Brand Strategy Coca-Cola South Korea

Inside the creation of K-Wave, Coca-Cola’s Korean culture-flavored soda


By Hannah Bowler, Senior Reporter

February 29, 2024 | 7 min read

Would you try a can of ‘fruity fantasy’ flavored fizzy pop? Coca-Cola is hoping to win over K-Pop fans with K-Wave and a raft of digital and physical experiences.

Can of Coca-Cola K-Wave

Coca-Cola K-Wave / Ogilvy

The Coca-Cola Company has released a limited-edition drink to capitalize on the popularity of K-Pop.

The beverage is the latest product to come out of Coca-Cola Creations, The Coca-Cola Company’s innovation arm that was set up to develop conceptual flavors that tap into cultural trends.

Since its launch in 2022, Coca-Cola Creations has dropped the space-flavored edition Starlight, the pixels-inspired drink Coca-Cola Byte and more recently Happy Tears. The drinks have around 80-85% Coca-Cola taste and then a ‘dash’ of added flavors inspired by the concepts.

Oana Vlad who is senior director of global strategy at The Coca-Cola Company follows the journey from initial concept to product development through to marketing.

“We are watching culture, watching trends, betting on some spaces that we think are emerging and using that as inspiration to develop a new product or flavor that is always a bit of a mystery,” Vlad says. After the product innovation, which is led by Coca-Cola scientists, Vlad’s team builds out digital and physical experiences to surround the limited-edition cans.

Why K culture?

From music to film, fashion and beauty, the world has become obsessed with Korean pop culture.

“We are impressed and admire the phenomenon that K-culture is globally from food to fashion to entertainment, and then most of all, to K-Pop. Integral to K-Pop is fans and we loved that. Understanding and diving deeper that fans are the people who make the idols and who have shaped that culture,” Vlad explains.

She added that K-Pop fans also tend to be older teenagers or people in their 20s which is the demographic Coca-Cola is looking to reach with its Creations platform. Vlad says Coca-Cola is in a privileged position to have a presence in Korea to understand the phenomenon authentically.

How do you concoct the flavor ‘fruity fantasy’?

Coca-Cola scientists are brought into the project from the first day. Vlad says they spend a lot of time “to immerse themselves in the concept and get inspired”. For the K-Wave project, the lead scientist was on the ground in Korea. The team based in Atlanta did many immersions in food, spices, and aromas that are authentic to Korean cuisine or culture.

“Between that and the fact that the whole concept, if you look at the design, if you listen to the Light Magic song is very, very vibrant, very full of energy very youthful. They were inspired by those authentic flavors and with an extra kick of vibrancy,” Vlad says.

The can features Korean script and a bright green shading around the standard Coca-Cola text. “With creations we take some liberties that usually we don’t take on the Coca-Cola trademark, to stretch a little bit even the visual identity of coke,” she says.

What’s the marketing plan?

K-Wave will be sold in 36 markets and promoted through music, experiential, digital experience and fashion. Coca-Cola has collaborated with three K-Pop groups, Stray Kids, ITZY, and NMIXX, as well as the founder of JYP Entertainment, JY Park who have come together to release an original song and music video. “The energy and the vibrancy of that song you'll feel it right away,” Vlad says.

For the digital experience side, the Coke Creations microsite will allow fans, using AI, to insert avatars of themselves into the music video, collect “easter eggs” and then download the video to share on social. “Something really important at Coca-Cola Creations is that the experiences are participatory,” Vlad says.

There is also a clothing collaboration with genderless fashion brand Private Policy. The final element is a series of in-person events, for example, the launch event in Seoul where press and influencers will be invited to an “immersion into K culture”.

“It’s really about an experiential approach and an experience that people can participate in, in both physical and digital spaces. We are trying and learning through a different model,” Vlad says.

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How Creations is helping The Coca-Cola Company

There are several ways the Creations platform is helping The Coca-Cola Company learn new marketing methods, Vlad shares. For example, with augmented reality and digital collectibles. “To experiment with digital experience and have the ability to take a little bit more risk, has given Coke some really valuable learnings,” Vlad says.

Then there are cultural and organizational learnings. “The agility and the speed at which we move with Creations is exciting because that way of working and the collaboration is something that we can also take and apply to other projects,” she says.

Lastly, Vlad and her team are better equipped to work with creators learning how to “surrender some of the creative direction on the brand, while always preserving our values and the core of the brand”.

Brand Strategy Coca-Cola South Korea

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