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     Theresa Howard  
And that’s a good thing for Coca-Cola, the top brand in the soft drink business that tallies US $74 billion in annual sales. Overall soft drink sales have fallen for more than five years, but the big daddy of them all has suffered through a battle with age for more than a decade. In 1985, the New Coke blunder badly bruised the brand, along with bad marketing, executive turnover, sagging sales, and a bigger more profound situation – an ongoing shift in consumers drinking habits. The cycle drove Coca-Cola’s revenue, morale, volume and image into the ground. That is, until about four years ago when Coca-Cola began to embrace the modern world around it with new leadership and an eye toward the future as a re-energized brand. Coca-Cola is planning to double revenue by 2020.

“Coke is firing on all cylinders right now,” says John SIcher, editor of Beverage Digest, which reported in March that Diet Coke surpassed Pepsi-Cola as the number two soft drink in the US. “Right now, Coke has a good solid basic campaign and a strong presence in social and digital media.”

Indeed. Today, Coca-Cola is the number three brand on Facebook with more than 26 million fans, up from 5.5 million a year ago. Even Coca-Cola’s handling of its Facebook page, started up by two fans, not the brand itself, demonstrated a new and improved Coke.

While old Coca-Cola would have ordered the fans to shut it down (that mentality was part of Coca-Cola’s past marketing problems), a new Coke began to emerge in 2007. The year marked a big turning point for the brand. That’s when Coke hired advertising and marketing vet Joe Tripodi, currently Coke’s evp and chief marketing and commercial officer. The company began a little redesign effort to modernize packaging, while retaining the contour bottle heritage. A red silhouette of the bottle began to appear on everything – from cans and ads, to vending machines. And earlier in the year (December 2006), a marketing team led by Katie Bayne and Marc Mathieu, launched the “Coke Side of Life.” The campaign reached millions by being the first Super Bowl for Coca-Cola in 10 years and solidified its “American Idol” relationship, now nine years strong.

The campaign was the first in years that was fun, memorable, contemporary and brand relevant. It included a Cannes-award winning ad, “Happiness Factory” – an upbeat, sunny look behind the inner workings of a Coca-Cola vending machine. The Wieden + Kennedy spot that played well on TV and YouTube helped reconnect the brand to consumers and the marketing world. It also set the stage for a recurring “Happiness” theme that remains the foundation for current marketing, including ads and “live” vending machines that dole out happiness in various forms: flowers, money, sandwiches.

Now, as Coke turns the big 1-2-5 the brand is acting as if it’s in its prime. Sunday kicks off the official start of a year-long celebration around the world with the theme: thanks! We’re using this milestone for 125 to take a moment to say thank you to everybody,” says global communications spokesman, Petro Kacur. “The campaign is thanking employees, our partners, customers and obviously anybody who loves the brand.”

Coke begins the festivities tomorrow (Saturday) in Atlanta with a free concert for employees and families featuring K’NAAN performing “Wavin’ Flag” a song that Coke used as the theme song for its FIFA World Cup sponsorship last summer. Grammy nominated Natasha Bedingfield, Nee-Yo and Kelly Clarkson are also set to perform. But that’s just the start to “125 Years of Summer Fun.”

On the U.S. calendar:

  • New ads with the Theme 125 years of Sharing Happiness that will run on “American Idol,” starting in May and during the Coca-Cola 600 race on May 29.
  • Two promotions that will give away prizes to moms and teens over the course of 125 days. Through My Coke Rewards, moms can earn points for vouchers for concert tickets, theme parks, movie theaters and national parks. Teens can participate in a text-to-win, with prizes that include movie passes, concert cash and gift cards for electronics.
  • Commemorative 8-ounce bottles with the simple message 125.
  • New 1.25 liter package size supported with print and radio ads to connect the dots between the new size and Coke’s 125 anniversary.
  • New red silhouettes of baseballs, kits, picnic baskets and stars and stripes on cans to reflect a “Day at the Park.” The company began special summer packaging three years ago with beach themed icons.
Add the 125th Anniversary celebration to yet another Coca-Cola marketing moment but first, tell us your favorite Coke moment - in ads or real life.

Brandchannel’s Favorite Coca-Cola Moments in Time

1969. It’s the real thing. Coke.

The catchy, memorable jingle still gets in your head. But a stand-out in the campaign only referenced the tagline slightly. Hilltop captured the era of a changing America with the wonderful imagery of multi-cultural nation that depicted acceptance, hope and inclusion.

1976. Coke Adds Life.

A 1979 clip celebrates Olympic athletes going off to compete. Despite the production quality and hokey bits of acting, the storyline and jingle hold up over time. Watch it once and you’ll be singing “Have a Coke and a smile” for the next few hours.

1982 Coke is it!

Epic commercial making at its finest - if you can forgive the 80s styles. The ad captures the youth and exuberance, along with Coke’s penchant for entertainment, in this one. And the jingle hits all the high notes of a power jingle.

1993. Always Coca-Cola.

During the Creative Artists Agency era Coke made dozens of ads targeting various demographics with different music styles set against the same lyrics for Always Coca-Cola. This version, sung by Joey Diggs, was one of the more popular tracks.

2006. The Coke Side of Life.

While song and dance may have been the cornerstone for many of Coke’s earlier hits, a framework of upbeat music, timeless visuals and a strong message of happiness that has a long shelf-life has helped Coke evolve ads from The Coke Side of Life into a solid umbrella campaign.




Theresa Howard runs the website The Press Republic. She has worked for both USA Today and Brandweek, covering anything and everything about branding.

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