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It’s the Real Thing

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By: Sarah Ritchie

As part of New York’s Social Media Week, ICSC was delighted to host a gathering featuring Scott Ryan and Keith Berman from the Coca-Cola Company, who presented on “Customer Engagement in the SoLoMo Revolution.” 

The pair provided a sweeping review of advertising strategies during the Coca-Cola’s 127-year history.  With products in 207 countries (indeed, more countries than are represented in the United Nation), the multi-billion dollar company recognizes that they are largely selling “one drink at a time,” with the focus on selling an “experience” of drinking one of America’s favorite beverages.

Mobilizing Social/Local/Mobile (SoLoMo) strategies, Coca-Cola aims to tug at the heartstrings of consumers reminding them of the memorable occasions that they have enjoyed Coke—be it a family gathering, holiday celebration, or sporting event.  Likewise, the company takes great efforts to connect Coca-Cola consumers, through social media and thought-provoking campaigns.  In short, their mission is to “Bring People Together.”  The leaders at Coke recognize that “Marketers don’t control the Brand—consumers do.”

Ryan and Berman provided analysis of some of their most innovative campaigns, of late.   Recently, of course, the company stimulated a great discussion about American culture through their now-famous television ad during the Super Bowl game.   Millions watched the touching rendition of “America the Beautiful” sung by a bevy of young girls from all ethnic and cultural backgrounds—Native American, European, African-American, Latina, Asian, and Middle Eastern.  Their goal? To remind viewers that America is a tapestry of immigrants (save the Native Americans), from all parts of the globe.  To some, the commercial was controversial; to most, it was emotional and sentimental.  But one thing is clear:  the advertisement spawn analysis and commentary among traditional news outlets and throughout the world of social media.

The duo outlined another inspired campaign, harkening back to their admired campaign of the 1970’s (known in the business as the “hill top” ad—with dozens of young singers reciting the lyrics, “I’d like to buy the world a coke….”).  Through a brilliant partnership with Google, “regular people” are invited to use their smart phones to “pay it forward,” buying a coke for a random person in some particular part of the world.  The recipient is pleasantly surprised with a complimentary beverage and good wish from the gift-giver, to which they may respond with a personal greeting.  These random acts of kindness are unusually powerful, given the small monetary investment of a can or bottle of coke.  This strategy clearly embodied the words of the “hill top ad” about buying a coke for the world.

In an even more ambitious project, they used the age-old soda to draw together consumers from India and Pakistan, countries experiencing significant political tension since their post-World War II division.  My words don’t do justice to the beautiful images of folks connecting one-on-one with individuals in the other country.  Coke is literally bringing people together—directly.

As we closed the meeting, I pondered the great sweep of advertising and social media campaigns that I’ve taken in as an “average” consumer.  Quite honestly I could not think of any examples of advertising that stepped aside in the promotional process, facilitating one human being connecting with another to enjoy a popular project.  For someone, like myself, unduly influenced by the cynical portrayal of the advertising world in the TV show Mad Men, I was truly uplifted and energized by these superb efforts.  Had I not already been a huge fan of Coke before the meeting, I would have immediately headed to a vending machine to experience it for myself.

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