Coca-Cola China is on a mission to become the most loved soft drink among China’s 355 million teenagers, as it launches the latest iteration of the Share a Coke campaign.
Now in its sixth year, the Share a Coke campaign has been a hugely successful part of Coca-Cola China’s marketing strategy, helping the brand to engage with its target audience of young people.
The campaign has evolved over the years from bottle labels featuring people’s names to song lyrics, movie quotes and an Olympics’ themed campaigns which shared messages of support. Along the way, it has tapped into the things that China’s young people love and care about and has helped the brand snare the number two position in the sparkling soft drink category, behind Sprite.
This year’s campaign, which rolled out this month, features the “Code bottle”, with packaging that aims to appeal to Chinese youth by adopting the codes and symbols they use to communicate.
Coca-Cola China marketing director Shelly Lin told The Drum, “Nowadays in China, teens are using modern communication that is more than language and they have created a lot of new ways to express themselves. We thought that we can build a meaningful conversation with millennials by speaking their language, instead of just borrowing icons that are already there.”
“Our challenge was to go beyond the traditional passion points like music and film, which we have done before. We went deeper to find an authentic connection point and discovered that our target audience has created their own language codes, which they use on a daily basis. That’s why we came up with the code label,” said Lin.
Working with advertising agency McCann Worldgroup, Coca-Cola China created a suite of 35 different code bottle labels, which are a mixture of emoticons, numbers, characters and graphics. The labels include the code 521 which Chinese youth use to say ‘I love you’ and ‘88’ which is good luck.
Coca-Cola China Share a Coke
“These codes are how China’s young people are communicating online and it’s very unique to China,” said Cia Hatzi, regional vice president for Coca-Cola at McCann Worldgroup.
“They have their own kind of codes that they use to express a feeling. Instead of using words they will use different codes and symbols to express a feeling to someone else or to a group of friends.”
"This a generation whose whole life is based on virtual connections and the virtual world. It is a very different generation in the way they behave and how they connect to people,” said Hatzi.
According to Lin, Share a Coke enables China’s youth to bring their virtual connections to real life.
“Chinese teens are very shy in real life but they are very active in virtual life. Chinese teens share a lot of their lives online, they share their social lives and their individual lives they live online,” said Lin.
By ensuring the campaign is “deeply rooted in teens lives”, Coca-Cola has been able to engage with China’s young people year after year.
“Share a Coke has been the longest and most successful campaign that we have run over the summer period,” sais Hatzi. “It has created a huge social impact for us over the last couple of years and it's made Coca-Cola stand out with millennials.
“By giving teens something they can use to create more meaningful conversations, more fun conversations, more connections and more friendship. And because they are using the brand in their everyday conversations and connections, we find that brand love hits a record high and we’ve seen that from year to year."
“With this campaign, we’re hoping to build a stronger brand and to increase the brand love, which we know leads to brand consumption,” said Hatzi.
Coca-Cola is hoping the campaign can help recruit more of China’s 355 million teens to not only buy Coke but also to drink it more often. The aim is not just to be the most loved sparkling soft drink brand, but to also encourage occasional drinkers to change their habit to be at least once a week.
It’s a particularly tough challenge in China, where Coca-Cola competes with around 1,000 beverage brands over the summer period.
“There are so many choices in China, especially during summer that it can be overwhelming,” said Hatzi. “It’s not only the big players in the soft drink market but you are competing against waters, juices, and all types of drinks.”
“Every summer in China there are up to 100 new drinks that launch and although many don’t survive they are still competition. So, it’s important that you cut through the clutter and that is what Share a Coke has given us. It starts with the packaging and it really stands out on the shelves and that really helps to kick start the campaign.”
The packaging is supported by two films which focus on friendship and romance, two themes which appeal to Chinese youth. The films will run on TV and across digital platforms throughout the summer.