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Coke Happiness Machine Case Study


About Coca-Cola

The Coca-Cola Company is the world’s largest beverage company, refreshing consumers with more than 500 sparkling and still brands. Led  by Coca-Cola(referred to as “Coke”), one of the world’s most valuable and recognizable brands, the Company’s portfolio features 20 billion-dollar brands including Diet Coke, Fanta, Sprite,Coca-Cola Zero, vitaminwater, Powerade, Minute Maid, Simply, Georgia and Del Valle. Globally, Coca-Cola  is  the No. 1 provider of sparkling beverages, ready-to-drink coffees, and juices and juice drinks. Through the world’s largest beverage distribution system, consumers in more than 200 countries enjoy the company’s beverages at a rate of 1.9 billion servings a day. With an enduring commitment to building sustainable communities, the Company is focused on initiatives that reduce its environmental footprint, support active, healthy living, create a safe, inclusive work environment for all its employees, and enhance the economic development of the communities where the company operates. Together with its bottling partners, Coca-Cola is ranked amongst the world’s top 10 private employers with more than 700,000 employees.


Coca-Cola (“Coke”) is one of the best-known brands in the world and the world’s sixth-largest advertiser based on dollars spent. While Coke had ample experience getting its brands in front of billions of people, it needed a cost-effective way to build deeper connections with consumers, especially teens, and its flagship Coke product. The company hypothesized that leveraging digital social media would enable it to better connect with young consumers around the globe. Although teens were voracious consumers of social media—73 percent of online American teens belong to a social network—they were a difficult market segment to reach because they do not share these types of media in traditional ways. Even if teens loved a piece of digital content, they hesitated to post a link to it on their Facebook or MySpace page out of fear that their friends would not approve their choices. Coke found that, rather than risk their reputations if their peers did not think a video/blog/website was “cool,” teens avoided sharing content they loved with their friends and would even subvert their own opinions. In fact, teens only wanted to share content that was already validated by their peers, for instance an Old Spice ad aired during the Superbowl. Commercials during the Superbowl were, by nature, socially validated. Coke also found that teens do not search for content; they find it through their friends. If a teen found content that s/he really liked, rather than posting it to their Twitter or Facebook account, they posted it on their more popular friend’s stream. They used the social currency of a more popular friend to validate and share their ideas.

Strategy Adopted by Coca-Cola

After spending several months researching and brainstorming, Coke determined that the way to reach teens and young consumers was to build a viral digital marketing campaign around happiness. Coke launched seven different

activations that employed various kinds of digital media including two applications for the iPhone and Android-based mobile phones, two applications for Facebook/MySpace/Orkut, one “goodies” package including wallpaper/screensaver/emoticons, one Windows 7 template, and a video. Each piece of content was designed to spread small doses of happiness and appeal to global audiences. While Coke was pleased with all of the projects—users downloaded the “Spin the Coke” iPhone application over 1 million times and downloaded the Windows 7 theme over 2 million times—the video was the company’s most successful activation. The video included footage of a unique Coca-Cola vending machine that the company installed in a cafeteria at a University in New York. The machine was installed in the middle of the university’s final exam period. While the vending machine appeared to be an ordinary soda machine, Coke fashioned it into a “Happiness Machine.” The night before the machine was operable, Coca-Cola set up hidden cameras to record students’ reactions. Students approached the machine thinking their money would buy a bottle of coke. However, the machine dispensed unexpected surprises is made the students very happy. For example, when a student pushed the “Coke” selection they received something unexpected―20 cokes, a bouquet of flowers, a pizza etc. While Coke had designed the machine to dispense little moments of happiness, even the company was surprised by the students’ reactions; they not only loved the surprises, but they shared them.

Results Achieved by Coca-Cola

The company left the machine in the cafeteria for two days, continually recording the footage. On January 12, 2010 they uploaded the video to YouTube and announced it with a single Facebook status update. Approximately 10 days after announcing the video on Facebook, the video had been seen 1 million times. Within two months, the video had been viewed over 2 million times and, by April 2010, the video had been viewed over 2.2 million times. Almost immediately, the video achieved Coke’s goal of going global. Approximately 50 percent of viewers were from outside the U.S. and over 70 percent of blog posts about the video were in languages other than English. The video had the highest penetration in Brazil, Mexico, Japan and Russia.


There are important conclusions that can be drawn from this case study and the conclusions can help felicitate further learning in the digital marketing space. First and foremost, with the rise of digital and with every organization trying to put a foot in the digital space the medium is cluttered with too many messages. In such a scenario for consumers to see the brand’s message and to generate brand recall for the message it is very important for brands to “engage “and to “connect” with the consumers. Cokes “Happiness Machine” video achieved the above two (Connection and engagement) brilliantly.  Individuals who viewed the video felt connected to it. The connection appeared to be driven by the happiness brought by the unexpected surprise and the authentic emotion it provoked. Teens, specifically, felt they could relate to the experiences of the students at the University in New York whose video was shown and this strengthened their beliefs that Coke is a brand that creates connection between individuals and inspires happiness.

Secondly, the video’s success also stemmed from its wide reach, few barriers to entry/use, and ease of sharing this video.

Lastly, given the viral nature of the happiness video—the large number of views in a short amount of time (2.3 million in May 2010 on YouTube alone) and the great results measured through testing—Coca –Cola adapted the video into a 30-second television commercial. This is an important learning for a marketer as this represented a different approach in terms of content creation. Usually, the marketers produce the content for traditional media and use internet/digital to leverage the same but in case of Coke instead of putting television commercials and other traditional content online as a compliment to an offline program, Coke produced content for the internet and then leveraged it to for a traditional media platform, specifically, television.

Image Credits: Coca-Cola

Case Study: Coca-Cola

Winning the design Grand Prix at Cannes, two D&AD Yellow Pencils for design and advertising, plus the 2009 Emmy for an Outstanding Commercial. More recently, it was recognised, once again, as the top performer in Best Global Brands 2009, the annual report from brand consultancy Interbrand.

As the world’s most valuable brand, Coke comes in at $68,734 million, some three per cent higher than a year ago. This is no mean feat in a year when the global credit crunch and recession hit the brand, leading consumers to cut back on almost every area of spending – including eating and drinking out. Coke has held its pole position for ten years, staying ahead of other famous brands such as Toyota, Disney, McDonalds, Marlboro and Intel.

Quite simply, there is no other brand like it. 

The report credits Coke’s success as being due in part to, “its edgy campaigns that continue to push boundaries.” “We’re enormously proud of winning these awards,” says Pio Schunker, senior vice president for Creative Excellence, Coca-Cola, North America. “They are testament to the power of creativity and how it can reiterate Coke’s position as a leadership brand at every touch point with consumer – from advertising and packaging, to cups, vending machines and trucks.”

Keeping a big brand great – especially in creative terms – requires constant vigilance and a determination to change. Over the years, Coke has undergone various metamorphoses with the launch of brand extensions. While Diet Coke and Coke Zero are spectacularly successful others – like New Coke – were not. However, with the turn of the millennium, while Coke’s international sales were doing well it was facing some new challenges – especially in its largest market of North America.

In recent years, the US carbonated soft drink market has gradually shrunk according to data published by Beverage Digest, the US trade magazine. From 2001 to 2006, Coke saw US sales drop. The reasons for this are complex but include consumer concern about the impact to health and weight from drinking sugar-laden drinks.

There was also a feeling that Coke had lost its way. Around 2003, the company conducted a large research project called, ‘The Big Dig,’ which revealed that consumers had a, “deep-down love for the brand, but it wasn’t as top of mind.” Meanwhile, in the creative world, The Coca-Cola Company had a reputation for commissioning great work for its core brand only for the internal approval process to dilute it to the point of being insipid. Alert to these issues, in 2003, Steven Heyer, then president and chief operating officer and Esther Lee, then chief creative officer, established the Creative Excellence team.

In autumn of the same year, Schunker joined the team following a 15-year career in advertising. “Coke had become wallpaper in the US,” he says. “It had a potent, latent equity that we had to release. Our job was to contemporise the brand, reinterpret it to a new generation and make it culturally relevant.” To achieve that, he sought new creative partners. He wanted independent agencies who were passionate about creativity not group profits. He also wanted people who shared his own view about the brand and who understood how to take a business strategy and translate it into creative work.

Advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy was working on brands within The Coca-Cola Company’s extensive portfolio when Schunker approached them. He recalls his first encounter with creative partner Dan Wieden. “He said to me, ‘Look I’m not pitching for the Coke business, I’m just interested in the brand. You’ve got to go back to what it stands for and that’s simple goodness.’’

While many clients would bristle at direct criticism of their brand, Schunker agreed with Wieden’s assessment. He offered the agency the advertising account but Wieden and his team were wary. “We thought Coke’s management would never agree to the kind of creative work we thought they needed,” says Hal Curtis, creative director at Wieden + Kennedy. “And we didn’t want to compromise.”

However, Schunker was persuasive. He explained about the new Creative Excellence team, their sponsorship by senior management and the corporate determination to re-establish the brand’s legendary status.

Wieden + Kennedy signed up and, in conjunction with its Amsterdam office, worked on a new communications platform – that drinking Coke provides a small moment of happiness. This became the tag line, ‘The Coke Side of Life.’ It appeared on, ‘Video Game,’ one of the TV ads’ that re-launched the brand in 2006. The ad was a positive spin on the game Grand Theft Auto. After drinking a Coke, the anti-hero is transformed, doing kind acts and creating happiness. “We wanted the brand to simply be itself to consumers, to bring a little bit of happiness,” explains Curtis.

Watch 'The Coke Side of Life' advert above.

Following the campaign’s successful launch in the US, it was extended globally. “We gradually learned that, ‘The Coke Side of Life’ did not always translate well in other cultures,” explains Curtis. “So we evolved it to the, ‘Open Happiness’ campaign.” It plays on the universal theme of happiness, now associated with opening a Coke. This campaign – which launched in January 2009 – remains current in the US and elsewhere.

Watch 'Open Happiness', launched to appeal to a wider audience than its Video Game inspired advert.

Having established a new, successful platform for Coke, Schunker wanted to review the packaging. He approached Turner Duckworth in San Francisco. David Turner, partner, also expressed strong views about the brand. “The identity had lost its clarity, become cluttered and uninspiring,” recalls Turner. “For example, it included unnecessary details such as bubbles when everyone knows Coke is a carbonated drink.”

But, like Wieden, Turner was reluctant to take on the job. “Coke is the ultimate brand project,” he explains. “But it was such a big job, would require huge resources, could take a long time, demoralise staff and damage our creative reputation”. Schunker started putting the counter arguments, then showed Wieden + Kennedy’s positioning work, plus ‘Video Game’ and the aspirations for the pack. “Everything was exactly right for the brand,” Turner comments. “They were simplifying Coke, taking it back to its core values and then expressing those in highly creative and refreshing ways. I could see we would all be in agreement.”

In fact, Wieden + Kennedy’s work laid the foundation for Turner Duckworth’s development of the graphic identity. The design consultancy stripped out every superfluous element such as the over-worked ribbon and bubbles. By simplifying the design, they emphasised the importance of each element – the ribbon, the newly refined Coca-Cola script, and the famous red, now reformulated to make it brighter and bolder.

“We’ve emphasised the positive and authentic qualities that make Coke a great brand,” notes Turner, “and, by doing so, we’ve kept the brand packaging true to its heritage while also making it very modern.”

Turner Duckworth’s designs – for which it won a D&AD Yellow Pencil – have been applied to everything from bottles and cans, to cups and trucks. Although the designs were intended for the US, David Butler, global vice president for design, saw their potential. As a result, global brand guidelines were created as part of an ongoing process to improve the packaging elsewhere.

In the US, one of Wieden + Kennedy’s most outstanding ads and for which it too won a D&AD Yellow Pencil, is, ‘It’s Mine.’ This was commissioned as a Super Bowl spot for 2008 that would also air first on TV and then in cinemas. Around 90 million viewers in the US watch the game on CBS, a far bigger audience than for any other television programme. More than half the audience who watch the Super Bowl do so as much for the commercials – many of which are specially commissioned – as for the game itself, according to a survey by Harris Interactive Inc.

The aim was to create a spot of monumental proportions that would match the importance of the Super Bowl game. ‘It’s Mine’, is set against the backdrop of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. Huge balloons of Underdog and Stewie (from the TV show ‘Family Guy’) tussle over a giant Coke bottle balloon only to have the balloon of Charlie Brown pop up and claim the bottle. It is a heart-warming, witty tale shown in epic scale, comprising some of America’s best-loved fictional characters as well as its most famous.

Wieden + Kennedy and Turner Duckworth continue to work on Coke and, encouraged by Schunker, have developed a close relationship. “There have been times over the last few years when their work has inspired us and vice versa,” explains Curtis. “Generally, we agree on how to move forward. It’s a good partnership.”

The agencies also have good relationships with Schunker. “He values design. He gives you the authority to challenge him,” explains Turner. “At the same time, he nurtures you as an agency not just a service.” Curtis agrees. “Pio believes wholeheartedly in the power of creativity,” he says. “He’s passionate about it.”

So, given all this praise, what has been the most difficult aspect of working on Coke? All the major players found the client approval process painfully lengthy. Turner thought his worst fears were being realised when, after eighteen months, none of his work had made it to market. Just as he was wondering whether to quit the account, a Turner Duckworth designed aluminium bottle launched. “It created a real buzz in the market,” he says, “and people started blogging about it. That was a turning point for us and the people at Coke.”

The risk for everyone involved in the approval process was that the new creative platform would fail – hence they required more time to sign off work. “I imagine we weren’t the first to recommend simplifying Coke’s message,” explains Curtis, “and we were quite aware it would be a difficult task to make it stick.”

So why did it work this time? “We had brilliant agency partners,” states Schunker. “We had the Creative Excellence team championing design, and senior management supporting everything.”

Interestingly, after ‘The Coke Side of Life’ campaign and the first new packaging were launched, the approval process became faster. This was because the work was cumulative, building on an established and, clearly successful, platform.

If Schunker were to do it all again, he would run the whole project faster – in theory. “Yet I know that’s not possible,” he states. “You just can’t with a big corporation. In retrospect, I realise I had to earn people’s trust to get them to accept our proposals. I was asking them to sign up to multi-million dollar changes that would have an impact for ­years. Who was I to do that?”

Arguably, one of the Creative Excellence team’s greatest achievements has been internally. “We’ve helped people understand that, unlike a brand such as Apple, we’re not changing the product,” Schunker explains. “It’s the communication that must alter and stay on its proverbial toes so that we continually refresh the brand and consumers continually reassess it.”

But has Coke’s creative renaissance had an impact on the bottom line? “It’s difficult to claim a cause and effect relationship between communications and turnover,” says Schunker, “when there are so many other factors at play such as distribution, price and promotions.”

Nevertheless, in July 2009, the Financial Times reported The Coca-Cola Company’s chief executive officer Muhtar Kent, as being encouraged by the company’s performance in North America. A representative for Coca-Cola has also said that when business goes well for Coke there is a halo effect on the whole Coca-Cola portfolio of products including Diet Coke, Coca-Cola Light and Coca-Cola Zero.

Changing the direction of a big brand, enthusing consumers and increasing sales are all enormously difficult. Can it really be achieved through a new communications platform and resulting creative work? Ex-Wall Street analyst Emanuel Goldman, now a beverage-industry consultant believes clever advertising and more marketing dollars can halt a decline in sales, even as consumers are trying to cut back on sugary drinks. “You get ads in front of people over and over again and it sticks,” notes Goldman. “They start wanting a Coke.”

Schunker is tight lipped about the details of Coke’s future creative direction but he does promise, “pleasant surprises and some pretty good stuff.” If the scale of the change thus far is anything to go by, it should be worth watching.

If you think you have a campaign that deserves a Pencil, enter your work into the D&AD Awards and see if our judges agree. When it comes to awards, nothing matters more.

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