It has been less than a year since Coca-Cola launched its global ‘Real Magic’ platform, but the revitalised approach to marketing is very much in evidence.
Under ‘Real Magic,’ besides more traditional approaches like creating campaigns around festivals, Coke has doubled down on youth passion points such as music and gaming. It hosted the Icons World Championship in Singapore, and organised screenings of the e-sports event in Vietnam and the Philippines. On the music front, it launched a limited-edition flavour with electronic musician Marshmello — the first of many such collaborations with artists — and staged a virtual AR concert by American pop singer Ava Max accessible by an on-can QR code. Coke Studio, a hugely popular and long-running show in Pakistan that ties indigenous music with contemporary pop, was launched as an official global platform via a film called ‘The Conductor,’ which featured emerging artists from all over the world to cover ‘A Kind of Magic’ by Queen. In the Philippines, fans can participate in Coke Studio themselves, using social media to co-create a song with their favourite artists.
The origins of Real Magic
‘Real Magic’ is Coke’s fourth global marketing platform in the last two decades — after ‘The Coke Side of Life’ (2006); ‘Open Happiness’ (2009); and most recently, ‘Taste the Feeling’ (2016) — campaigns that have kept pace with changing consumer mores.
‘The Coke Side of Life’ and ‘Open Happiness’ focused more on the intangible joy of cola consumption, driven by films that attained a great degree of virality in the early years of social media, while ‘Taste The Feeling’ marked a return to a more functional product-focused approach.
A veteran at Coca-Cola, Teejae Sonza, trademark Coca-Cola category director of Coca-Cola ASEAN & South Pacific, has been part of many of these transformations. Asked for her take on the evolution of the company’s marketing, she said, “I am inspired by Robert Woodruff — president of The Coca-Cola Company for over 60 years. In a speech he delivered at the 50th anniversary of Coca-Cola, he said ‘some of the best work we’ve done is to discover what people had created around Coca-Cola.’” As a result, the company often looks to its past to forge a way ahead. Sonza attributed the brand’s iconic status to not reinventing what it stands for, but by building familiarity with every generation. She said, “Our timelessness comes from being timely.”
Asked about the transition from the more consumption-focused ‘Taste The Feeling’ to ‘Real Magic', Sonza said, “‘Real Magic’ is not about just telling people how delicious a Coke is. It’s about creating a human moment with Coke, where we connect the reality of how things are, with the imagination of how we would like them to be. It is an invitation to celebrate the magic of humanity.”
This approach is most appropriate for the times we live in. Sonza said, “We live in an age of dichotomy. We are hyper-connected, but isolation and loneliness are on the rise. There is increased awareness and desire for diversity and inclusion, but often we hear about people and things being ‘cancelled.’ The younger generation are living their real lives in a virtual world, merging the boundaries between the two.”
But this ties in well with Coca-Cola, a brand that is comfortable with dichotomies. Sonza added, “Seemingly opposing and different things are not to be feared but embraced because of the beautiful humanity it can create. Coca-Cola is very familiar but has a secret formula. It is ‘the real thing’ with an uplifting great taste, but also magical. It was already ‘Real Magic’ to people, even before we adopted that as brand philosophy.”
The refreshed philosophy is especially relevant amid the post-pandemic reset. Acknowledging the many negative impacts of the pandemic, Sonza also believed it was an opportunity to start anew. She said, “It has made us rethink our priorities, and have a greater appreciation for what makes us human. We have a once in a generation chance — either go back to our binary ways or make our world a little better.”
Bringing ‘Real Magic’ to life
Beyond the philosophy of ‘Real Magic’ are extremely specific goals: to drive more people to consume Coca-Cola at a greater frequency. Regular drinkers of Coca-Cola, Sonza intimated, are known internally as “Weekly+ Drinkers” and efforts are already underway to add to their numbers. “Ritual building around ‘Coca-Cola Breaks’ and ‘Coke with Meals’ will be key. We also needed to beef up our commercial muscle and digital infrastructure to meet consumers wherever they are and do this sustainably.”
Discussions within the company have moved from above the line (ATL) and below the line (BTL) to end-to-end brand experiences. Sonza said, “Every action needs to drive people to reach for a Coke. It is no longer about communicating but creating experiences, allowing people to interact with us and each other through our brand.”
This involves revitalising old standards like festive season campaigns after the dearth of in-person celebration opportunities over the last two years. But there are also new elements. For instance, Coca-Cola Creations is described as “a global innovation platform that takes our iconic brand and lends it to new expressions, driven by collaboration, imagination, and cultural connections.” It involves limited-edition flavours and co-creations with IPs at the cutting edge of Gen Z pop culture.
The first product under Coca-Cola Creations is Coca-Cola Starshine. Starshine was inspired by Coca-Cola’s partnership with NASA 35 years ago, making it one of the first beverages to travel to space. The vision of Coca-Cola was to push the boundaries of imagination and create a world of infinite possibilities such as enjoying an augmented reality concert by Ava Max after scanning the code on pack. Coca-Cola Starshine was launched as a limited-edition flavour in Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. In other countries globally, it was launched as Starlight. The next phase is currently ongoing — a collaboration with popular DJ and electronic musician Marshmello.
From arm’s reach to click’s reach
With digital becoming an important retail channel, Coca-Cola’s has updated the “within arm’s reach of desire” phrase made popular by former president Woodruff, to within “click’s reach.”
Realising the importance of food delivery services, it has partnered with companies like DoorDash and Grab to launch ‘Treat Night’ within their apps, an initiative facilitated by the massive surge in food delivery applications and the related infrastructure. Previously, a similar campaign would have required a single person to brief agencies, negotiate with food delivery and e-commerce partners, and work with sales to execute the programmes. Today, Coke has a whole department for online-to-offline (O2O) and separate teams for community management and content creation.
No more silos
Buoyed by recent successes, Coca-Cola will also be tapping into its global network to a greater degree. Sonza said, “We meet at least twice a month and have realised there are more similarities than differences. Our collective minds have improved the work and driven greater efficiencies.”
Speaking about the vision for the campaign, Sonza said, “We wanted to celebrate people’s passions and the diversity of our culture. That led us to the new territory of Coca-Cola Creations. We will create more new flavours, designs and experiences — reimagining our much-loved Coca-Cola in limited editions inspired by culture, across physical and digital worlds.”