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Coca-Cola on leveraging the power of creative collaborations

By Matthias Blume | VP Marketing ASEAN and South Pacific

January 9, 2023 | 8 min read

As part of our new monthly series in partnership with The Marketing Society, we hear from Matthias Blume, the VP of Marketing ASEAN and South Pacific at Coca-Cola and board member of The Marketing Society Asia.

Coca-Cola Croc collab

Coca-Cola has stepped up its brand collaborations

Everyone talks about marketing transformation and data: critical and enabling a whole new world of marketing and consumer engagement ... but marketing, unlike most business operations, is a creative process.

When most people are pouring their faith into technology, I’m encouraged to see some creative examples of cross-brand collaborations. After all, data is nothing without great content that consumers want to engage with.

This is about much more than sponsorship deals with celebrities, influencers, or social media platforms; I am seeing synergies that span across industries and generations to merge markets, reignite mature ones, and introduce both brands to newcomers.

It is no secret that Coca-Cola, a 135-year-old brand, has stayed young and relevant even after a century. Grounded in our belief to put consumers first and having people always at the heart of our business, we have remained faithful in listening to our consumers and have continuously innovated ourselves – not always on our own – but through meaningful collaborations.

When Coca-Cola launched its new brand philosophy “Real Magic™” in 2021, the brand opened the gates for creative ideas to flow, we stepped up the number & type of brand collaborations like never before. Going beyond outerwear with Kith or Puma, lifestyle collabs with Staples, food collabs with TicToc or Mentos, gadgets or accessories with Swell, alliances with other brands and organizations have evolved to bring forth a new and immersive experience that people can consume and enjoy anytime. Allowing them to connect differently with our brand, owning a piece of it – enforcing cultural equity.

One highlight certainly is our collaboration with megastar artist, Marshmello. What could have been an old-school brand endorsement deal turned into the development of a new flavour as part of our Coke™ Creations® series combined with a number of amazing activities, which included a chance to play online against Marshmello himself. Earlier, the first Coke Creations Starshine product had Ava Max doing a VR concert when scanning the QR Code printed on each pack.

Attention-Based Economy

As all industries face post-pandemic recoveries – tourism and hospitality face some of the greatest difficulties. Borders are starting to reopen, reintroducing the world to travel and social events again. After many operators were forced to shut down or pause trading, the new challenge is enticing people back outside with thrilling events and collaborations that are unique, immersive, and innovative.

Audiences have changed, attentions are fickle, and brands everywhere are trying to be more experience-driven, whether it’s by streamlining the customer journey or improving the way they connect with consumers – the battle for attention is more competitive than ever. People are scrolling and swiping addictively, making decisions in split seconds with access to brands and creators everywhere.

This is an era that thrives on disruption, innovating in ways that integrate seamlessly into people’s daily lives. These cross-brand collaborations generate can elevate sales and inspiration for both brands, paving a path towards new but relevant audiences. Consequently, tourism and hospitality are partnering with iconic brands to create tangible experiences that speak to the child in all of us.

Where Icons and Experiences Converge

Five Apartment Hotel Mimaru locations in Tokyo and Kyoto have opened their doors with Pokémon Rooms that feature Pokémon-themed décor such as giant sleeping Snorlax and dishes with Poké Ball patterns. Each suite has an in-room kitchen with Pokémon-food recipes for dinner and dessert, plus all guests receive complimentary Pokémon merchandise exclusive to the hotel.

Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur partnered with Barbie to create the Ultimate Staycation. An interesting choice of branding, particularly when you consider the phrase ‘staycation’ was coined as a cheeky way to promote local holidays, enjoying something that’s nearby, easy, and ultimately restorative. Whether this is to target local travellers, or simply use more youthful branding, it’s unclear but still clever.

As a marketing nerd, seeing a cross-brand collaboration between Grand Hyatt and Barbie is admirable. It’s a wonderful way to converge target marketing, creating intergenerational bonds through experience and historic iconography featured in everyone’s childhood memory.

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My history with Coke gives me a real appreciation for Barbie’s longevity and powerful nostalgic allure. Both brands are iconic Americana and often tied to memories of being rewarded, having fun, and sharing with one another.

To capture that idea and commodify it as a tangible place with unforgettable experiences is undeniably innovative. That’s the power of co-creation, amplifying the best of both worlds to make the intangible real and tactile.

Perfect vs Peculiar Pairings

The strength of a brand can increase the number of brand opportunities, like the way James Bond is a walking collaboration between iconic suitmakers, watchmakers, and car marques. The fictional spy has had a long history with Aston Martin as both brands exude sophistication and quality performance. However, this new generation of collaborations can range from innovative to nonsensical.

I’m puzzled by collaborations between brands within the same industry, like Swatch’s partnership with fellow watchmaker Omega. Or the growing popularity of hypebeast-fuelled apparel that is expensive, limited-release, and traded extensively across reseller markets. You see this happen with collaborations between clothing labels Gucci and The North Face or Louis Vuitton and Supreme.

These product lines have the potential to cannibalise and alienate existing customers of both brands. Is it a way to introduce new generations to more luxury brands, ensuring they catch the market early? Who really benefits here?

I find cross-industry collaborations more interesting and authentic. It’s difficult getting inspired if you’re sticking to brands in the same industry, vying for the same customers, dealing with the same marketing approaches. It’s far more innovative seeing different world collide, bringing together different products and markets to find a happy middle ground that will surprise and delight customers from both sides.

Not every Collab will be right

For Coca-Cola, our partnerships underscore our commitment to refreshing and connecting with younger generations; Only when they are true to the brand, in line with strategy, able to generate talkability and add long-term value vs short-term revenues am I interested.

Matthias Blume is the VP of Marketing ASEAN and South Pacific at Coca-Cola and board member of The Marketing Society Asia.

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