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Colour Your Summer Destroy Your Brand?

Earlier this month, iconic brand Coca Cola tempted fate yet again as it made another attempt to change the colour of their Coke cans in an effort to attract a younger market. And they are rightly trying to reach that market through digital instead of mainstream advertising.

 Coke regularly tweaks its packaging to create buzz and has a long tradition of holiday marketing, and says it helped shape the image of Santa Claus in his red suit with its 1930’s advertising. Other Christmases past have featured snowflakes and polar bears on Christmas themed cans.

 In Its first attempt at playing with the Coke can colour in 2011, Coke quickly switched back to its time-honored red just one month after rolling out its flagship cola in a snow-white can for the holidays.

 While the company has frequently rung in the holiday with special can designs, this was the first time it put regular Coke in a white can. Some consumers complained that it looked confusingly similar to Diet Coke’s silver cans. Others felt that regular Coke tasted different in the white cans. Still others argued that messing with red bordered on sacrilege. I tend to agree.

 Amid consumers mistaking its holiday-designed can for diet coke, Coca-Cola pulled the cans from the cans from the shelves 2 months earlier than planned.

‘The white Coke can campaign was part of a partnership with the World Wildlife Fund to highlight global warming’s threat to bears’ Arctic habitat. Coke is contributed close to $3 million to conservation efforts. Great philosophically, but not so good for profit or its loyal customers.

 “The white can resonated with us because it was bold, attention-grabbing” and “reinforced” the campaign theme, said Scott Williamson, a spokesman for the beverage company at the time. Coke’s marketing executives wanted a “disruptive” campaign to get consumers’ attention, he says.

 The can-color debate pales next to the uproar of 1985, when Coke replaced its flagship cola with New Coke by changing the recipe, only to re-launch “classic” Coke a few weeks later amid a consumer revolt.

 With the new campaign, Coca Cola has poured millions of dollars into developing a series of advertising innovations focused on digital, social and content marketing in a new summer campaign that aims to make today’s teens feel the same way about Coke their parents did.

 Online media Editor Lara Sinclair provided insights on the coloured cans campaign as summarised below.

 “The move is a stark warning to mainstream media including television, as the traditional Coke summer TV commercial has effectively been replaced by digital and social media to promote six new Coke can colours,” Ms Sinclair said.

 But youth marketing experts say simply using new forms of advertising and different coloured cans may not be enough to connect with today’s youth. In a concession to the anti-sugar lobby, Coke’s $10 million-plus marketing push is focused on its smaller 250ml can.

 “We realised we needed to up our game significantly in the innovation stakes,” Coca-Cola’s marketing manager Di Everett said.

 “We usually spend 70 per cent of our budget on tried and true media, 20 per cent reapplying experiments and 10 per cent on true innovation. We really tried to tip that ratio. (Innovation) would be significantly higher than that in every medium.”

 In a major deal with video-sharing site YouTube, Coke has hired three YouTube content creators to be part of the campaign, while a masthead takeover will unlock particular content when teens interact with it. Seven different online videos have been created as part of the campaign, aiming to connect with teens through their interests in music, fashion and gaming.

 Photo image recognition technology is being employed to grant access to content in combination with smart phones in several different media channels. Signage in some shopping centres will be transformed into a game also played on a customer’s phone when they photograph the panel.

 In some bus shelters, panels have been transformed to dispense cans of Coke, a media first, while graffiti artists have been employed to repaint select billboards in Sydney and Melbourne on a daily basis.

 Ms Everett would not reveal sales targets for the Coke summer campaign. “We suspect there’ll be a commercial gain. It’s not about volume. It’s about teens forming a relationship with us, considering us innovative, and the rest will follow.

 “We want teens to discover this world themselves,” Ms Everett said. “We wanted to be the group that has kept (being) iconic,” she said. “Otherwise we stop being what Coke has always been about.”

 According to Dion Appel, CEO of youth marketing agency Lifelounge, simply using new media channels and coloured cans would not be enough to recapture Coke’s past glory.

 “Coke in the past had the ability to connect through fashion and summer on the beach. That enabled you to transport yourself into that image. I’m struggling to see the idea here but maybe it will be revealed in the online content.”

 Like its past “Share a Coke” campaign, which gave people access to cans with their name printed on them, the current campaign uses the “Open happiness” tagline.

Adam Ferrier, chief strategy officer at advertising agency Cummins & Partners, said it was great to see Coke was being “less rigid” with its brand properties, such as the signature red can.

 “The strength of ideas like this is they’re inviting consumers into the brand to co-create,” he said.  The Coke brand is still the third most powerful brand in the world, according to Interbrand’s annual rankings. But soft drink products are under pressure globally over their high sugar content, local bottler Coca-Cola Amatil last week announced a major restructure and job cuts, and Coca-Cola South Pacific, which markets Coke products in Australia, has confirmed it will soon launch a lower-sugar product, Coca-Cola Life, which uses natural sweetener stevia.

 I for one will be watching this campaign and research results closely.  This is a very bold move which hopefully will not dilute the brand identity and in turn alienate their loyal older demographic.  I have enjoyed watching Coke’s summer campaigns, they were light and fun over the years, even as I got older.  Hall of Fame Marketing Bendigo Bloggers will report back to you post summer after exploring the feedback and success of the campaign. Your opinions are welcome on our Facebook page. Facebook.com.au/halloffamemarketing.

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