What Coca-Cola sells is essentially fizzy sugar water, and it has been doing so for over 120 years. So how can such a simple product be consistently so strong in the market? Of course, you’re reading a marketing magazine so the answer should be pretty obvious to you. Coca-Cola ranks number three in the Interbrand 2015 Best Global Brands list, which quantifies the contribution of brands to business objectives. But how did Coca-Cola build such a strong brand that gets people excited for a product that is, from a purely objective point of view, not very interesting and has (almost) stayed the same for over a century?
Well it’s quite simple. Coca-Cola consistently invests colossal amounts of money in relationship marketing, and it has been doing so decades before the term “relationship marketing” even existed. Coca-Cola’s marketing campaigns revolve around attaching the brand to things that are dear to consumers, touching their hearts and finding a place for the brand at the core of who they are. Indeed, Coca-Cola’s relationship with its consumers is one that relies on the principle of self-expansion. As a result, Coca-Cola isn’t just a soda brand for many. It is a friend, and a part of who they are.
Although the list of campaigns produced by Coca-Cola to achieve such strong relationships with its customers is endless, I’d like to give a few representative examples of how the connections are made:
Coca-Cola and American Patriotism
Coca-Cola has been a patriotic symbol in America ever since the company started supporting American soldiers during World War II by shipping cases of Coke to military bases abroad. Coke was giving a helping hand in times of adversity and quickly became very dear to the soldiers who missed their homes. To them, Coke was far more than a consumer product. It had an enormous emotional value as it gave them comfort and reminded them of their ‘normal’ lives while they were in a highly unstable situation and had little control over outcomes. In addition, Coke represented their country and what they were standing for.
In parallel, Coca-Cola’s advertising campaigns back in the US revolved around the soldiers deployed abroad and how Coca-Cola was supporting them, which of course gave a very positive image of the brand in its home market.
More recently, during the 2014 Super Bowl, Coca-Cola aired the infamous ‘America is Beautiful’ ad, which depicts Americans of all races and religions singing the patriotic ‘America the Beautiful’ song in different languages. The ad aimed at reflecting the rich cultural diversity of the country and for many, was a powerful message of unity and harmony. However, for many other more conservative people, the ad represented a betrayal from an American symbol. It was an attack on their values and their idea of what America is, and therefore an attack on their individual selves. As a result, the controversy quickly generated a buzz, flooding social media platforms with outrage statements (often racist. There, I said it).
Coca-Cola’s Friendly Twist Campaign
This year, the brand launched a campaign in Colombia whereby college freshmen received bottles of Coke on their first day on campus. Nothing too creative you say, however, there is a twist (no pun intended). The caps of these bottles could only be opened when clicked together with another cap. This encouraged students to collaborate in order to open their bottles of Coke, and therefore facilitated starting conversations between strangers on a day when students usually are a bit lonely and don’t know anyone yet. The video of the campaign makes a pretty cool ad and associates Coca-Cola with positive emotions for the viewers. But for the students who participated, the brand could potentially establish a significantly more important bond. By playing a key role in making the freshmen meet, in addition to diminishing the awkwardness of the first day of college, Coca-Cola could be directly associated with the start of important friendships, and therefore with joyful and long-lasting memories.
Coca-Cola Hello Happiness Phone Booths
Dubai employs thousands of South Asian blue-collar workers who came to the UAE in order to sustain their families back in their home countries. Making an average of $6 a day, these workers cannot afford to make international calls to their families. This is where Coca-Cola comes in as an enabler to these people with the Hello Happiness Phone Booths. In exchange for a Coca-Cola bottle cap, these booths allow the workers to make 3-minute international calls to their home countries. Here again, the video gives a good image to the brand for viewers. But for the communities of workers, Coca-Cola is nothing short of a hero. Indeed, every bottle consumed within the workers’ communities will come with joy and hope. Once again, Coca-Cola is a facilitator of important human relationships and finds its place in cherished long-lasting memories.
I could go on and on about the countless ways in which Coca-Cola touches people and becomes part of consumers’ selves. Be it through ad campaigns, or sponsoring events such a summer music festivals the world over or the FIFA World Cup, Coca-Cola consistently manages to associate itself with things that matter greatly to its customers. And it does so for absolutely any type of people in the world. Coca-Cola is the second most recognised term on the planet after “OK”. You can find it in the most remote villages of third world countries, just as you can have it mixed in your £12 Jack & Coke in the most upscale clubs in London. Take a second to think about the typical Coca-Cola drinkers. Difficult? That’s because there isn’t a typical Coca-Cola drinker.