Cross-Media Case Study: Coke's Many Flavors

The venerable cola brand reaches out to consumers in print, broadcast, and online. But how much is too much of a good thing?

One of the world's best-known brands has another new idea. Coke's ambitious new campaign, "The Coke Side of Life," wants to do nothing less than remind consumers that they love--love--the brand they've known since they were born, from that lovely "dynamic ribbon," that alluring red, and that curvaceous bottle silhouette.

This time, the brand is getting the word out on media platforms from billboards to blogs, a first for The Coca-Cola Co. The elaborate global campaign, which launched in late March and will evolve through the summer, includes multifaceted Web sites, file-sharing, some truly charming TV commercials, graphics that make you smile, a hot R&B singer, digital audio and video, and more.

Coke needed to shake things up and embrace new media, and "The Coke Side of Life," created by Wieden+Kennedy, does that. But does it actually come together, this massive multimedia love note? Is it a coherent message, enough to coax old and new Coke drinkers into a lifelong monogamous relationship?

There are some convincing elements, but at times it's hard to see how they all tie together. The offline ads don't seem to draw consumers online. Those who do log on to one of the Web sites aren't always led to the other sites.

"It seems like the approach here is a tidal wave of media, in a sense," says Peter Kim, a senior analyst with Forrester Research. Kim says it's as if Coke is thinking, "Let's put as much media out there as possible and see how much traffic we can pick up."

Putting the Fizz Back In

Coke announced the new campaign last December at the end of a year in which carbonated soft drink growth declined for the first time. An awareness of rising obesity rates created a tougher atmosphere in which to sell sugary soft drinks. So the new campaign does some serious tugging on heartstrings to remind people that Coke can make them happy.

Coca-Cola executives did not respond to interview requests for this story. In a press kit, the company called the campaign an "invitation to live on the positive side of life."

"The message is that only a Coke will do, because in the most basic terms, Coca-Cola is happiness in a bottle," Katie Bayne, senior vice president, Coca-Cola brands, Coca-Cola North America, said in a press release.

So far, the message comes through most clearly in the campaign's print and TV ads, which actually feel happy. The TV spots range from wry to charming to downright inspiring. The artwork for out-of-home ads--some animated, some still--is at once nostalgic and modern, brightly colored and soothing. All of the offline spots seem friendly, recalling the spirit of other popular Coke campaigns.

One even references a well-loved commercial from the 1970s: A relaxed tune plays as white type appears on a red background. "In case you were wondering," it begins, "it would cost approximately... $4,213,136,717... to buy the world a Coke."

In another, a young man "steals" a sip from a self-serve Coke fountain in a convenience store--not a felony in all 50 states, the copy reminds us. Another TV spot announces that Coke has finally decided to share its secret formula with the world, and a complicated scribble flashes on screen.

"I think that's kind of cute," says Erin Smith, an Argus Research analyst who covers Coca-Cola. "It kinds of reminds you that it is an important brand, it's been around for years. But it's funny at the same time."

The idea of making consumers laugh, smile, and feel good permeates the offline elements of the campaign. The spots are truly enjoyable. It's enough to make you want a Coke.

Online Upswing

Back online, the closest thing to the warm spirit of the campaign appears on Viral marketing specialist Jun Group Inc. produced a video for about Ne-Yo, a popular R&B artist signed with Island Def Jam. The site will feature other artists in the future. Ne-Yo is young, he's optimistic, and he's gotten positive ink from publications such as Blender, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times.

In the video, the smooth-voiced singer performs a couple of songs interspersed with backstage and rehearsal footage. Ne-Yo talks about his family, his music, and how a high school talent show made him realize he could sing.

Visitors can play the video in almost any format, and download and share it for free. The site itself links to Def Jam, where consumers can buy Ne-Yo's album. But there is no link to the other Coke sites, and no mention of the tons of interactive content nearby at or the loyalty program at While intentionally avoids annoying visitors with blatant advertising, it misses an opportunity to at least invite them into the rest of the campaign. does a better job with branding and getting consumers involved with Coke. Visitors can play retro-inspired video games that riff on Coke. They can download and share Coke videos, screen savers, and wallpaper. Once visitors register, they can rack up points for contests, make music, download ringtones, and create a blogging space, all of which translates to more time spent on the site. There's even a film festival of sorts: Visitors can download free software, take the tutorial, upload their own movie, and watch and rank other users' movies.

"I think has the best grasp of emerging online media," Forrester's Kim commented in an e-mail. "But with three online properties [MyCoke, iCoke, MyCokeRewards], plus others, how is Coke delivering on any sort of integrated strategy? These sites are similar enough that it's just duplication of effort and confusing to customers, if they ever hear about the sites.", which also features music video downloads (separate from, previews of PlayStation 2 games, an online mixing board that encourages file sharing, and consumer-created blogs, reaches straight to young people, the most likely demographic to buy more Coke. It remains to be seen how well the efforts will translate into sales.

"It's a step in the right direction, but in the end, you have to see if it's actually driving growth in the company, and that takes time to figure out," says Lauren Torres, a financial analyst with hsbc who covers Coca-Cola. "[Companies] have to target the growth, which is youth, and use all forms of media, and that's what they're trying to do."

Empowering Energy

Parallel to this effort, Coke introduced more sophisticated and healthful drinks, such as Coca-Cola Blak, a lower-calorie cola infused with coffee. The company also invests plenty of energy in drinks that slake a more health-conscious thirst, such as Coca-Cola Zero, Powerade, and Dasani water.

"I think Coke has an active innovation lineup for this year," says John Sicher, editor of Beverage Digest. "Consumers today are very interested in new products. Coke is responding."

It's smart for the company to reinforce its line of health and wellness products at the same time as it tries to revive interest in its flagship drink, says HSBC's Torres. "They're trying to get a balance of their whole portfolio," she says.

But will consumers piece together Coke's multimedia love letter and respond with increased sales? Time will tell if the company's enthusiasm for new media will reignite its long-standing relationship with consumers and convince the world to buy itself more Coke.

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