One of the most iconic digital marketing case studies is that of Coke, which earned itself  “rock star” image by using innovative digital marketing strategies.

How so? Through innovative, fun, young and trendy branding campaigns across almost 80 countries with digital at their core. Digital, of course, includes the use of social media platforms and mobile apps. But many of Coke’s campaigns have also been about a seamless interplay between digital and physical elements of marketing. That’s what has made many of Coke’s campaigns so popular globally with younger generations.

Iconic digital marketing case studies – Part II: Coca Cola

A case in point was the Coke Happiness Machine – the campaign idea was simple – a modified vending machine was placed at strategic places like maybe in a college dorm and was rigged to play all kinds of pranks! In one case, the machine needed to be hugged by surprised college students before it handed out a can of Coke! In other instances, the vending machine was activated by dancing.

How did they mobilize social media?

The reactions of the customers were recorded and the videos were distributed through YouTube and social media amplification – earning them millions of video views, social mentions and shares – all at a relatively lower cost than would have been possible using traditional media advertising.

So whether it is Coke’s Pinterest interest boards, which are about general themes that have an emotional connect with their young audience; or their approach to using Twitter as a way of genuinely communicating with followers rather than simply pushing out their own marketing messages; or their many Facebook campaigns to engage their young fans; or its use of Google + Hangouts to interact with followers, Coke has given us many interesting digital ‘moments’.

We are going to look at one particular campaign in more detail – The ‘Share a Coke’ campaign. The word ‘share’ in the title itself suggests that this would be a social media campaign. While we will not go onto the pros and cons of advertising colas to young audiences in general or the relative ROI of TV versus Digital, we will for now focus on understanding how digital was used and what the impact was.

The idea:

To personalize Coca-Cola bottles with labels printed with common first names instead of the Coca-Cola brand name and encourage people to share the bottle with their own name on it with their friends.

The logic:

It was assumed that people would be excited to see their own name printed on a bottle of their favourite cola and would want to show it to friends and family and take photos or videos and share them on social media. This level of personalization would encourage users to search out their name from a lot of outlets selling the beverage and would even encourage buying of a bottle of Coke actively just because they saw their name on it – thus increasing engagement, brand appeal as well as sales.


Did it work?

Yes, it did. The campaign was also replicated in many different countries – with varying results. In fact, the idea was so well-received by the audience that many extensions and variations of the campaign were launched over the years, starting from the mid-2010s. The Share-A-Coke campaign has received many advertising awards – 7 Cannes Lions and many more since then and became known as a ‘best-in-class’ example of personalization in marketing. In the European leg of the campaign, over 700,000 bottles with personalized labels were printed and sold and more than 17000 virtual bottles were shared online. The #ShareACoke hashtag received over 200,000 tweets during the European campaign.

So what really worked?

The idea of Coke cans or bottles with names was an instantly shareable idea – a Eureka moment for the team maybe. Seeing your own name in the place of a big and famous brand like Coca-Cola left fans with a thrill that this was a brand that connected with them in a unique and personal way. In fact, the campaign was called ‘Project Connect’ when it first took shape! The concept was also very amenable to creative variations – for example, not just names but even generic words like Mom, Dad, ‘Sis’, ‘Bestie’, ‘Champ’ were used. It was also an idea that could be moulded across different media – billboards, mobile apps, vending machines – in fact, you could at one point even send a virtual personalized Coke to a friend via Facebook!. In Australia, they also allowed fans to suggest what name they would like printed on their own bottle through a web-based submission form.

This idea worked because it allowed people to express themselves and associate in the most personal way with the brand – with their name!

The brand was successfully able to overcome the formidable challenge of meeting high demand on personalized labels and the logistical challenges of printing and distributing the bottles.

For digital marketers across the globe, the Coca-Cola digital campaigns have become iconic and are today studied and reviewed extensively.

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