Coca-Cola Joins the Revolution in a World Where the Mob Rules

Adapting to a networked planet run by consumers

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CANNES, France—Invoking the spirit and language of modern revolution—everything from the Arab Spring to the Occupy movement—Coca-Cola's top marketer on Tuesday explained how the company is adapting to a world of change led by the "mob" of consumers who are relentlessly sharing media across their large and growing digital networks.

In a session here at the Cannes Lions festival, Joe Tripodi, chief marketing and commercial officer at Coke, said the digital tools that are revolutionizing how people communicate require a parallel revolution from marketers trying to engage them. Mostly, he said, this means developing strongly sharable pieces of communication that generate huge numbers of impressions online—and then, crucially, lead to expressions from consumers, who join the story and extend it, and then finally to transactions, in Coke's case all under the theme of happiness and optimism.

Tripodi showed several videos of Coke content from around the world that has gone viral and created "shared value" for the company, its customers and its shareholders. They included Coke's Hug Me vending machine at a university in Singapore that dispensed cans of Coke when people put their arms around it and hugged it. The video generated more than 112 million impressions in the first seven days—high-impact results with low-cost delivery. Tripodi also highlighted the Project Connect initiative in Australia, in which Coke personalized bottles by putting common first names on them.

"It's not just about pushing stuff out as we've historically done," Tripodi said. "It's about participating in discussions with people. We have to provide a narrative that people can engage with. We have to create experiences that perhaps are only had by a few but are compelling enough to fuel conversations with many."

In addition to the company's traditional marketing—some of which is functional, and some emotional—Tripodi also gave an overview of what he called Coke's "cultural leadership" marketing efforts, its attempts to "authentically shine a light on a cause" to improve the world and thus organically embody the brand promise of provoking happiness. The major example is Coke's Arctic Home project to protect the habitat of polar bears—digital versions of whom have starred in Coke's holiday ads for decades. As part of that campaign, Coke turned its traditional red cans to white and, working with the World Wildlife Fund, committed $3 million to the cause. The first year of a three-year effort drew 1.3 billion impressions.

Tripodi spoke, too, of collaborative innovations it has been pursuing with companies like Walmart and Spotify. Coke's Dasani water had been losing shelf space at Walmart for some time, but Coke reversed that trend by developing the PlantBottle, a new eco-friendly packaging that Walmart endorsed and even helped to promote. With Spotify, Coke has set up a global partnership that will include a Spotify app, a Facebook integration and a marketing campaign next year. "Music is at the core of activation for so many of our brands," said Tripodi.

Not surprisingly, music is baked into the company's "Move to the Beat" campaign for the upcoming London Olympics, in which famed British music producer Mark Ronson took the sounds of five different Olympic sports and blended them into one song.

Coke isn't just hoping to hold on to market share. Its aim—what Tripodi called its "BHAG," or "big hairy audacious goal"—is to double its business by the end of the decade. And it clearly sees the social power of youth as a juggernaut of exploitable energy in this regard—particularly online, where young people, through content sharing, can transcend brand loyalty and become brand advocates. Coke already has 42 million Facebook fans—that's almost 5 percent of all Facebook users. And it already has the brand positioning of optimism, which young people zealously share. With this base, Coke feels well positioned perhaps not only to join the revolution sweeping the world but to lead it.

"Our culture today, as we know, is very youth driven and starstruck," said Tripodi. "It's music enthusiastic and media savvy, environmentally conscious, revolutionary and open to change. And youth culture is fundamentally optimistic. As a beacon of optimism, as an icon of happiness, Coca-Cola sees the world through the lens of the glass is half full, and ties this approach to culturally relevant and defining thought leadership and creative."

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@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.
Publish date: June 19, 2012 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT