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Anatomy of an Ad: Behind the scenes of Coke Zero’s ‘drinkable advertising’ campaign

This spring, Coke Zero rolled out a massive campaign during March Madness. Kicking off in Indianapolis during the NCAA Final Four but rolled out nationwide, the campaign made it easy for consumers to get their hands on a free Coke Zero through multiple touchpoints. Whether drinking from a billboard that dispensed the diet soda through a giant ‘Taste It’ straw or using Shazam during a Coke Zero ad to receive a coupon for one free Coke Zero, the campaign not only promoted the drink but actually gave consumers a number of opportunities to try it out for themselves.

When Ogilvy & Mather’s New York office won Coke Zero’s account last September, there wasn’t much time to celebrate – for good reason. The client was so impressed with the agency’s unusual ‘drinkable advertising’ pitch that they were told to go straight into production and have the campaign ready for the NCAA Final Four in March.

The idea for what essentially ended up becoming a digitally-focused sampling campaign began when Coke Zero asked the agency to come up with a way to get more people to try the drink. 80 per cent of millennials say they have not tried Coke Zero, but 60 per cent of people go on to re-purchase it once they’ve had a taste of it, according to the company.

Ogilvy initially pursued multiple different paths when trying to think of a way to encourage young people to try the ten-year-old soda brand, ultimately landing on the unconventional idea of a sampling campaign featuring traditional, digital, and social elements.

“People think that they know what Coke Zero tastes like and what it’s all about, but they really don’t,” Danielle Henry, group director of integrated marketing communications at Coca-Cola North America, told The Drum. “Every piece of content that we developed was designed to put a Coke Zero in your hand,” she said of the campaign.

The Drum spoke with Ogilvy & Mather New York’s chief creative officer Corinna Falusi and president Adam Tucker to find out more about what exactly drinkable advertising means, the campaign’s roots from a hothouse in Brooklyn to its March Madness debut, and how its television ads caused Shazam to break down.

Coke Zero is marketed as a zero-calorie, zero-sugar drink with the same taste as regular Coke, which distinguishes it from its sister soda Diet Coke’s distinct flavor. Yet Coca-Cola has found that many people have pre-conceived notions of the beverage and assume they won’t like it even before taking a sip of it.

To fix this, Tucker said that the client gave Ogilvy a very open, back-to-basics brief which asked them to help increase penetration of the brand in order to accelerate growth.

At first, Falusi said the creative team was thinking of how to create a type of communicational advertising that would literally let people experience the product – and that’s where the idea of a drinkable billboard came in.

“It started with one idea where we thought, how great would it be if we could have a physical billboard that people could literally drink from? It’s the most direct and instant experience of a product you can have,” she said

Although the billboard was a big undertaking in itself, it was just the beginning of what would become a campaign that managed to make every type of media drinkable.

“We felt that was quite a big challenge, but that’s what got us really excited,” Falusi said.

It was a challenge worth taking, as it was this idea that ended up winning Coke Zero over.

“Usually work that you create in a pitch is really to give clients the confidence that you can do the work. so you win the pitch and then the real work starts,” Falusi said. But in this case, the work they did during the pitch period ended up being the same work that went right into the production phase.

Tucker added that while a lot of times coming out of a pitch there’s extensive testing, revisions, and modifications, the prototypes and ideas that the team initially came up with in a hothouse in Brooklyn were the same ones that ended up being executed mere months later.

When it came to actually executing the campaign, Falusi said the developers and partners that the creative team worked with along the way were crucial in making the campaign a success.

While she called Shazam an “unusual partner” for an advertising campaign, consumer familiarity with the audio recognition tool helped increase engagement with the TV and radio ads – so much so that it became the most ‘Shazam’ed’ ad ever and ended up breaking the mobile app for a brief period of time.

Falusi acknowledged that the tweet was the easiest execution, since users just had to simply retweet the sound of a Coke Zero being poured to receive their free Coke Zero coupon, but said that the others were not so easy to do.

Between working out the kinks of a two-screen experience for the TV ads to making sure partners including Shazam, Target, and the NCAA were on board, the size and scale of the campaign proved to be a challenge.

“To be ambitious and to do that scale of a campaign, especially a digital campaign, requires that you really have a great partnership with your client. It is much more demanding than if we would have done a traditional campaign,” said Falusi.

Henry said that in the past, Coke Zero’s advertising has mostly just involved telling people to try the beverage or enticing them with it.

“I’ve been working on Coke Zero for a while and we’ve talked about trials for a while. I think the big difference here is in thinking about the content differently and really using the technology to aid getting cans in hands,” she said.

What surprised Henry most about the campaign? That it all worked and actually came together. “It was a huge risk with technology,” she said.

So far, it looks like the risk was worth taking. The goal of the campaign was to simply get more people to try the beverage, and Henry said that the amount of people who have redeemed their coupons at Target to get a free Coke Zero has been way above benchmark.

“We’re at about a 25 per cent redemption rate, which is kind of crazy for coupon redemption,” she said.

And the campaign isn’t over yet. Henry said that Coke Zero plans to build on the successes that it has seen so far.

The billboard has been traveling around since its debut and is expected to be seen at other events, while similar elements of the initial campaign will be brought to college football this fall.

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Minda Smiley

Minda Smiley is a reporter at The Drum covering creativity and advertising. Based in Philadelphia, she primarily covers independent agencies and B2B marketing. She also oversees The Drum’s “Independent Influence,” a weekly series that spotlights the work, perspectives and inspirations behind independent agencies. During her time at The Drum, she has covered industry events including SXSW, ANA Masters of Marketing, 4A’s Transformation and C2 Montréal. She is a graduate of the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism.

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