By Casey Neal
How could Coca-Cola possibly improve upon its legendary, globally recognized 128-year-old brand? Do anything but reintroduce New Coke, you say?
OK, well that’s a given. But over the years, Coke has had many more successful branding ventures than failed ones. The most recent of those successes comes in the form of its summer 2014 marketing launch:
“Share a Coke.”
Personalized and Shareable
The innovative marketing plan is targeting plugged-in teens and millennials, allowing them to personalize Coke products with their own first names. Gone is the familiar Coca-Cola logo. In its place is whatever name a fan wants. And the best part is that Coke is making this available through easily shareable digital images as well as actual physical bottles and cans. Talk about enjoying the best of both marketing worlds!
With “Share a Coke,” it’s the “sharing” that’s the thing.
Fans can visit the new Share a Coke website to personalize their own virtual bottles and cans, then share the images with friends and family through Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets. There’s also a cross-country summer tour, where fans can “Share a Coke” in person by having a customized can or bottle made for them at a traveling kiosk.
It’s interactive, accessible and fun. And it doesn’t stop there. According to an article by Jay Moye on Coke’s website, “By using the #ShareaCoke hashtag, consumers can share their stories and photos for the chance to be featured on interactive Coke billboards across the country. And anyone with the free Coca-Cola Freestyle mobile app can scan a QR code on the fountain dispenser’s touch screen and send a friend a coupon
for a $1 off a 20 oz. Coke.”
With personalized cans and bottles, shareable images, interactive billboards, mobile apps, digital coupons and more, “Share a Coke” is looking less like a marketing campaign and more like a marketing blitz. Yes, fans, Coke doesn’t just want to market to you this summer; it wants to be your summer — or at least a big part of it.
Moye goes on to quote Coca-Cola North America’s senior vice president, Stuart Kronauge: “For teens and millennials, personalization is not a fad; it’s a way of life. It’s about self-expression, individual storytelling and staying connected with friends. ‘Share a Coke’ taps into all of those passions.”
If Coke sounds exceedingly confident in its “Share a Coke” launch, it’s because it is a well-researched, thoroughly tested campaign that was originally introduced in the Australian market in 2011. The goal was simple: to get people talking about Coke, which would hopefully lead to increased consumption.
Gone is the familiar Coca-Cola logo.
In its place is whatever name a fan wants.
Coke began its multichannel rollout of “Share a Coke” through Australian newspapers and TV commercials. But it was through interactive channels, particularly Facebook, that the campaign really started picking up steam. According to a case study done by MarketingMag.com, “Participation and mass sharing was achieved through Facebook, which provided consumers with the tools to connect. Consumers were invited to SMS a friend’s name, which was projected live onto the iconic Coca-Cola sign at Sydney’s King’s Cross. They then received an MMS enabling them to share their friend’s name up in lights, via Facebook and email.”
The study goes on to list some impressive statistics: “Young adult consumption increased significantly during the campaign, up by 7%, making 2011 the most successful summer ever. The campaign earned a total of 18,300,000-plus media impressions. Traffic on the Coke Facebook site increased by 870%, and the Facebook page grew 39%.”
That success gave Coke the confidence to introduce “Share a Coke” to the U.K. in 2013 and to the Japanese and American markets in 2014.
In the U.K., the campaign was a hit, as Coke replaced its logo with 150 of the most popular British first names. “The success of the campaign lies in offering an affordable personalised product that exists in the real and virtual world,” blogs Tim Grimes on the Guardian’s website.
Grimes cites a study by Intent HQ that reveals that more than half of Britain’s social media users are willing to share personal information in exchange for personalized content. So it’s no wonder that “Share a Coke” was successful there. The British audience appears to be ideal for this type of interactive marketing campaign.
In Japan, Coke bottles with celebrities’ names on them have become the hot ticket, driving up the price of Coke products. Writes Brian Ashcraft on Kotaku.com, “On Yahoo! Auctions, celebrity names are being offered as pairs. So, for example, bidding starts at 5,000 yen (about $50) for this ‘Koshi Inaba’ set. Inaba is the lead singer of Japanese rock band B’z. Keep in mind, a bottle of Coke costs under two bucks.”
On our side of the globe, “Share a Coke” is also enjoying the power of celebrity, which certainly isn’t hurting the brand’s exposure. Check out actress and singer Jessica Lowndes, as she proudly displays her personalized bottle of Diet Coke.
OK, so Coke loves its brilliant new marketing campaign. Celebrities love it. Fans around the world love it. But how has “Share a Coke” impacted brand awareness as well as the company’s all-important bottom line? Let’s turn to a recent study by NetworkedInsights.com.
“People are talking frequently online about finding Coke bottles with their names on them or receiving named bottles from loved ones,” says David Porsche, an analyst with Networked Insights. “A remarkable 45% of consumer sentiment was outwardly positive. Only 5% was overtly negative. Consumers are also sharing virtual Cokes through the campaign’s website.”
The goal was simple: to get people talking about Coke, which would hopefully lead to increased consumption.
The study’s author, Jason Kapler, explains how “Share a Coke” is measuring up in SOV (share of voice) against its marketing competition in the summer of 2014. “Coke, which always enjoys a strong brand share of voice in digital channels, is also seeing the greatest brand lift from its campaign when compared with two other beverage companies also running summer campaigns. It leads Coors Light’s ‘Live Summer’ campaign and Bud Light’s ‘Whatever USA’ campaign, respectively, in brand lift.”
But the news isn’t all good for “Share a Coke.” According to Sebastian Joseph at MarketingWeek.co.uk, retail sales in the U.K. were down 2.1 percent when making a year-on-year comparison of 2012 and 2013 (the year “Share a Coke” was rolled out in the U.K.). And the total volume of Coke products sold was down 6.2 percent during that same period.
In her article “Coca-Cola Profits Slip as Too Few ‘Share a Coke,’” Samantha Sharf of Forbes.com cites some less-than-spectacular statistics. “Coca-Cola reported $12.6 billion in second quarter net operating revenue, down 1% from the same period last year. As a result, the soft-drink behemoth has reported a 3% decline in revenue during the first half of 2014. Net income for the quarter came in at $2.6 billion, down 3% from the prior year.”
One could argue, though, that these numbers predate the “Share a Coke” rollout in the summer of 2014.
Of course, when you have a brand as iconic and ubiquitous as Coke,
you can break all the rules.
Despite these few concerns, “Share a Coke” appears to be on the right trajectory. We won’t know for sure until the data from the summer 2014 campaign is made available.
What We Can Learn from “Share a Coke”
However it plays out, Coke should get credit for pushing the boundaries of modern marketing. In today’s plugged-in consumer market, bringing people together and making them feel special may start to outweigh the traditional goals of brand recognition and brand loyalty. As social media has proven, millennials need to feel unique, expressive and connected. The brands they love can certainly be part of their “social personality.”
Of course, when you have a brand as iconic and ubiquitous as Coke, you can break all the rules. You can take chances. And in this case, you can completely replace your iconic logo with popular first names. And you can do it all without having to worry about many of the traditional marketing benchmarks. With “Share a Coke,” it’s the “sharing” that’s the thing.
Such is the luxury enjoyed by a worldwide branding phenomenon like Coca-Cola. It will leave the traditional marketing strategies to Pepsi
(or so it hopes).
Photos: BMDG and MarketingMag.com.au