Coca-Cola’s Media & Digital Marketing Deputy Dir., Ernesto Almada Brito, shares how the company continues to expand innovation and adopt new technologies like VR live streaming to stay relevant and connected to consumers.
Recently, the 131 year anniversary took place for the first batches of Coca-Cola were concocted by the company’s founder, John Pemberton, taking his Wine Cocoa recipe and remaking it for the non-alcoholic prohibition era. On May 8, 1886, the new Coca-Cola beverage made its way from the vats to the lips of Pemberton Pharmacy’s customers in downtown Atlanta.
Today 1.7 billion servings of Coca-Cola products are consumed every day by Coke fans around the world.
Even in those very early days, the concept around the marketing and branding of the infamous company was percolating. Frank Robinson, the company’s accountant at the time, not only came up with the idea of naming the drink Coca-Cola but also created the Spencerian script logo, believing that the logo’s icon of two Cs would work well in adverting and promotional branding.
Robinson was spot on, and over the last 131 years the Coca-Cola brand has made its way into the fabric not only of American culture but it has become intertwined into international societies. Coke’s marketing and branding ingenuity and innovation have continued to evolve as the world evolves, which no doubt contributes to those 1.7 billion servings a day.
From Sales Motivation to a Focus on Engagement with Music Fans
Bragging-rights sales numbers do not solely drive the motivation and justification behind Coca-Cola’s branding and marketing initiatives.
“Our company always seeks to bring positive messaging to audiences and people with different types of expressions that offer value; ones that are directly related to Coke,” said Ernesto Almada Brito, the Media & Digital Marketing Deputy Director at Coca-Cola México. When it comes to establishing and deepening a social connection to communities, that takes precedence, “whether we sell or not.”
One key avenue of investment Coke has made has been in music and live event sector, recognizing that “Music is a passion point for people. That’s one of the main reasons why we’re interested in being there in concerts and in music in general.”
For the past six years, Brito and his team have led Coca-Cola’s premier sponsorship of the Vive Latino music festival in México City, one of the most influential rock en Español music festivals in the world that takes place every March. Over the span of two days, over 100 local and international performers take the stages, from indie acts to multi-platinum headliners.
He explained how they chose to move into music festival sponsorship and Vive Latino in particular. “It all came down to when we were monitoring trends. The strategy behind it was, we needed to find new and different ways to connect with consumers and audiences that went beyond the traditional, 60-second T.V. linear spot.”
The sponsorship piece was just the first step. Devising a plan that involved other digital elements had to also play a large role, from the creation and launch of social media campaigns to the partnership Coke developed with Bulldog DM in 2014 to produce live streaming of the daily performances.
“Social media has been increasingly driving engagement,” Brito stated. “A lot of that awareness is an association with music festivals and what we do with other music activations. Being a brand that’s associated with music and premium content, and specifically with innovation that’s happened this past year, has been quite an exciting metric for us to assess.”
— Coca-Cola.FM México (@CocaColaFM) March 24, 2017
Taking Festival Live Streaming to the Next Level: Facebook, Twitter, and VR 360
Over the two days of Vive Latino, Bulldog DM’s team — which has provided turnkey live streaming solutions for Bonnaroo, Outside Lands, the Snickers 36-hour live stream Superbowl commercial and the American Express Unstaged concert series, to name a few — operates a production that is robust enough to handle the expected million views a day and approximately 70 hours of live streaming HD video.
Viewers are able to switch between three different feeds happening simultaneously, viewing live streams on YouTube from their mobile handsets. Vive Latino fans are also able to engage on social media, and Bulldog DM connects the live streaming content to Vive Latino’s YouTube profile, where viewers can engage with each other, commenting and sharing their fan affinity for the performers. Upon the completion of the festival, Bulldog delivers the wrap and engagement report to Coke’s marketing team to assess engagement and sentiment.
“This engagement that Ernesto and his team have developed over the years, to us, is the shining beacon across the market,” said John Petrocelli, Bulldog DM’s CEO and founder. Referring to the breadth of Coca-Cola’s live streaming offering, “To really reach, engage, and connect with consumers in an innovative way, that’s a pretty stunning content play and content offering. In addition, the fans get a full schedule gadget that tells you what artists are playing on what video channel and at what time. There’s a full social stream to encourage participation and collaboration in addition to a photo wall.”
When it comes to tracking the millions of views and levels of engagement, “What we’re able to do is measure all of that video viewing activity as well as what happens across those platforms, the photo wall as well as the social streams,” Petrocelli explained. “That data is given back to Ernesto and the team, and the results are pretty impressive.”
For the last two years this live streaming model has worked very well for all involved, but as live streaming increased across the entertainment spectrum and new festivals have emerged, new social streaming avenues have also opened up on Facebook and Twitter.
Brito and his team knew they needed to up their game and pursue new ways to differentiate their approach and how they brought music-based content to consumers.
“It has been harder through the years,” he explained. “The festival offering in Mexico has increased a lot, so we’re no longer the only kid on the block. That is challenging for us when it comes to bringing the festival to new platforms and different ways of communicating the content.”
As a result, 2017 brought about another turning point; similar to the one they had come to in 2014 when they made the decision to invest in festival live streaming to millions of music fans in Mexico. This year they ventured into new territory by bringing Facebook Live, Twitter live streaming, VR and 360-video into the mix and shifting away from a single live streaming home at coca-cola.fm via YouTube.
“You probably know, consumers have changed, and they’re everywhere,” whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube. “That’s where we’re going to be. It’s not about bringing users or viewers in just one destination. It’s about pushing and bringing the actual festival to wherever they are.”
In addition to the live streamed stage performances, Vive Latino programmed editorial content that featured numerous behind-the-scenes interviews that streamed on Facebook Live. The improvisational chats between the hosts and acts scheduled to perform that weekend included La Barranca, Julieta Venegas, and Hombres G. They also live streamed the Prophets of Rage press conference whose members answered questions on politics, activism, and how all these well-known musicians from a variety of genres came together to form the group and spread their mission of awareness.
When it came to VR and 360-video, Coca-Cola already had experience with this new medium, having launched the first 360-ad on YouTube last year in Latin America that celebrated their bottle’s anniversary. Even so, it was the first time Vive Latino and Coca-Cola committed to live streaming 20 hours of VR video, along with 20 hours of 360-video that fans could experience using just their mobile devices.
This new venture was a team effort between Bulldog DM and Vantage.tv, the agency that produced the VR live streaming experiences for Coachella and Austin City Limits.
Coke also partnered with Samsung for the on-site Gear VR activation, which enabled fans at the festival to have an immersive, main stage experience of musical performances. The Samsung partnership included live streaming VR in all the Best Buy store locations in Mexico, enabling Coke and Vive Latino to activate at all of those points of sale to extend their reach, their brand, and the festival experience into retail.
Staying Relevant Leads to Experimenting with Social Live Streaming and VR
At the recent Adobe Summit, the company’s CEO, Shantanu Narayen, came clean with the 12,000 in attendance in Las Vegas, admitting that Adobe had become stagnant because they didn’t have a clear direction and they’d just been regurgitating their practices. His talk was essentially a sermon directed towards brands, large and small, from those a few years old to those that had been operating for over 100 years.
“Preserving the status quo is not a strategy,” said Narayen. “Transformation is all or nothing. You must use content, data, and machine learning to get to your exponentially growing audience.” He also pointed out that all brands should be taking advantage of new technologies while staying aware of how consumers’ behaviors are changing at a rapid pace.
When Facebook introduced Facebook Live in 2016, it became a new platform where both brand sponsors and promoters could reach new music fans worldwide. A social media platform that reports 1.23 billion daily users, the majority of which, at 1.15 billion, access Facebook from their mobile device each day.
While Facebook is still working out the kinks in terms of how it collaborates with brands and promoters on live streaming activations, which requires a different skill set than the direct partnerships brands have for media buys, Brito welcomes the opportunity for Coke to take advantage of Facebook Live for their festival sponsorships. “I think using the platforms that already exist not only gives us a great chance to connect with [music fans] very organically and seamlessly but it also a great money saver. We don’t have to develop any products behind that.”
When it came to mapping out the plan for Twitter live streaming, “We’ve seen some great results that they have shown us with the NFL and some other events. I think the platform appeals to what I was saying before and finding the users wherever they are. I think if you can experience a festival, whether it’s from Facebook or from a live video feed on Twitter, I think that we’re doing a great job bringing that experience to users. We’re investing a lot more into driving the festival experience beyond a single website.”
The digital team at Coke Mexico, having in-depth experience with numerous social media campaigns on various platforms has empowered them to tap that intelligence for their live streaming activations on those social platforms. In the same way a marketer crafts a given campaign strategy and messaging differently on Facebook versus Twitter, his team’s goal is to always bring experiences to consumers and users that are unique and native to the platform. Partnering with the social media’s internal teams, along with their live streaming and VR partners is essential.
“We don’t want to just stream the same signal with the same experience. The talks that we have with [Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat] are: how to bring uniqueness and how do we produce the content and how do we craft the experience from that standpoint. That’s how they’ve been helpful.”
His marketing team has also increased Coca-Cola’s focus on Snapchat. In Mexico, Brito estimates there to be three to four million users on the platform daily, “Which again, is bigger than we expected,” he said, laughing, although he doesn’t see a lot of buzz around Spectacles in Mexico, yet. “When it comes to devices, whether it’s Spectacles or VR Samsung Gear, or even the cardboard, I think that the challenge is, how to scale that. Not many people have those. We’re looking at the experiences from a broader perspective, starting with the phone, and then scaling it up and sophisticating the experience.”
The Shifting Tide from Traditional Ad Spend to Sponsorships, Branded Content, and Experimenting with Artificial Intelligence
Let’s first say that Coca-Cola’s ads are legendary.
In the popular series centered around the heyday of advertising, “Mad Men,” the last scene of the series finale featured the iconic 1971 “Hilltop” ad spot and the “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” theme that reflected the current climate of the time. That spot would go on to resonate from generation to generation to the present day.
During this year’s Super Bowl, Coca-Cola ran their ad, “The Beautiful,” from another Super Bowl in 2014. It featured a variety of American landscapes and people of all ages and ethnicities that truly reflected the landscape of the American population, while “America The Beautiful” was sung in a variety of different languages. Then Super Bowl fans turn to Twitter to sing its praises.
According to The Drum, that spot “drove social engagement and helped Coca-Cola achieve the highest social engagement lift from its TV spots. Additionally, the spot earned more than 100 rebroadcasts in bonus news coverage of the spot.”
All of this good news does not equate to Coca-Cola or other brands that advertised during the big game, basking in the Super Bowl glow for the remainder of the year.
This is a time when the ad world is going through a major shift, not only with tuning out of television ads as more and more people drop their cable subscriptions, but in traditional display ads, as the number of ad blockers in use grows to 615 million worldwide, according to a recent report by PageFair. And the majority of those, 62% to be exact, are in use on mobile.
Brito and his team are all too aware of these changes. “That is one of my biggest challenges in the past year,” he states. “We are seeing – and this is happening faster than we expected in Mexico – a decline in T.V. audiences and an increase in digital audiences. I think the experience that we have in creating and crafting content that is different from the T.V. commercial has helped a lot.”
A year ago he was tasked with conceiving new plans and strategies around branded content, and now this medium has shot up to the top of his priority list. He’s now focused on establishing partnerships in a variety of content, publishing, and event areas while understanding how to best create branded content properties within their channels.
“That is what we’re looking for the consumer to have and to engage with more likely than an actual T.V. commercial. It’s all about how to integrate our brand within the actual programming. Not only that, but how do you portray and push the right messaging. It’s not only about sponsorship; it’s really about placing that message within the context.”
Keeping up with quickly evolving technology platforms can be daunting, to not only adapt and shift tactics but to build and roll out new strategies that take full advantage of them. Although Coca-Cola is a large international corporation, Ernesto and his team seem surprisingly nimble in terms of being able to experiment and innovate.
“We’re lucky enough to have a very streamlined method of working when it comes to innovation and a set up within the marketing team,” one that utilizes the model of 70 percent learning through experience, 20 percent learning through collaboration and sharing, and 10 percent learning through formal training. “We have an innovation committee. What we do is we bring an initiative that we think might help develop capabilities or learnings or new ways to embrace media. We have a specific budget for that.”
Their decision and budget for activating live streaming VR and 360-video at Vive Latino was born out of this innovation committee.
The practices, discoveries, and experiences are not only shared within Brito’s internal marketing team but are communicated throughout the organization, with the 70-20-10 model and innovation committees in use company-wide. “We’re very eager to share everything that we’ve learned and everything that’s not working with marketing and with digital communities.”
At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February, Mariano Bosaz, Coca-Cola’s global senior digital director, spoke to AdWeek about experimenting in the area of using artificial intelligence (AI) and bots to create ad spots. “Content creation is something that we have been doing for a very long time—we brief creative agencies and then they come up with stories that they audio visualize and then we have 30 seconds or maybe longer,” Bosaz told AdWeek. “In content, what I want to start experimenting with is automated narratives.”
The long-term vision includes using AI to creating music for ads, writing scripts, posting a spot on social media and buying media.
Although he still sees it as early days for Coke Music TV, the company’s Periscope, Facebook Live, and YouNow live streaming music destinations, Brito and his team are excited with its potential, which saw great success right out of the gate.
Coke Music TV has been in operation for almost a year, and in that time, Billboard states the company has broadcast 49 live streams across the three platforms, garnering more than 3 million total live viewers with an average view time of between two and six minutes. During their live stream of the Coke sponsored event, 2016’s American Music Awards, YouNow drew 1.3 million live impressions, for a total of 58 million views that included live and replays. For a digital music initiative that is still considered to be in development, those numbers are nothing to sneeze at.
Brito agrees. “For a big company and a big business unit, when it comes to embracing innovation, Coca-Cola is a great place to be.”