Coca-Cola has been in business for well over a century and is the most recognized brand and product (Coke) on the planet.
Sure they’ve had some notable missteps along the way such as the introduction of ‘New Coke” in 1985 (or was that a brilliant marketing ploy to reintroduce their flagship product as Coca-Cola ‘Classic’) and they have not necessarily fared well with every new product or business line that they have introduced, but to remain in a leadership position in a commodity business (sugar water) for well over a hundred years – that is absolutely remarkable.
I’ve highlighted below a number of video promotions that the company has developed over the past forty years to illustrate what I believe makes Coca-Cola the preeminent marketing company on the planet.
Lesson #1. Be Current.
Coke Happiness Machine. Coke’s new promotion, recently developed by Definition 6, is a very well conceived viral video campaign. Coca-Cola has been a pioneer in social media but it has not ventured far into the world of viral video. (Millions of their past TV ads are shared each year but these ads were not developed with the specific goal of being shared virally – that’s just a side benefit to developing consistently great ads.) At over a million views and counting this video is certainly a viral hit but numbers alone don’t account for it’s effectiveness. As usual, Coke does many things right in developing this viral promotion. It features the brand prominently in the video without ever appearing to salesy. (Underplaying or not featuring your brand at all begs the question – why did you bother in the first place?) The video has a simple, engaging style without feeling over produced – again an important consideration in the development of viral video. The video is engaging and a little surprising – two key elements to the success of any viral video. And finally, this video has a structure/story that can easily be repeated – new stuff coming out of a machine at a new location (“Where Will Happiness Strike Next?”). A ‘one hit viral wonder’ is great but you will have much more success if you can develop a series of videos that keep a viral video campaign going over period of time. Reach without frequency will not move the needle very far.
Lesson #2. Be Unique
Beautiful. It’s hard to categorize this video although the title certainly does this video justice. I imagine even James Cameron would be impressed with the fanciful world that Coke created to represent what really goes on inside a Coke machine. This ad aired in both 30 and 60 second formats although I think this extended version (90 seconds) serves this video best. Allusions to Willy Wonka and other children’s stories have been made but this video is like no other. The risk in stepping out this far into an imaginary world is that because there is no frame of reference it is far easier to fail than it is to succeed. Because there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ it is more likely that the viewer will respond “what the $@!# was that?” rather than “that was incredible”. Like the recent Evian Babies viral – if you have amazing work representing your brand, you reap great rewards. But if you step out, take a big risk and fail, you fail big.
Lesson # 3. Be Consistent.
Northern Lights. This original Polar Bear ad ran in 1993 and was developed to support the “Always Coca-Cola” campaign. Coca-Cola is one of the most consistent brands on the planet. They consistently create great adverting and they are also consistent in the promotional themes and styles that they develop. Coke recognized the appeal of this first polar bear ad and developed an ongoing series of polar bear ads that have run over the last 15 years – usually coinciding with the Christmas season.
Companies have to continually examine their markets and refresh their brand and associate new attributes and meaning to their products to stay current over time. Coke continues to do this but there is still something to be said for consistency – the fact that they continue to use the comfortable and familiar polar bears to promote the brand. This series of polar bear videos consistently, and ironically, delivers the most engaging human attributes – innocence and playfulness.
Lesson #4. Be Relevant
I‘d like to teach the world to sing. In 2007, Campaign Magazine called this video “one of the best-loved and most influential ads in TV history.” Created by McCann Erickson in 1971 this video neatly captured a newly emerging global consciousness. The peace generation of the sixties introduced North America to a world beyond war and trade. This video, accompanied by a great song written for the commercial (which later made it all the way to #1 in Britain and #6 on the music charts in the US), tapped into the zeitgeist of the nation in a way that very few commercials have. Even older generations who otherwise hated the ‘hippy freaks’ found something to like in this love song to the world.
Being relevant is the hardest thing for a company to do. ‘Relevance’ extends beyond the specific attributes of your brand. Great brands know how to be relevant because they have leadership who are attuned to the fashion, styles, trends and business priorities of the day. Unfortunately there is no rule, or law, or guidance for how to be relevant. Smart media agencies can help show you the way but ultimately it’s the company that makes the decision on how it promotes itself. Your company either has this awareness built into it’s DNA (i.e. Coke, Apple, Nike) or it doesn’t.
Lesson #5. Be Memorable.
Mean Joe Green Being ‘memorable’ is different than being ‘unique’. Unique (different) is good – that means you stand out, but being memorable is more important. Memorable usually (but not always) means simple. One simple but powerful idea that sticks with you for months and years. In this iconic Superbowl ad ‘Mean’ Joe Green shares a moment with a young fan. The point of highlighting this video is to show that videos don’t need to be overly complex to be effective. The simplest idea can be the most powerful if it is delivered in an engaging way. Good story telling is about finding an emotional link that will resonate with an audience. This ad has a universal appeal and is arguably one of the most memorable ads ever developed.
Interestingly, Coke tried a remake of this commercial with Troy Polamalo last year but it just didn’t have the same magic as the original. Yes, even the best marketers don’t always hit home runs. The difference between Coke and most other marketers is that even Coke’s ‘failures’ are pretty good.