We have to stay relevant, modern and young but always in line with our brand personality and values.”
Coke’s digital-led campaigns
FIFA World Cup 2014
For the world’s biggest football tournament, hosted last year in Brazil, Coca-Cola ran a digital campaign in the four months prior to the first match calling for photos from consumers, which were to be included on a ‘happiness flag’. Almost 200,000 people submitted pictures from which the flag was created.
It covered an area of 3,015 square metres with 192 printed fabric panels and was shown in the opening game to an audience of almost 1 billion.
Share a Coke
In the summer of 2013 Coca-Cola launched a campaign that would see consumers’ names printed on labels. It allowed people to virtually ‘share a coke’ by sending someone a personalised bottle and then encouraged them tweet about who they were sharing it with, with the message appearing on a digital outdoor sign at Piccadilly Circus in London.
In the UK, the campaign resulted in 998 million impressions on Twitter, 235,000 tweets using the hashtag #ShareaCoke, over 730,000 bottles personalised via the ecommerce site and 17,000 virtual name bottles shared online across Europe. Coca-Cola repeated similar activity in 2014.
The Polar Bowl
The Coca-Cola Polar Bowl was an entirely digital campaign that ran during American football’s Super Bowl in 2012. Throughout the game, animated polar bears reacted to what was happening in real-time, through YouTube videos produced by Oscar-winning visual effects studio Framestore.
Super Bowl viewers interacted with the bears on social media, for example sending photos which were then held up on an animated tablet computer.