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Message on a Bottle: 6 Reminders for Marketers Inspired by a Bottle of Coke

On a recent visit to London with my family, we stopped in a deli for lunch before touring the Tower of London.  It was hot and crowded with tourists.  The line felt endless.  Along our slow journey to the counter, we passed the typical cooler filled with drinks.  Imagine my shock when I

Coke bottle with Catherine

That’s me!

spied a Coke bottle through the frosty glass that read “Share a Coke with Catherine.”  Catherine!?  That’s me!  Next to my bottle were dozens of bottles of Coke and Diet Coke with various different names.  “Share a Coke with Matthew.”  “Share a Coke with Amit.”  “Share a Coke with Jade.”  My 10- and 12-year old daughters spent the next five minutes picking up, touching and turning every bottle in the case to see if their names or their BFF’s names were there.

After the momentary delight of spotting my own name – and, of course, taking a photo of my special bottle – I marveled at the sheer brilliance of this marketing effort.  Over the next couple weeks traveling around Great Britain, the kids (and, yes, even I) became obsessed with hunting for names on bottles at every shop, newsstand and airport kiosk.  As a marketer, I realized that while I don’t have Coke’s big budgets or teams of agencies,  the “Share a Coke” effort reminded me of core marketing principals that we should all revisit and emulate.

6 reminders for marketers from the “Share a Coke” campaign:

1.  Let them “touch” the product, literally or figuratively
I haven’t picked up a Coke bottle in years.  Since discovering shelves of “Share a Coke” bottles, I estimate that I’ve touched at least 50 in the past 12 days.  I have at least 7-8 photos of various bottles on my phone.  Coke gave me a reason to care, a compelling reason to seek out and interact with their product.  Whether your product is physical or virtual, aimed at consumers or targeting businesses, give your potential customers a reason to explore, to interact and to care about your product or service.  The value of the resulting brand experience cannot be overestimated.

2.  Make it viral
Naturally, I posted my “Share a Coke with Catherine” photo on Facebook along with the caption, “Why wouldn’t you?”  Within a day or two, dozens of my friends had liked the photo, way more than the norm for my typical post.  Here I was sharing a picture of a product I don’t even use with hundreds of my friends around the world.  Coke turned me into their brand ambassador.  I endorsed their product without hesitation.  How can you make your product share-worthy?  How can you create ambassadors who positively endorse your brand?

3.  Get personal
The largest brand in the world spoke directly to me.  Coke always does things big.  This time they did something tiny.  And that small feat was no small feat.  Seeing my name on a bottle (spelled correctly, no less) was a gift from Coke to me. Obviously, I didn’t find the only “Catherine” bottle on the planet – in fact, I later found a Diet Coke version in the airport – and I’m sure I wasn’t the only Catherine to take a picture of the Coke bottle with my name on it.  Yet the experience was utterly personal.   I challenge you to give an unexpected gift directly to your consumer or at least make them feel that way.

4.  Remember good old-fashioned surprise and delight
It’s Marketing 101.  Find a way to stand out from the competition.  In a world filled with constant marketing messages, even Coke gets ignored.  Normally, I walk by Coca-Cola bottles without a second glance.  They found a way to get my attention.  One might call the “Share a Coke” campaign gamification of Coke shopping, a treasure hunt where the prize is made just for me. There’s something in your product story, your brand message, your company history or your user experience that will capture the imagination of your target even for just an instant.  Find it.

5.  Make the impossible possible
I wish I knew who dreamed up the concept to put individual names on Coke bottles.  I’d like to buy that person a beer…er, Coke.  Can you imagine the faces around the table when that idea was presented?  “Hey, let’s take millions of bottles and somehow personalize them.”  Impossible!  But someone saw the potential and made it reality.  Put your crazy ideas out there early and often.  Don’t dismiss seemingly far-our ideas you hear from others.  Get creative, get excited, communicate the potential and then go make it happen.

6.  Let emotions run wild
I saved the best for last.  Brands are all about tapping into emotion.  Coke wants to own happiness.  You see the consistent theme in their other advertising and marketing.  Their current tagline is “Open Happiness.”  Certainly, seeing my name on a bottle made me happy.  Taking a photo of a bottle with my friend’s daughter’s name and texting it to her made me happy.  Going on vacation with a friend and finding both our names plus

Coke bottle with Helen

This micro-interaction with the brand will make Helen’s day

a bottle that said “Share a Coke with Friends” made me happy.  Beyond those little happy moments, somehow it all made the world seem just a tad smaller.  Seeing all those names reminds you that you’re part of something bigger.  It reminded me of the old TV commercials where they sang “I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company” while holding hands and swaying.  That little bottle worked pretty hard to get me to feel all that.  Do not…I repeat DO NOT…shy away from making an emotional connection with your consumers.  It might feel bold and it might make you uncomfortable.  If it does, it just might be exactly right.

I don’t know how the “Share a Coke” campaign is performing for Coke in the UK.  I read that when the campaign originally launched in Australia a couple summers ago sales went up 4%.  When you consider Coke’s volume, that’s nothing to sneeze at.  There’s a larger point to consider, though.  Yes, I bought some bottles I may not have otherwise due to the novelty and fun factor.  What’s more important is that Coke is top of mind for me in a way it hasn’t been in years, maybe even decades.  I can’t quantify exactly how many of my dollars will now go into Coke’s pockets, but I have a feeling they will.  Case in point — I had big plans for my “Share a Coke with Catherine” Coke and Diet Coke bottles.  I pictured them on my shelf at work, daily inspiration for me to be the best marketer I can be. Two little icons to remind me when the marketing landscape gets chaotic that I need only return to the fundamentals that make good marketing great.  And then…well, I got thirsty.  Well played, Coca-Cola, well played.