As a brand that’s blogged, tweeted, YouTubed and Flickr’d thousands of times each day, Coca-Cola has an opportunity to harness the power of the digital culture and engage a worldwide audience of teens and 20-somethings. But how could we create compelling content for the online venues where these young people are active while driving word-of-mouth buzz and positive media coverage? The answer came in the form of another question: What if we sent a team of young people on an unprecedented journey to 206 countries where Coca-Cola does business in just 365 days?
While on the road, we’d ask them to seek out and document what makes people happy, a quest consistent with the brand’s Open Happiness campaign. Armed with laptops, cameras and mobile phones, these “happiness ambassadors” would interview the people they meet, tell interesting stories and document it all in real-time – leveraging every facet of social media. With that, Expedition 206 was born.
Coca-Cola’s ongoing consumer loyalty studies show that people who are actively engaged in Coca-Cola’s online programs demonstrate higher brand love scores; they are 31 percent more likely to “like” Coke, 43 percent more likely to “love” Coke and 68 percent more likely to “exclusively love” Coke. This knowledge fueled the desire to create an innovative program that engages global consumers online in an entirely new way. Review of a December 2007 report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project showed, “The use of social media – from blogging to online social networking to creation of all kinds of digital material – is central to many teenagers’ lives.” The study found 39 percent of “online teens” share their own artistic creations online, such as artwork, photos, stories or videos and an overwhelming majority of these creators report their content “often starts a virtual conversation.” These conversation starters are exactly the audience for whom Expedition 206 was built.
In 2008, the Coca-Cola Happiness Institute published a study that included 3,000 consumer interviews, close work with psychologists and deep secondary research on the factors that lead to happiness. While the research certainly didn’t pinpoint a single cause of happiness, it did shine light on the connection between happiness and “the smaller things in life.” This knowledge helped define the mission of Expedition 206, focused much more on simple interactions and everyday people than celebrities and high-profile events. Fast Horse solicited feedback on the expedition from targeted media, bloggers and online influencers to determine the kinds of content and updates they would be interested in receiving throughout the year. Finally, success of the communications efforts would rely heavily on Coca-Cola’s marketing teams in each of the 206 markets, so they were brought into the conversation early. Their insight into which cities and local events offered ideal publicity opportunities helped shape the route and the timing of visits.
Communication objectives: 1) Create compelling content for and increase engagement with a worldwide audience of teens and 20-somethings; 2) secure positive global blog and media coverage for a program that can be activated in each of the countries in which Coca-Cola is sold; and 3) increase brand affinity and brand love among teens and 20-somethings
Target audiences: 1) Teens and 20-somethings who are active in social media; 2) Residents of the countries and cities Coke’s team of “happiness ambassadors” would visit
Strategies: 1) Launch the program with a bang and quickly put Expedition 206 on the map; 2) engage consumers in two-way communication before the journey begins; 3) showcase personalities of the happiness ambassadors; 4) create relevant opportunities to tell the story to multiple audiences, including media and bloggers covering youth culture, pop culture, travel, technology, social media, marketing and business; and 5) leverage Coca-Cola’s global marketing and communication teams, on whom the program’s successful local activation would depend
Giving consumers a sense of ownership and engaging them throughout the expedition would be essential to the success of the campaign. The decision was made to involve them from the beginning with a worldwide vote to select the lucky happiness ambassadors. After a targeted search for candidates, an eclectic group was chosen not only for their personal traits but also to reflect the diversity of Coke’s global audience. The voting process would allow fans to become invested early in the people they’d be following throughout the year and also would serve as a unique news hook for the program’s launch.
Extensive media and blogger lists were compiled across multiple categories in preparation for the launch, and we identified the influencers most likely to generate excitement and help spread word of the expedition quickly. Most significant was an advance story pitch planned for the Associated Press, which would bring immediate worldwide attention. Before the winning team was selected, plans were already in place to introduce them to the world with a special event in Coke’s hometown, and an outreach toolkit was developed to help drive buzz throughout 2010.
Phase 1: Program launch and voting kick-off: Plans were previewed for Coke’s marketing and communications teams around the world to ensure a thorough understanding of the program’s goals and strategies. Fast Horse then built a global activation toolkit to empower local outreach, which included template media materials, social media outreach guidelines, sample media pitches, key messages, suggestions for local activation, photos, video clips, and more. On Oct. 21, 2009, Expedition 206 was unveiled and the global vote to choose the team of three happiness ambassadors began. A digital press kit in Coke’s online newsroom accompanied the news release and served as a useful tool for distributing photo and video assets to outreach partners and media. That morning, the Associated Press story hit the wire and appeared in news outlets worldwide. Aggressive follow-up to media and bloggers built on the initial buzz, and the nine finalists served as compelling spokespeople as they campaigned for votes from around the globe.
Phase 2: Announcement of winners: After the “happiness ambassadors” were selected, we needed to continue building momentum prior to the team hitting the road on Jan. 1, 2010. The ambassadors were extensively trained for the media onslaught they were about to encounter. They were revealed to the world during “Happiness Ambassador Training Camp” at the World of Coca-Cola museum in Atlanta. On Nov. 16, 2009, Tony Martin, Kelly Ferris and Antonio Santiago participated in activities designed to create interesting online content and compelling visuals for media. Activities included preparing their palates with an array of exotic foods and tackling a travel-themed obstacle course. Key bloggers and media – including teen-focused pop-culture site JSYK.com and the world’s most popular technology blog, Mashable.com – attended the event, took photos and taped video interviews with the team.
The event was strategically staged in conjunction with a global Coca-Cola investor event, increasing media exposure to the high-profile business and marketing reporters in attendance. The training camp event also provided an opportunity for an updated global activation toolkit, complete with event photos and B-roll footage, to accompany traditional and social media outreach. The buzz continued the next morning, when the ambassadors conducted a booked-solid, five-hour satellite media tour, appearing on morning shows from New York to Ottawa to Mexico City – including Univision, Telemundo and other Hispanic outlets – followed by interviews with print and online media around the world via phone, Twitter and Skype. The attention continued in the following weeks, particularly when the winners returned home with near-celebrity status.
Phase 3: Expedition begins: The expedition kicked off on Jan. 1, 2010, in Madrid, Spain, home to the Coca-Cola Happiness Institute, which the team visited after a traditional Spanish New Year’s Eve celebration. An extensive activation toolkit gave local markets ideas and resources to bring Expedition 206 to life before, during and after the team’s visit, including ongoing programs, event suggestions and template media materials. Activation ideas include the selection of local “happiness hosts” to serve as guides and the presentation of one-of-a-kind Coke bottles specially decorated to depict simple moments of happiness from country. The toolkit is routinely updated to share best practices as the journey progresses. Fast Horse and Coca-Cola maintain the @x206hq Twitter account and frequently update an online press center, which serve as a “news bureau” to aid in media and blogger outreach. The traveling team maintains the main @x206 Twitter account, sharing updates on their whereabouts and the people they meet. The team members also write blog posts, publish photos to Flickr, post videos to YouTube, and share updates on Facebook. Fast Horse also manages Coca-Cola’s use of Promoted Tweets (Twitter ads) designed to increase engagement with the @x206 Twitter account. The conclusion of the expedition generated another wave of global coverage, and a live webcast Q&A with the happiness ambassadors gave fans and media from around the world a chance to hear from and interact with the team as they shared some of their findings about the roots of happiness.
Objective 1: Create compelling content for and increase engagement with a worldwide audience of teens and 20-somethings:
Expedition 206 has been the subject of more than 800 blog posts and online news stories, and Web analytics data shows the excitement around the program is truly global: During the voting period in which fans chose their favorite finalists, 75 percent of voters were from outside the United States, as is 76 percent of the total traffic to expedition206.com to date. Expedition206.com has served nearly 900,000 page views since the program’s launch, and visitors spend an astounding average of more than 6.5 minutes on the site per visit. The team’s hundreds videos have been watched more than 61,000 times on YouTube, and fans and followers send hundreds of Twitter messages to the @x206 Twitter account each month. The seven Promoted Tweets sent from the @x206 Twitter account were viewed a total of 124,105 times by twitterers from around the world, resulting in a total of more than 4,300 clicks, retweets and replies. Response rates varied from 2.5 percent to nearly 9 percent – unusually high for online advertising – all for a cost per engagement of just 24 cents and a cost per impression of less than 1 cent.
As an example of local-market activation, a partnership with QQ.com, China’s largest social networking site, led to the creation of an Expedition 206-themed “virtual stamp” program in which users collect and trade badges that adorn their online profiles. One billion users collected and exchanged more than 10 billion Expedition 206 stamps – a record-breaking campaign for QQ.
When fans were presented with an opportunity to participate in a live Q&A webcast with the Expedition 206 team, 3,000 people from 112 countries tuned in to the live event, asking questions of the ambassadors and chatting with other fans. A recording of that Q&A is available, and in total, the broadcast has been watched more than 21,000 times by people from 130 countries.
Objective 2: Secure positive global blog and media coverage for a program that can be activated in each country
Expedition 206 was covered in more than 400 media outlets before the team even hit the road, including the Associated Press, BBC, Mashable, Fox Business News, LA Times, Telemundo, Univision, CNBC and AOL’s JSYK.com. As the team’s journey nears its completion, the program has received widespread media coverage in each region they’ve visited, resulting in a total of 4,300 media stories and counting. Global media and online outreach has resulted in 775 million media impressions.
Objective 3: Increase brand affinity and brand love among teens and 20-somethings:
The program has been received very positively, helping Coca-Cola stand out as an innovator and build a new crop of global brand ambassadors. In addition to increased engagement on the brand’s Facebook page, roughly 20 percent of visitors to the program’s website are going beyond just following the journey: They’re actively contributing content or comments, demonstrating a high level of engagement. Coca-Cola’s brand love research demonstrates that increased engagement translates into increased sales, and as one of Coca-Cola’s most visible non-advertising programs, Expedition 206 contributed to driving growth in case sales worldwide. In the fourth quarter of 2009, which included the program’s initial announcement and the introduction of the winning team of happiness ambassadors, sales rose 4 percent. In the first, second and third quarters of 2010, as Expedition 206 roamed the earth, sales increased by 3 percent, 5 percent and 4 percent, respectively. In each instance, Coke’s official earnings report for the quarter attributes the growth, at least in part, to the brand’s broad “Open Happiness” marketing campaign, of which Expedition 206 is a major part. Further, select regional sales growth coincides with Expedition 206 events in those regions. China, a major market for Expedition 206, saw 6 percent growth in the second quarter of 2010, which included the team’s visit to the World Expo in Shanghai.
The expedition has earned Coca-Cola the “Innovator of the Year” award from TravelCom, and the program was named “Campaign of the Month” by PRWeek in January 2010. Additionally, the following are samples of what other influencers are saying:
• “Throughout the entire trip, fans have been invited to interact with the team, offering or recommending places to stay, not-to-miss attractions, amazing places to eat, and more. The whole concept is pretty creative, inviting consumers not just to think about the product but the message of unity that Coca-Cola can bring to the world. That’s a difficult message to convey with traditional advertising.” –Mashable.com
• “Good for Coke, they totally get it! Building a brand is all about connecting with people’s feelings and associating the product with the right image that resonates with their audience.” –commenter on Mashable.com
• “Coca-Cola is using social media to make the brand not only about consumers but extremely accessible to them, as well.” –Student-run Emerging Media & The Market blog
• “A truly big idea from Coke that celebrates their brand essence of ‘happiness’ in a culturally relevant and interesting way for global youth. ... ‘Happiness’ as a territory has been done to death by many brands, but only Coke can truly take a leadership position on it and their product genuinely delivers on it.” –Branding/marketing blogger Dan Pankraz