Coca-Cola Game-A-Thon 2017: When Brands Don’t Understand Their Platform

On December 2nd, Coca-Cola’s annual Game-A-Thon live stream was hosted on Twitch in partnership with the Arena of Valor mobile game and Product Red charity. This year’s Game-A-Thon consisted of a live-streamed Arena of Valor tournament where eight streamers competed to raise money for the fight against AIDS.

First and foremost, major kudos to Coca-Cola for trying to engage the gaming community on their terms through a charitable initiative. Coca-Cola has been experimenting in the space with CokeEsports, and with streams such as Games Done Quick raising over four million dollars per event, a charity stream was a reasonable and intelligent choice. Unfortunately, by the end of the tournament only $10,000 had been raised despite the goal on Tiltify being set at $25,000, and Coca-Cola offering of a match of up to $50,000. Coca-Cola may have accurately recognized a trend to capitalize on, but without understanding why those types of events are successful, they weren’t able to take full advantage of the opportunity.

The Marketing

Although the Game-A-Thon occurs every year, advertising for this year’s event didn’t start until 3 days before the event. Twitch posted an article about the upcoming event, changed their mobile app to a red color scheme, and sent out four tweets. To be fair, Twitch often releases events on short notice, so this was not unexpected, but it makes it difficult for people to plan to be free if they do want to watch.

Coca-Cola did not advertise the event on any platform besides the CokeEsports Twitter account starting 3 days before the event. The event was Coca-Cola’s 4th Game-A-Thon, held at the same time each year, but they never document it, market it, or talk about it after. It seems as though CokeEsports is a segmented trial initiative where they are experimenting with advertising in esports and gaming without a significant amount of financial backing or resources. Even with the limited advertising, Twitch’s placement of the tournament on the front page of Twitch meant the stream still achieved 8k viewers at parts, but also fluctuated between that and 1.5k viewers, often during ‘dead-air’ segments that could have been filled with giveaways, reading the donations, or simply explaining the game.

The Event

The format of Coca-Cola’s stream was two commentators narrating the gameplay of Arena of Valor. Although AoV has 80 million daily active players and is the top grossing game internationally, the fact that it has not yet been released in the US meant that anyone watching most likely had never played the game and would not understand any of the nuances the commentators were describing. The game itself would likely also not be a draw since it does not have a US playerbase yet. Tencent Games, who is owned by the same company as Riot Games and League of Legends, is currently marketing the game’s 2018 release and most likely approached Coca-Cola and offered to help fund the tournament as a promotional collaboration.

The game itself was also lacking in terms of common denominator entertainment value. Most charity stream games require elements such as easy to understand gameplay (PUBG), interesting and dynamic visuals (Super Mario Odyssey), or adding universal elements to the game (blindfold runs, tag-team challenges, etc) in order to appeal to viewers who are not players. Most Multiplayer Online Battle Arena games, although pretty, tend to be fairly repetitive, cluttered, and confusing to those not versed in the game. Where anyone dropping by a PUBG stream easily understands the concept of having gun, shooting other players, and trying not to die, the threshold for understanding the strategy of MOBAs is much higher.

Charity streams that require viewer participation through donations require an explicit type of format in order to tap into the psychological elements required to make a viewer give their money. The commentators did not read off any of the donations, there was no indication on screen when a donation was received or how much had been raised, there were no incentives to donate, and there was no audience interaction. Elements Of A Twitch Marketing Campaign outlines many of the principles required to facilitate viewer engagement, such as helping viewers feel as though hey have a common goal, that they are receiving social validation, and that they have agency. Without those elements, viewers often passively consume the content, or leave entirely.

Future Directions

While Coca-Cola’s insight that charity streams such as Games Done Quick are highly successful, they failed to incorporate the elements that make those events successful. What may have been a better option would be to have a Charity Tournament where the winners got to decide where the $50,000 from Coca-Cola would be donated to, rather than relying on the viewers themselves to be part of the giving and content, such as the recent PUBG charity tournament. At the very least the event could be considered a ‘success’ regardless of viewership, whereas charity streams using donations have quantifiable evidence of lack of engagement.

Choosing Arena of Valor as a promotional game was also a reasonable choice, but content needed to be tailored to an audience who didn’t know the game, possibly through novelties such as tag-teaming, blindfold runs, or other challenges. Coca-Cola is ahead of the game on embracing the esports and gaming communities, but they need to be cognizant of the psychology of the platform, not just what’s trending.

Alicen Lewis is a digital strategist who spends too much time thinking about technology, gaming, and what she should have for dinner tonight.