Stephen Jardine: Sharing a Coke simply smart

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LIKE all great ideas, it is incredibly simple. In a concept pioneered last year in Australia, this month Coke has relabelled cans and bottles with 150 of the most popular names in the UK.

“We’re swapping our name with yours”, proclaimed the world’s favourite soft drink. The “Share a Coke” campaign is backed by adverts positioning the product as the perfect way to cement a friendship. It’s obvious nonsense but still very smart marketing.

Traditionally, soft drinks are a personal purchase. You buy a can, you drink it, you put it in the bin and you’re not thirsty anymore. That’s it.

Overnight the name-branded cans open up the possibility of buying it as a thoughtful gift, instantly broadening the customer base. But more than that, it taps into the fanatical world of collectors who will stop at nothing to get the entire product range.

The company says millions of special bottles are being produced but not how many millions. As a result, the hype has started with some bottles already turning up on e-bay. Currently, a Caroline bottle will set you back £2.20.

What’s inside is no different, but a change of wrapper has suddenly earned the product a premium.

Just a few weeks in, YouGov’s new brand perception tool has already registered the campaign as a solid hit in terms of raising consumer buzz.

While Coke is keen to portray this as something totally groundbreaking, the company has always been pretty savvy about the marketing possibilities of their iconic bottles. A look at the website Coca Cola Collectibles reveals special bottles commemorating everything from the Olympics to the last Daft Punk album. My personal favourite is the special staff only bottling with a label commemorating 50 years of the Sidcup bottling plant. A bargain at just £100.

The simple effectiveness of “Share a Coke” may be the talk of the drinks industry now, but it faces competition. Like the annoying little brother who always steals the stage, Scotland’s own Irn Bru is muscling in on the action.

Famously, Scotland is one of the few territories in the world where Coca Cola isn’t the number one soft drink. Instead that accolade belongs to Irn Bru.

Cheekily, owners AG Barr have piggy-backed the Coke campaign with their own named cans. However, only one female name features, and let’s just say, it could easily be misconstrued.

It is a perfect piece of brand positioning that will have Coke executives shaking their heads in bemused frustration but it won’t distract them from their mission. Coke needs to fire up brand perception and reverse a period of slow sales growth with greater competition from energy drinks. The new campaign may be the answer. At the moment it’s only around for the summer, but success could see it expanded with more names added.

There are plenty more opportunities, like Shirley, but perhaps not Pepsi.