The Fizz Behind Coca-Cola’s Massive World Cup Campaign

coca-colaBefore Brazil defeated Croatia at Arena de Sao Paulo to open the 2014 World Cup, the Coca-Cola Co. unfurled across the pitch the fruits of its biggest marketing campaign in its history: a giant mosaic called the “Happiness Flag.”

But this campaign, which ended on the soccer field, began online. Activated across 175 countries, the Happiness Flag was assembled from 200,000 fan images commemorating the World Cup, submitted through social media and online channels. Its reach exceeded Coca-Cola’s second-largest campaign during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, which ran across 160 markets.

Enticing consumers across hundreds of countries to submit an image, in coordinated paid, owned and earned channels, made the Happiness Flag a monster to plan. Coca-Cola global digital brand manager Andrew Osterday said the company began laying the pavement four years out and it was ultimately executed by hundreds of Coca-Cola teams in different markets.

Happiness Flag “was promoted through a wide variety of channels,” Osterday said. “The way programs are activated at Coca-Cola is on a market-by-market basis. Each individual country decides its own marketing mix, and we need to be flexible in the way that country has to activate.”

Coca-Cola pushed the bulk of its messaging around Happiness Flag across Google, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

“Each platform had its own idiosyncrasies when it came to achieving mass awareness,” Osterday said. For instance, on Instagram, Coca-Cola focused more on reaching out to influencers.

But besides different cultures, the social media platforms also have different levels of complexity, said Marcio “Mars” Cyrillo, the marketing and product director at CI&T, which helped Coca-Cola build and activate the campaign.

“Each social network will establish a limit of calls you can make to APIs,” Cyrillo said. “And the protocol to talk to them is different depending on the situation. Coca-Cola also has a very strong security audit you have to go through.”

This was a problem because Coca-Cola’s security almost blocked Google, whose cloud platform CI&T used to host the entire campaign.

“That’s something marketing doesn’t even talk about,” Cyrillo said. “And for Google, they’re not used to discussing this type of thing with a big company.”

But because of Coca-Cola’s size and influence, its platform partners were anxious to assist.

“Coca-Cola has the leverage,” Cyrillo said. When tech partners bend over backward to work with you, he said, it makes the entire process easier and cheaper.

But even with the platform partners on board, Coca-Cola still had to figure out how to drive engagement. Although both Coca-Cola and the World Cup have avid fan followings, the soft drink giant had difficulty predicting whether consumer engagement would pop or come out flat.

Degrees of uncertainty exist in all marketing campaigns, but Coca-Cola’s Happiness Flag had a big and unavoidable hitch, one ingrained in its very concept. Even though Coca-Cola built a campaign that took advantage of an everyday activity – taking photos – “the process of uploading a photo isn’t simple,” Cyrillo said. Users could send photos via Facebook, email them or even tweet one with a hashtag that told the system to ingest the image. (The exact hashtag varied by country because of different privacy regulations around using someone’s identity in marketing material.)

Then the back-end system needed to send an immediate response – one in which the user granted permission to use the photo. Then Coca-Cola had to process and either approve or reject the photo, and send another response informing the user of the decision.

Coca-Cola was certainly aware that the campaign, by its nature, had logistical hurdles, and it tried to streamline the process as much as possible – for instance, it kept the permissions process in the same channel in which consumers submitted photos.

In the end, the variable that most determined whether consumers engaged or ignored Coca-Cola’s messaging, Osterday said, was the creative and the nature of the call to action.

“We found asking for a selfie was by far the highest-performing call to action,” he explained. This makes sense. Snapping a selfie is easy and can be accomplished immediately. Certainly more immediately than when Coca-Cola instructed consumers to wear their favorite jersey or to snap a picture at their favorite location to watch a game.

As Coca-Cola’s global office figured out the strategies and creative that worked best, it sent that information to its local markets as best practices guidelines.

“There were big gaps in high-performing and low-performing creative,” Osterday said. “Even with the same amount of spend and targeting. These campaigns really require paid support and also engineering your content to be shared with the earned.”

While every marketer dreams of virality, the glut of digital content exploding across the Internet every hour of every day makes it difficult for a company even as large as Coca-Cola to ride the crest of user-generated fervor (and Facebook has reduced organic reach for brands, so there’s that little issue as well). This is why paid media has become more important.

“Paid is always required now,” Osterday said. While the Happiness Flag didn’t need a great deal of paid – global media spend was only a fraction of the campaign’s budget – Osterday acknowledged the company has seen “magnitudes greater results when we put even a small amount of paid behind our posts.”

The paid strategy also had to be malleable, particularly in its targeting parameters. Because photo collection for Happiness Flag began months before the World Cup, Coca-Cola’s initial messaging initiatives cast a wide net.

“Each market has different ideas as to exactly who they want to go after,” Osterday said. “But in general we started with the lowest-hanging fruit: football fans. Especially when you’re six to nine months from the World Cup and people aren’t thinking about it that much unless they’re really avid fans. As the campaign progressed and more casual fans started paying attention, we opened up our targeting.”

One element that was particularly helpful was Facebook’s World Cup clustering, which had an algorithm to predict whether a Facebook user was a World Cup fan or not.

While Osterday declined to get into the specifics of how Coca-Cola segmented its audience, he noted the Happiness Flag campaign wasn’t budgeted for a deep dive. “We stayed near the top and passed those learnings onto the (regional) markets,” he said.

Because Coca-Cola is still chewing through the campaign’s performance information, Osterday wouldn’t share specifics around lessons learned, or the extent of the campaign’s long-term impact.

“But at the end of the day, we want consumers to engage with our brand and we believe if they do that, they’ll consider us when they choose a soft drink,” he said. “Engagement, reach, impressions, the quality of those interactions are all top-of mind for us. Individual markets might have other metrics tied to promotions, but for the Happiness Flag, we wanted to see how many photos we could get.” (The answer is a little more than 223,000.)

Strangely, the trick in managing a campaign as complex as Happiness Flag is to keep it as simple as possible. Marketers occasionally try to shoot the moon and end up crashing into a mountain. Adding sentiment analysis for layering on additional levels of permissions might have pleased the client, Cyrillo said, but it would have undermined the campaign’s usability.

One additional feature that went through and was enormously popular in India: the ability to swap text for images in countries where Internet connectivity isn’t pervasive. When users sent a text message instead of a photo, the system generated a branded badge to use in the mosaic.

“It’s a fantastic mechanic, but most markets simply preferred to ask for photos,” Osterday recalled. “And it’s difficult to explain to a consumer that you could send us a photo or do it this way. Back to my point about simplicity, you can really only ask the consumer to do one thing.”

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