For the past 16 years, Ferreira had worked for Coke in Mexico and he was used to the flagship brand dominating the market. “Mexico was Coke’s first international market and has the world’s highest per-capita consumption,” explained Ferreira. “It also has around 90 per cent market share in the cola segment.”
In contrast, Coke’s market share in Thailand was only about 24 per cent, compared with Pepsi’s 38 per cent. In addition, the red cola’s marketing strategy in Thailand was very different from Mexico’s. To make thnigs worse, the locals immediately renamed Ferreira as “Fey”.
“Marketing in Mexico is very much in touch with the local culture and very emotional, and Thailand’s was largely promotional at the time, focusing on the drink as ‘energising refreshment’," Ferreira recalled. "Also, we were only second in a very competitive Cola market."
But things were about to change for Coke. In October 2011, the floods hit Thailand, and the brand, in partnership with its media agency, Initiative, launched ‘A million reasons to believe in Thailand’.
“The decision we made was, let’s focus much more on helping people, rather than just selling cola," Ferreira said. "We changed our advertising to promote donations to the Red Cross, donating all the media space we had. We maintained our support to the society for about three months, and then in January we launched a campaign that spoke of hope—of the clouds parting and the sun shining again, with reasons to believe in Thailand.”
To create this, Coke and Initiative lit up a building with an animated display of triumphant tales of flood victims. The display also integrated with social media to convey well-wishes in real-time. Social media was also used to recruit volunteers and begin reconstruction. The campaign went on to win two Gold Lions at Cannes and helped cement Coke’s place in Thai society, boosting its brand image and market share.
The campaign fortuitously coincided with the breakup of Pepsi’s relationship with Serm Suk Pcl, its Thai distributor of 59 years. Suddenly, Pepsi was hard to come by, and the distributor launched its own brand, est, the day after its deal with Pepsi expired, as reported by Reuters.
After losing access to Serm Suk’s distribution network of about 200,000 stores, restaurants and vending machines, Pepsi’s share of the Cola market slipped to 36.1 per cent in 2012, while Coke’s climbed to 40.1 per cent. Est, meanwhile, debuted at 2.1 per cent just the last two months of the year. Coke’s own figures placed its market share at 51 per cent following the campaign—the first time Coke had led the market in 25 years.
Since then, Coke has managed to keep up its lead by “truly connecting with the Thai consumer based on Thai insight,” Ferreira said. Like many developing Southeast Asian nations, Thailand has started to realise its economic potential and the possibilities its growing wealth has generated for its people.
“Our current tagline is ‘Be Fizzy, Be Bold, Got to be Cold’," said Ferreira, adding that the slogan sounds better in Thai. "[It] advocates consumers taking a chance and pursuing happiness by doing what they want to do in life.”
More recently, Coke brought its 'Share a Coke' campaign to Thailand, using Thai nicknames and complimentary expressions. This campaign followed the earlier launch of the special edition ‘Share a Coke with Mom’, which saw more than 5 million cans sold within one month of launch in August.
Currently, Ferreira is focused on building the brand’s digital presence. Once that’s up and rolling, he plans on turning his focus to mobile. “Mobile’s huge in Thailand, with about 16 million users… but that’s for next year.”