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The Coca Cola Company Case Study

Case Study: Coca-Cola

Winning the design Grand Prix at Cannes, two D&AD Yellow Pencils for design and advertising, plus the 2009 Emmy for an Outstanding Commercial. More recently, it was recognised, once again, as the top performer in Best Global Brands 2009, the annual report from brand consultancy Interbrand.

As the world’s most valuable brand, Coke comes in at $68,734 million, some three per cent higher than a year ago. This is no mean feat in a year when the global credit crunch and recession hit the brand, leading consumers to cut back on almost every area of spending – including eating and drinking out. Coke has held its pole position for ten years, staying ahead of other famous brands such as Toyota, Disney, McDonalds, Marlboro and Intel.

Quite simply, there is no other brand like it. 

The report credits Coke’s success as being due in part to, “its edgy campaigns that continue to push boundaries.” “We’re enormously proud of winning these awards,” says Pio Schunker, senior vice president for Creative Excellence, Coca-Cola, North America. “They are testament to the power of creativity and how it can reiterate Coke’s position as a leadership brand at every touch point with consumer – from advertising and packaging, to cups, vending machines and trucks.”

Keeping a big brand great – especially in creative terms – requires constant vigilance and a determination to change. Over the years, Coke has undergone various metamorphoses with the launch of brand extensions. While Diet Coke and Coke Zero are spectacularly successful others – like New Coke – were not. However, with the turn of the millennium, while Coke’s international sales were doing well it was facing some new challenges – especially in its largest market of North America.

In recent years, the US carbonated soft drink market has gradually shrunk according to data published by Beverage Digest, the US trade magazine. From 2001 to 2006, Coke saw US sales drop. The reasons for this are complex but include consumer concern about the impact to health and weight from drinking sugar-laden drinks.

There was also a feeling that Coke had lost its way. Around 2003, the company conducted a large research project called, ‘The Big Dig,’ which revealed that consumers had a, “deep-down love for the brand, but it wasn’t as top of mind.” Meanwhile, in the creative world, The Coca-Cola Company had a reputation for commissioning great work for its core brand only for the internal approval process to dilute it to the point of being insipid. Alert to these issues, in 2003, Steven Heyer, then president and chief operating officer and Esther Lee, then chief creative officer, established the Creative Excellence team.

In autumn of the same year, Schunker joined the team following a 15-year career in advertising. “Coke had become wallpaper in the US,” he says. “It had a potent, latent equity that we had to release. Our job was to contemporise the brand, reinterpret it to a new generation and make it culturally relevant.” To achieve that, he sought new creative partners. He wanted independent agencies who were passionate about creativity not group profits. He also wanted people who shared his own view about the brand and who understood how to take a business strategy and translate it into creative work.

Advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy was working on brands within The Coca-Cola Company’s extensive portfolio when Schunker approached them. He recalls his first encounter with creative partner Dan Wieden. “He said to me, ‘Look I’m not pitching for the Coke business, I’m just interested in the brand. You’ve got to go back to what it stands for and that’s simple goodness.’’

While many clients would bristle at direct criticism of their brand, Schunker agreed with Wieden’s assessment. He offered the agency the advertising account but Wieden and his team were wary. “We thought Coke’s management would never agree to the kind of creative work we thought they needed,” says Hal Curtis, creative director at Wieden + Kennedy. “And we didn’t want to compromise.”

However, Schunker was persuasive. He explained about the new Creative Excellence team, their sponsorship by senior management and the corporate determination to re-establish the brand’s legendary status.

Wieden + Kennedy signed up and, in conjunction with its Amsterdam office, worked on a new communications platform – that drinking Coke provides a small moment of happiness. This became the tag line, ‘The Coke Side of Life.’ It appeared on, ‘Video Game,’ one of the TV ads’ that re-launched the brand in 2006. The ad was a positive spin on the game Grand Theft Auto. After drinking a Coke, the anti-hero is transformed, doing kind acts and creating happiness. “We wanted the brand to simply be itself to consumers, to bring a little bit of happiness,” explains Curtis.

Watch 'The Coke Side of Life' advert above.

Following the campaign’s successful launch in the US, it was extended globally. “We gradually learned that, ‘The Coke Side of Life’ did not always translate well in other cultures,” explains Curtis. “So we evolved it to the, ‘Open Happiness’ campaign.” It plays on the universal theme of happiness, now associated with opening a Coke. This campaign – which launched in January 2009 – remains current in the US and elsewhere.

Watch 'Open Happiness', launched to appeal to a wider audience than its Video Game inspired advert.

Having established a new, successful platform for Coke, Schunker wanted to review the packaging. He approached Turner Duckworth in San Francisco. David Turner, partner, also expressed strong views about the brand. “The identity had lost its clarity, become cluttered and uninspiring,” recalls Turner. “For example, it included unnecessary details such as bubbles when everyone knows Coke is a carbonated drink.”

But, like Wieden, Turner was reluctant to take on the job. “Coke is the ultimate brand project,” he explains. “But it was such a big job, would require huge resources, could take a long time, demoralise staff and damage our creative reputation”. Schunker started putting the counter arguments, then showed Wieden + Kennedy’s positioning work, plus ‘Video Game’ and the aspirations for the pack. “Everything was exactly right for the brand,” Turner comments. “They were simplifying Coke, taking it back to its core values and then expressing those in highly creative and refreshing ways. I could see we would all be in agreement.”

In fact, Wieden + Kennedy’s work laid the foundation for Turner Duckworth’s development of the graphic identity. The design consultancy stripped out every superfluous element such as the over-worked ribbon and bubbles. By simplifying the design, they emphasised the importance of each element – the ribbon, the newly refined Coca-Cola script, and the famous red, now reformulated to make it brighter and bolder.

“We’ve emphasised the positive and authentic qualities that make Coke a great brand,” notes Turner, “and, by doing so, we’ve kept the brand packaging true to its heritage while also making it very modern.”

Turner Duckworth’s designs – for which it won a D&AD Yellow Pencil – have been applied to everything from bottles and cans, to cups and trucks. Although the designs were intended for the US, David Butler, global vice president for design, saw their potential. As a result, global brand guidelines were created as part of an ongoing process to improve the packaging elsewhere.

In the US, one of Wieden + Kennedy’s most outstanding ads and for which it too won a D&AD Yellow Pencil, is, ‘It’s Mine.’ This was commissioned as a Super Bowl spot for 2008 that would also air first on TV and then in cinemas. Around 90 million viewers in the US watch the game on CBS, a far bigger audience than for any other television programme. More than half the audience who watch the Super Bowl do so as much for the commercials – many of which are specially commissioned – as for the game itself, according to a survey by Harris Interactive Inc.

The aim was to create a spot of monumental proportions that would match the importance of the Super Bowl game. ‘It’s Mine’, is set against the backdrop of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. Huge balloons of Underdog and Stewie (from the TV show ‘Family Guy’) tussle over a giant Coke bottle balloon only to have the balloon of Charlie Brown pop up and claim the bottle. It is a heart-warming, witty tale shown in epic scale, comprising some of America’s best-loved fictional characters as well as its most famous.

Wieden + Kennedy and Turner Duckworth continue to work on Coke and, encouraged by Schunker, have developed a close relationship. “There have been times over the last few years when their work has inspired us and vice versa,” explains Curtis. “Generally, we agree on how to move forward. It’s a good partnership.”

The agencies also have good relationships with Schunker. “He values design. He gives you the authority to challenge him,” explains Turner. “At the same time, he nurtures you as an agency not just a service.” Curtis agrees. “Pio believes wholeheartedly in the power of creativity,” he says. “He’s passionate about it.”

So, given all this praise, what has been the most difficult aspect of working on Coke? All the major players found the client approval process painfully lengthy. Turner thought his worst fears were being realised when, after eighteen months, none of his work had made it to market. Just as he was wondering whether to quit the account, a Turner Duckworth designed aluminium bottle launched. “It created a real buzz in the market,” he says, “and people started blogging about it. That was a turning point for us and the people at Coke.”

The risk for everyone involved in the approval process was that the new creative platform would fail – hence they required more time to sign off work. “I imagine we weren’t the first to recommend simplifying Coke’s message,” explains Curtis, “and we were quite aware it would be a difficult task to make it stick.”

So why did it work this time? “We had brilliant agency partners,” states Schunker. “We had the Creative Excellence team championing design, and senior management supporting everything.”

Interestingly, after ‘The Coke Side of Life’ campaign and the first new packaging were launched, the approval process became faster. This was because the work was cumulative, building on an established and, clearly successful, platform.

If Schunker were to do it all again, he would run the whole project faster – in theory. “Yet I know that’s not possible,” he states. “You just can’t with a big corporation. In retrospect, I realise I had to earn people’s trust to get them to accept our proposals. I was asking them to sign up to multi-million dollar changes that would have an impact for ­years. Who was I to do that?”

Arguably, one of the Creative Excellence team’s greatest achievements has been internally. “We’ve helped people understand that, unlike a brand such as Apple, we’re not changing the product,” Schunker explains. “It’s the communication that must alter and stay on its proverbial toes so that we continually refresh the brand and consumers continually reassess it.”

But has Coke’s creative renaissance had an impact on the bottom line? “It’s difficult to claim a cause and effect relationship between communications and turnover,” says Schunker, “when there are so many other factors at play such as distribution, price and promotions.”

Nevertheless, in July 2009, the Financial Times reported The Coca-Cola Company’s chief executive officer Muhtar Kent, as being encouraged by the company’s performance in North America. A representative for Coca-Cola has also said that when business goes well for Coke there is a halo effect on the whole Coca-Cola portfolio of products including Diet Coke, Coca-Cola Light and Coca-Cola Zero.

Changing the direction of a big brand, enthusing consumers and increasing sales are all enormously difficult. Can it really be achieved through a new communications platform and resulting creative work? Ex-Wall Street analyst Emanuel Goldman, now a beverage-industry consultant believes clever advertising and more marketing dollars can halt a decline in sales, even as consumers are trying to cut back on sugary drinks. “You get ads in front of people over and over again and it sticks,” notes Goldman. “They start wanting a Coke.”

Schunker is tight lipped about the details of Coke’s future creative direction but he does promise, “pleasant surprises and some pretty good stuff.” If the scale of the change thus far is anything to go by, it should be worth watching.

If you think you have a campaign that deserves a Pencil, enter your work into the D&AD Awards and see if our judges agree. When it comes to awards, nothing matters more.

For more creative inspiration and the opportunity to get up close and personal with the world’s best design and advertising, join us at D&AD Festival.

Brand Loyalty Case Study Coca-Cola Can Change-Up

Coke Customers Loyal to Brand for 125 Years

Brand loyalty for Coke is strong.  Coke changes its cans, but consumers are still loyal.  To celebrate the 125th anniversary of Coca-Cola, The Coco-Cola Company is marking the year in a number of ways. Coke has never been shy about making changes – remember New Coke? – and sometimes the company plays with the designs on its cans. This winter, Coke joined forces with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to fundraise on behalf of polar bears, a Coca-Cola mascot since the 1920s.

Specially designed cans of Coke are decorated with polar bears to call attention to the Arctic Home initiative.

Coca-Cola Plays with Cans, Could You?

Seasonal cans of Diet Coke will show up in silver with snowflake designs. Some loyal Coke fans seem to be okay with that, however, other Coke fans love red and are unhappy with the change to white cans, even for the holidays. This is really too bad since the change to white cans is for a very good cause -- protecting polar bear habitat. Seems like some soft drink consumers forget that the holidays are not just about celebrating, but also about caring and socially responsible charitable giving.

Coca-Cola has long been associated with special advertising and designs for the holidays. This year, a more lasting change will be made to the Diet Coke can – beyond the usual holiday decoration. In 1982, Coca-Cola extended the brand by launching Diet Coke.

This year, the Diet Coke can was re-designed by the Turner Duckworth design firm in San Francisco. The can has a fresh, modern look but has retained the same design colors of red, black, and silver so recognition should be easy and quick for consumers.

The Coca-Cola Company seems to have mastered the social network and social media sites as a way to create some fun for loyal consumers.

From Facebook, brand fans can be a Coca-Cola AHHH Giver (thats ahhh! as in "Ahhh, I love the great taste of Coke!" and "Ahhh, how sweet - my friend was thinking of me!") by sending a coke to a friend. That gift of Coke can come right from the hand of the inventor of Coke, Dr. John Pemberton, who speeds the gift along with a wink, or it can be a special coke that delivers points which can be used to help protect polar bear habitat through the Arctic Home initiative.

A Coffee Table Book for Coke Fans

  • A commemorative book published by Assouline will feature Coca-Cola advertising, artwork, and photography reflecting the relevance of the Coca-Cola brand in popular culture over the past 125 years. Both digital (at the App Store for the Apple iPad) and hard copy versions of the book will be available worldwide. This is truly a book for shared moments and memories. It is worth noting that there is $650 version of the book and a $65 version for those who really will put the book on their coffee tables.

Coke Celebrates 125 Years by Sharing Special Treasures

  • Limited edition packaging in select markets around the world will be available this year to mark the 125 year milestone.
  • The Coca-Cola heritage archives will be accessible by way of tours of the 360-degree Virtual Museum. The heritage archives have never been viewed by the public before this reveal for the 125th anniversary of the flagship product -- Coke.
  • A new Coca-Cola Heritage App will debut in the App Store. Featured in the application are an interactive timeline and a link to Coca-Cola Conversations, the Company’s blog that is frequently updated with interesting commentary and news.

Coke Celebrates125 Years of Sharing by Making Socially Responsible Commitments

The Coca-Cola Company has come up with many exciting ways to thank its loyal customers for making Coke what it is today. Celebrations are taking place around the globe.

  • In the summer in the United States, Coke released a new packaging size for Coca-Cola – 1.25 liters (naturally) and invited people to enjoy "125 Years of Summer Fun."
  • Community initiative grants were awarded in South Africa that align with the priorities of "Live for a Difference".
  • "Live Positively" campaign was launched in Vietnam.
  • Sustainability initiatives were kicked off in Kenya, including a Kenya Red Cross water partnership.
  • Elements of Coke’s history were featured at the grand opening of the “World of Coca-Cola” exhibition in Russia. featured at the grand opening of the “World of Coca-Cola” exhibition in Russia.
  • Commemorative postcards were distributed in Brazil to share happiness and communicate optimism from The Coca-Cola Company associates.
  • Coke sponsored the Harare International Festival of Arts in Zimbabwe where more than 140 global artists and more than 1000 local artists shared and sold their art.

The Coca-Cola Company uses a customer-based approach to market research, not a product-based approach. Because of Coca-Cola’s close relationship with its customers, it is able to create products that are focused on their market segments. Market research enables Coca-Cola to determine the type of product consumers seek, the best places to promote and distribute the products, and the price that offers consumers the best value for their money.

Consumers in different markets can be quite different, even when their consumer profiles appear similar. Coca-Cola Vanilla is a good example of this phenomenon. Coca-Cola Vanilla was established in the U.S. with a good market following, but the Coca-Cola Company wanted to extend the brand to the U.K. Market researchers tested the product concept in the U.K. in order to gauge the response of consumers and Coke fans. Through taste tasting, Coca-Cola was able to ascertain how the product should taste for Coke drinkers in the U.K. Focus groups held with consumers were the basis for identifying the most attractive product design to have British appeal.

The work of market researchers in a company like Coca-Cola is complex. Just think of what it takes to test and develop a product range that is attractive to consumers around the globe. The Coca-Cola company and its market research department and market research partners does this very well. Market research keeps tabs of consumer perceptions about the current range of Coca-Cola products, and it helps the company to extend the product range by focusing on customer-driven opportunities.

The Coca-Cola Company regards market research so highly that it helped to establish and fund The Coca-Cola Center for Marketing Studies at the University of Georgia. The Master of Marketing Research Program is offered at the university.

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