Content brand of the week: Coca-cola, the fizzy drink telling sparkling stories

I dreamt I was drowning in Coca-cola once, but it was just a Fanta-sea

Leaving your disturbed subconscious aside for a moment, let’s talk about content marketing, something Coke has been doing extremely well for years – since 1886 to be precise. Some recent masterstrokes have emphasised just what it takes to stay at the top. Let’s start with the basics.

Coke happiness flag
Coca-Cola’s Happiness Flag

The basics?

This brand can tell a story. It understands that rich engaging content is about storytelling and provoking emotion, not unlike how Jack Daniels brilliantly flogs its whisky by weaving fresh narratives out of its long history.

Tell me a story then.

On Coca-Cola’s GB website there’s a quaint old tale of how in 1886, as the Statue of Liberty was being built in New York, 800 miles away in Atlanta, Coke was invented. Fair enough, but why mention something that was happening 800 miles away?  Well by pairing the invention of Coke with the building of the Statue of Liberty it is writing itself into American history and from the off, raising the status of Coke from fizzy drink to American icon.

Clever stuff.

Coke’s quaint story continues. John Pemberton, the inventor, sold nine glasses in the first year at a very quaint 5 cents a pop. “A century later the Coca-Cola Company has produced more than 10 billion gallons of syrup.”

How quaint. So Coke sells a lot of Coke, why is that interesting?

Remember Gillian McKeith?

You mean the stool-sniffing jungle-goer?

Indeed, she’s a maverick for sure, but for a number of years she held the status of Britain’s favourite television dietician. In this time she was very vocal about how fizzy drinks are the number one most worstest bad thing you could go and put in your poor body and Coke’s rep took a hit. Mckeith was a high profile example of a growing number of negative stories the brand faced in our increasingly health-conscious society. Remember the old favourites? Parents all over the land were telling children their teeth would dissolve and that a bottle of Coke ‘cleans the drains out lovely’. Clearly Coca-Cola needed to shed this growing negative public image.

So, how did Coke change perceptions?

It decided to do what it does best. The brand wanted to portray a philanthropic, environmentally friendly image with an emphasis on sharing and happiness and decided to do it by telling stories. At the forefront of this was its Content 2020 Strategy launched in 2012. We wrote about this last year because the heart of this strategy was to fully embrace the content marketing revolution. Coke even went as far as to replace its corporate website with a magazine-style media site called Journey, aimed at consumer engagement. Coke hoped this website would be the start of fulfilling one of its key mission statements of the 2020 relaunch: “to provide optimism and happiness”.

How can a fizzy drink provide optimism and happiness?

By going content crazy it seems. It has been rolling out tons of innovative, engaging offline and online content, for example this week the brand relaunched its incredibly successful Share a Coke campaign. You will have seen bottles of Coke with names printed on the label, which thirsty consumers can’t resist posting photos of on social media.

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 11.37.26
That says “thank you for my name” in Finnish (in case you were wondering).

Other recognisable campaigns include ‘2nd Lives’, Coke’s reimagining of ‘Buy the World a Coke’, as well as its World Cup extravaganza, ‘The Happiness Flag’, which was unveiled last month. This was essentially an engaging piece of content that started as an online campaign reaching an estimated audience of more than a billion.

Hold on a minute, are you sure that counts as content?

It is according to Jonathan Mildenhall, Coca-Cola’s marketing and creative boffin. He defines content as “Anything that can allow a consumer to engage with your brand or converse about your brand.” Each of the brand’s campaigns is highly shareable so bounces happily around social media attracting very high engagement and they all tell a story. The 2nd Lives campaign for example tells the story of the brand’s philanthropic affiliation with Vietnam and how by drinking Coke you are part of that positive impact.

Is this actually working?

The simple answer here is yes. That video you just watched has more than 3 million views and the rest of Coke’s social media stats are pretty staggering. 84 million likes on Coca-Cola’s Facebook page, 2.5 million Twitter followers – the numbers are really impressive. The more complicated answer is that despite the high numbers on social media, the purpose of its website, Journey, was to become a media hub in itself and this hasn’t worked. Mark Higginson from the University of Brighton suggests engagement on Journey is relatively low – if a video receives a few thousand shares on Journey, but more than a million on YouTube, that’s a failure. We reckon it’s only a matter of time before this balances out and Coke are proving that in an age of digital dominance, telling great stories is still the way to go.

Let’s just hope things don’t fizzle out!

Where next?
More posts by Matt Comras
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Feature image by Morio

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