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22 - 26 March

Festival for a rapidly changing world

Topics include: Direct to consumer / E-commerce / Data & privacy / Martech

Debranding or upbranding?

One of the major marketing trends we've seen over the summer has been the use of personalisation across major brand packaging such as Coca-Cola, Stella Artois glasses and HP Sauce, resulting in consumer excitement and discussion. Drew Burdon, head of strategy and planning for R/GA London discusses the positive impact of such a strategy.

Dear consumer, you may be confused by what Coca-Cola is up to this summer, replacing its brand name with yours.

It's not the first time that household brands have momentarily departed from their recognised trademarks in order to re-establish themselves with the people they serve.

And of course whilst the words have changed, the semiotic value of the brand remains: we all know it's still Coke.

I remember working on Coke's sponsorship of the UK football league many years ago where the soft drinks goliath re-purposed its logo in to the team colors of each club within the competition. I remember thinking of it as a brave and stand-out piece of work at the time and wasn't surprised to see it build significant affinity with fans of the sport across the UK, developing valuable equity within its audience. It brought rival fans together around the brand, which is a feat in itself.

Whilst many other FMCG brands have tried this tactic from time to time – 'Fish Fingers' replacing the words 'Tomato Ketchup' on Heinz bottles, Squeeze Me on packs of Marmite – Coke's latest campaign to reignite people's interest in the brand strikes me as even more strategic. For years, the top marketers at Coke claimed they worked for a local brand with a very big back yard, seeking to connect with its audience at a more personal level, not befitting of its size and corporate muscle. I think this work ticks that box although it remains to be seen whether it sticks in our hearts alongside its unforgettable hill-top advert of the seventies.

I think (and hope) that this work is trying harder. That it's aiming in the direction of the marketing holy grail that troubles so many brands today: personal engagement at broadcast scale. It's much smarter than the seemingly mandatory 'join in on Facebook' tagline. For starters, Coke realises the sheer media value of its on-pack presence, secondly it stimulates the conversation and creates a subtle kind of shareable currency between friends. No instructions. It's obvious what to do with it, and I'm sure people will create the kind of shareable content that all brands crave for.

This new campaign is about building a stronger sense of engagement with Coke consumers. It realises that building a participative, behavioural brand takes more than a few marketing people prodding at a social media site. And it also recognises that when it comes to growing a brand, engagement without scale is simply not enough. It might strike you as an insignificant, simple change but sometimes, that's what great brands are built on.

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