Sprite.com Goes Live
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report
CEO

Sprite.com Goes Live

How do you spread the message about a new Web site that allows teens to safely and securely buy what they want, when they want, without begging their parents for a credit card?

Paul Holmes

How do you spread the message about a new Web site that allows teens to safely and securely buy what they want, when they want, without begging their parents for a credit card? You bring the Web site to life through a one-of-a-kind hip-hop party in the heart of Manhattan. You drive traffic to the site and secure hard-hitting coverage from national media through highly strategic media relations. And you carefully craft just the right news hooks. The situation? The Coca-Cola Company and Weber Shandwick Worldwide were faced with the challenge of creating awareness surrounding the unveiling of Sprite.com – a new Web site that allows teens to experience the freedom of purchasing the hottest products online without credit cards. To create this site, Sprite joined forces with RocketCash, a leading online gateway that provides the ultimate virtual mall shopping experience - featuring more than 100 teen-focused e-tailers.
 
OPPORTUNITIES
 
The team capitalized on the unique features and benefits of Sprite.com, providing sustainable media opportunities. Unlike any other Web site, Sprite.com provides teens with the opportunity to buy items without credit cards or parental supervision as well as the ability to shop from several teen-focused
e-tailers. Competitive sites allow for teen shopping, but not to the extent of Sprite.com. Additionally, the rollout of Sprite.com was the largest online initiative in the history of the Coca-Cola Company. And the timing of the site launch coincided with the holiday timeframe, providing the team with natural news hooks surrounding online holiday shopping.
 
CHALLENGES
 
Because Sprite.com targets teens, the team was faced with the challenge of tackling controversy associated with teens and e-commerce as well as online safety. Also, since there are a slew of Web sites in cyber space, the team needed to find a way to convince the media and consumers that Sprite.com offers a very unique shopping experience. Another challenge was garnering the attention of media in the New York area – one of the largest and most competitive markets in the nation.
 
Prior to the planning phase, the Coca-Cola Company and Weber Shandwick Worldwide conducted extensive research. To develop suitable objectives and strategies, several brainstorms were held with professionals at all levels. The team also gathered information regarding the demographics, psychographics, buying habits and media habits of the target audience as well as specific media opportunities (sections, columns, reporters and issues) available through national music, teen, hip hop, business and technology publications, television programs and Web sites.
 
PLANNING
 
For the launch of Sprite.com, Coca-Cola Company and Weber Shandwick Worldwide devised the following objectives:
  • Position Sprite.com as the revolutionary online shopping experience for teens, providing them with independence and freedom to buy what they want, when they want
  • Create a memorable way to further brand positioning through media relations
  • Drive traffic to Sprite.com and to the launch event
  • Reinforce the brand’s advertising message – “Drink Sprite. Get RocketCash. Buy what you want.”
 
To reach the target audiences of tweens, teens and young adults, ages 12-24 (primarily ages16-18), the team formulated the following strategies:
  • Execute an interactive national media relations program reinforcing the brand messages
  • Capitalize on music, fashion, celebrity and teen themes and their association with independence, creativity and freedom
  • Develop a fun, edgy consumer event that will create news
 
The success of the program was based on the following measurement criteria: hits on Sprite.com; print and broadcast media placements (including circulation figures); and media and consumer event participation.
 
EXECUTION
 
To communicate brand messages about Sprite.com’s unique features and benefits as well as the launch event to teens, young adults and the media, the team developed a national media relations campaign with strong news hooks. Media relations focused on music, fashion, celebrity, teen, business, e-commerce and technology themes to encourage several different media categories to cover the Web site launch, to attend the launch event and/or provide coverage of the launch event. The Sprite.com launch was divided into two phases – the soft launch phase and the hard launch phase. In addition, the team executed holiday-focused media relations after the launch event to sustain the momentum surrounding the Web site launch.
 
*Soft Launch Phase – The national soft launch phase focused on business, marketing, e-commerce and Internet reporters from the top 100 daily newspapers. The team developed tailored pitch letters to target each media category and followed-up with aggressive pitch calls. Story angles for this group included the introduction of Sprite.com and its unique features and promotions; Sprite.com’s partnership with RocketCash; online shopping trends and key merchant partnerships. Secondarily, the team targeted editors from consumer technology and Internet publications. Story angles included RocketCash’s “Currency Xchange” proprietary technology, online and offline currencies, the unique Sprite.com cyber-shopping experience, and Sprite.com features regarding security and privacy. (See Execution section for media materials and further details.)
 
*Hard Launch Phase – The hard launch phase encompassed a large-scale, hip-hop launch party in Manhattan, allowing hundreds of teenagers and national and local New York area media to step into a “live” cyber-world to experience the new Web site first-hand. Against a backdrop of futuristic, urban imagery and sleek street models sporting the latest in ghetto-chic from Sprite.com e-tailers, guests embarked on a “live” cyber-shopping spree, exchanging RocketCash for cool merchandise from several urban e-merchants, mimicking the transaction that occurs when making purchases on Sprite.com. Guests also enjoyed the music of hip-hop stars Nelly and Ja Rule. Several DJs from hip-hop radio stations across the country broadcasted their programs live from the party, while interviewing music artists such as Macy Gray, Nelly, Ja Rule, etc., and promoting Sprite.com. Additionally, NYC’s hottest hip-hop radio DJ Steph Lova hosted a Web cast of the party, providing viewers the opportunity to win $1,000 of RocketCash every minute for sixty minutes. And MTV’s new hip-hop show, “DirectFX,” broadcasted portions of the show live from the party.
 
Media relations focused on music, fashion, hip-hop and features editors/producers at daily newspapers in the top 50 demographic market areas; top 50 Web sites geared toward teens/young adults; teen-related chat rooms; publications targeted at the Generation X and Y populations; and national television programs. Electronic teaser invitations (e-vites) were sent to key New York area media via email in mid-October and again in early November. The team conducted extensive media follow-up calls to determine interest in attending the party and covering the Web site launch. In addition, targeted pitch letters were distributed to New York area media, offering interviews with hip-hop stars Nelly and Ja Rule as well as Sprite/Coca-Cola representatives; snapshots from the party; an overview of the hottest urban e-tailers found on Sprite.com; personal RocketCash codes to test out the site; information on the Web cast; and b-roll footage of the party.
(See Execution section for media materials and e-vites.)
 
*Holiday-Focused Media Relations – The sustain momentum after the party, the team conducted additional media relations activities in Nov./Dec. 2000, focusing on holiday shopping. Targeted media included gift guide editors and lifestyle/features editors at daily newspapers in the top 50 demographic market areas. Story angles for the holiday gift guides focused on how kids can easily purchase products for the holidays and participate in fun promotions via a virtual “mall” without a credit card. The team also developed a VNR with a similar holiday focus and distributed it to national broadcast outlets. (See Execution section for media materials.)
 
EVALUATION:
 
Public relations efforts surrounding the launch of Sprite.com produced impressive results and all objectives were achieved. Through successful media relations, the team furthered Sprite.com’s brand messages. For instance, more than 160 stations in more than 115 designated market areas have aired the video news release, reaching 9 million viewers. And to date, more than 35 print and online outlets have provided coverage of Sprite.com and the launch party, reaching more than 33.5 million people, with a total combined circulation of 42.5 million. The majority of coverage reinforced Sprite.com’s advertising message and positioned Sprite.com as the revolutionary shopping experience, providing teens with independence and freedom. Additionally, the event attracted 19 major media outlets including: CNN, CNN Frontline, Details, Money, Seventeen, The Source, US Weekly, WNBC, and XXL. Sprite.com receives 650,000 unique visitors and 3,500,000 page views per week, more than NBA.com or Bolt.com. In addition, 2 million bottle cap codes were activated during the launch phase (Oct.-Dec.). (See media coverage summary and clips in Evaluation section.)
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