Stop counting Facebook ‘likes,’ learn from Coca-Cola’s ‘nickname bottle’

'Nickname Bottle' campaign of Coca-Cola
‘Nickname Bottle’ campaign of Coca-Cola

Listen up, all marketers desperately trying to convert Facebook or Instagram “likes” or Twitter retweets into moolahs.

In case you missed it, Coca-Cola has broken the secret code, and others, like ‘Mad Men’ TV series, have followed the winning social media formula: the Narcissus strategy.

Coca-Cola’s “nickname bottle” hit promo must have found inspiration from (or, at least, analogous to) the Greek mythology character. Narcissus is known for having fallen in love with the one that appears on the still waters when he hovers over it, failing to realise he is looking at his own reflection. Before that ‘a-ha’ narcissistic moment, however, the vain Narcissus was trying to get away from Echo, a beautiful mountain nymph who had developed a crush on him. She got the cold shoulder, of course, since Narcissus found her weird.

Echo, it seems, is herself a reflection of modern-day marketers who suffer (or are blind to) the same curse: She could only repeat whatever others say or shout. So much for creativity and self-expression — and in the case of social media marketing, thinking out of the box, instead of “echoing” what others are already doing (like counting “likes” or followers).

Coca-Cola’s campaign is a lesson to marketers wanting to be relevant in this era of “competitive narcissism.” Narcissus continuously tried to grab the beautiful nymph in the pool of water, but every attempt created ripples, which vanished the love of his life. If he laid still and the waters remained calm, the love of his life reappeared and stared right back at him. He was enchanted.

Digital innovation expert Catherine Palmeri summed it neatly:

Instead of seeking to be “liked,” Coca-Cola reflected what the consumers were seeking: validation.  They recognized that the strongest brand message they could send was the reflection of the customers themselves. And therein lies the key to successful social marketing: Seek to reflect and respond to your targets.

Validate. Encourage. Reflect people’s specialness. Your brand message is irrelevant; what matters is what you reflect back to Narcissus. And before long, Narcissus will sit by your pool, see himself or herself in you, and become a loyal customer.

Fast forward to 2011, the year Coca-Cola launched the Share-A-Coke campaign in Australia. The corporate giant was focused on encouraging the social media-savvy youth to express their feelings and connect with a friend, a loved one, an acquaintance, those they have yet to meet, or whoever, by sharing a bottle in a fun way. Instead of the iconic ‘Coca-Cola’ logo on the packaging, splashed on the face of the bottle are buzzwords or nicknames or terms of affection. It was a big hit and was rolled out in different markets.

In Western markets, like Australia and Europe, consumer names like Zoe or Dan are used, as well as VIP, Gorgeous, Friend, Handsome, and Star. Coke’s packaging in China feature nicknames such as cool dude, fans, and artistic youth, as well as gao fu shuai (men who are tall, rich and handsome), bai fu mei (women who are rich and beautiful with light skin), chi huo (foodie), or biao qing di (one with great facial expression skills). In some markets, further customisation is available: They can choose the words they like to be printed on the bottle, then pay for delivery fees via online payment systems, like Weibo Wallet in China. The unique range of bottles also make unique and cool collectible gifts.

Incorporating internet buzzwords into its branding was a smashing success, judging by the millions of picture and video posts on customers’ social media accounts, featuring the personalised bottles and sometimes the #ShareACoke hashtag, causing a stir on the Web.

As far as the company is concerned, these posts create ripples that inspire connection to the brand and trigger customers, especially the young who they want to keep on buying more Coke well into the rest of their lives. After the campaign is rolled out in these markets, Coca-Cola reportedly immediately realises increases in sales. The “nickname bottle” is now in most of the 200 countries where it operates, including the UK, France, Brazil, Austria, Germany, Greece, Israel, China, Thailand, and now the Philippines.

New: the ‘lyric bottle’

Expect the corporate giant to have more tricks up its sleeves: After the name-calling comes humming to a tune.

In China, it’s priority target market now, Coca-Cola launched in June the “lyric bottle” campaign, a permutation of and a follow up to the “nickname bottle.”

Lyrics from some of the country’s most popular songs are printed on the bottle package that people could then scan to share a short clip of the same song via their social media accounts. Called “musicons,” these animated musical clips are, in a way, “shareable musical soundbites.”

“By putting song lyrics on Coke bottles and cans, we’ve made the product itself a vehicle for self-expression. With this campaign, people in China can signal how they are feeling by sharing a Coke with the juicy heart of a song on it. As a concept, Musicons are to songs what tweets are to blogs. Sometimes a soundbite says it better,” added Tim Doherty, Chief Creative Officer of Isobar, the agency behind the project,

Check the video below:



What Amy Chen, interactive marketing director at Coca-Cola Greater China, told the audience at the 2013 ES Shanghai conference about the ingredients of their Share-A-Coke campaigns’ success is instructive.

Here are a few of her points, as summarised by

• Technology has changed brand storytelling — from telling consumers what they should buy and why, to a strategy where the consumer is put on a level footing with the brand by disseminating and sharing a common message.

• This has been characterized by a shift from brands broadcasting to consumers to a position where brands listen to the stories consumers are already telling, reflected through their online interactions. “You must speak the same language as consumers when creating campaigns.”

• “If your communication is good, it doesn’t matter which social platforms you use to receive customer response.”

• Brands should nurture genuine trust from consumers. For example, if a brand tries to acquire fans by offering the chance to win an iPad, many might join initially but would leave your brand account immediately once the promotion is over.


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