Coca-Cola’s latest experiment in opening short design briefs to the entire world illustrates its plans to no longer be seen as “a traditional advertiser” by appointing consumers – not agencies – as its co-creators.
The drinks giant’s head of digital, David Godsman, admitted at the Adobe Summit opening keynote that the digitally connected world is “somewhat unknown” to the brand. Nevertheless, 12 months ago it embarked on a five-year digital transformation programme, underscored by four key areas: operations, business, culture and experiences.
Surprisingly, Coca-Cola has filed its marketing and advertising operations into the latter category. Not only is Godsman asking his “traditional brand marketers to become experience makers”, but he’s earmarked the fans of Coca-Cola as vital to its content creation strategy.
“Digital allows us to create unifying experiences which – regardless of language or place in the world – helps to bring them together,” he said. “Digital enables them to participate actively with us and co-create the experiences we bring to market
"We don’t see a world where we will continue as a traditional advertiser in that sense.”
James Sommerville, Coca-Cola’s vice president of global design, introduced one of the first forays into this strategy of consumers-as-creators. Coke x Adobe x You, which quietly launched last October on social media, comprised a succinct brief open to the entire internet, which read: ‘Create a work of art celebrating Coca-Cola, sport, movement, strength, and unity using Adobe Creative Cloud tools’.
“We thought: ‘What would happen if you just gave the world’s designers three or four simple tools and a short brief – so short that you could tweet it?',” explained Sommerville.
So far, the project has thrown up around 1,500 submissions, from trippy, fun animations to meticulous hand-drawn illustrations. All the designers were commissioned to feature the red Coca-Cola circle, while Adobe and Coca-Cola kept the Tokyo Olympics 2020 under wraps.
“If you scan these pages you’ll see the enthusiasm to work on our products and our brand,” said Sommerville, adding that the project "really is the start of our journey".
The brand is arguably in need of a revived creative strategy. Diet Coke’s latest offerings have failed to capture the mass imagination that 1995’s ‘Diet Coke Break’ managed to, for instance, while ‘Because I Can’ was pretty much panned creatively.
It’s unlikely that Coca-Cola will eschew working with creative agencies for consumer creations altogether. Sommerville stressed that “we love our agencies partners, we need our agency partners”, but he also loves to “discover the hidden gems”. By that he means freelance artists such as Noma Bar, the graphic designers going viral, or “some guy working in Starbucks right now on a laptop".
But when conglomerate does come looking for agencies in the future, it may start knocking on other doors. Sommerville’s design lab is currently experimenting with prototypes such as a fountain that dispenses mobile data in lieu of soft drinks – the kind of project that will certainly require the expertise of creative technologists, but perhaps not those of traditional creatives.
“I really want to invite the creative community to reimagine the whole experience,” said the Atlanta-based, Huddersfield-born designer. “Everyone in this room, everyone on this planet, has the right to work with Coca-Cola.”
How does he plan on keeping those divergent, global ideas tied to a common brand idea? By looking back on the vast history of Coca-Cola.
“We have a little phrase called Kiss the Past Hello,” he explained. “A lot of people talk about failing fast – for us this is the Coca-Cola way of saying a very similar thing. Our past is so important to us. It educates us. The good, the bad, what worked, what didn’t.
“Those stories are the same, but the context has changed. We are about technology, we are about transformation and we are about talent. But ultimately for us the experience starts at the product – it’s the texture, it’s the touch of the glass, it’s the temperature.”