A red Coca-Cola machine
shows up in a mall in Pakistan. It displays the message “Make a friend in India.”
An identical machine in at a New Delhi mall reads, “Make a friend in Pakistan.”
The two countries have been enemies for decades, but Coke gets ordinary Indians and Pakistanis to wave at each other via cameras. They trace peace symbols,
dance together, and toast each other with the soft drink.
The “Coca-Cola Small World Machines” were another example of irresistible content marketing on Coke’s brand journalism platform, Coca-Cola Journey.
Journey, whose launch last year drew the attention of media powerhouses such as The New York Times, is planning a redesign
for Nov. 12, says Ashley Brown, group director of digital communications and social media. The platform’s redesigned blog, Unbottled, launched Sept. 26.
Journey is one of the most eye-catching examples of companies’ telling their own story through brand journalism. Its newsroom is intent on covering Coke in
a way that appeals to the public, not pushing talking points that nobody outside the company cares about.
“We think of ourselves as journalists, and Coke is our beat,” Brown says.
Why redesign such a new site? The new Journey will allow Coca-Cola display stories, videos, and other content longer than its current (and rather short)
home page. As for Unbottled, its audience was growing much more slowly than Journey’s, Brown says.
“We knew that some of this lag was due to a confusing landing page design and an overall look and feel that left lots of great content lost,” he says. “The
time was right to give Unbottled a fresh, modern look of its own.”
A Seattle firm, 206 Inc., did the visual design, and Perfect Sense Digital built the site technically, as it did the original Journey site. The result is
something that combines content marketing with the fizz of a shaken bottle of Coke.
The beverage bottler launched the site, Brown says, because “Coke is this incredible storytelling company, and we have very few opportunities that we own
and completely control the experience, where we tell these stories.”
The Coca-Cola Route
One Journey story described climbing Mount Kilimanjaro’s “Coca-Cola Route.” Another tells about a Los
Angeles nonprofit that helps
former gang members and ex-cons
get back on their feet. You can learn about Tel Aviv as a tech startup center, or smile at a video of a
vending machine that dispenses Cokes when you hug it.
The site includes sections for stories, opinions, brands, videos, food, and Unbottled.
Coca-Cola Journey has also afforded a way to respond to media stories, such as Ad Age’s correction of a story “Buzzkill: Coca-Cola Finds No Sales Lift from Online Chatter,” the company reports.
The New York Times ran an op-ed titled “When Jim Crow Drank Coke,”
which (erroneously, Coke says) reported that the soft drink once contained cocaine, contributing to Southern white fears of “exploding cocaine use among
African-Americans.” The elimination of cocaine was “influenced by white supremacy,” the article stated.
Not so, Coke said. The piece was “blatantly false,” Brown says, and Journey published a rebuttal from its chief historian within
“Coca-Cola does not contain cocaine, and cocaine has never been an added ingredient for Coca-Cola,” then-historian Phil Mooney stated. He added that as
early as 1914, Coca-Cola was served in African-American-owned soda fountains.
Grace Elizabeth Hale, the University of Virginia history professor who wrote the Times op-ed, could not be reached for comment.
Moving away from the press release
The platform required that the beverage distributor move from a press-release-driven process to a storytelling approach to PR. But what proved to be easier
than Brown anticipated was creating “a robust content pipeline.”
“We actually have the opposite problem,” he says. “We have more content every day than we can publish.”
The newsroom—made up of people with journalism backgrounds and search engine smarts—has a daily meeting at 9 a.m. Much of the content is created on the
fly. They’ll see it’s Throwback Thursday, and say, “Let’s do a slide show of great vintage Coke ads.” On Talk Like a Pirate Day, they’ll go with a
buccaneer-themed front page.
Brown even brags that he has “the happiest team in PR”—not a boast you often hear in the industry. It’s fun, he says, being able to skip the press release
and instead do, say, a cover story, an infographic, and a behind-the-scenes blog post.
Coke has a liberal reuse policy for infographics and the like. One was about its
#5by20 program, which seeks to empower women. Journey published the infographic, then pitched it to the Daily Beast, which also ran it.
That said, pitching isn’t a big part of the model. “We don’t spend too much time pitching ourselves,” Brown says. “We’d rather let our work take center
The successes have delighted Coke. The company issued no press releases for the “Small World Machines” in India and Pakistan, yet the video won 2.2 million
views on YouTube. In the first week alone, an affiliated article got 84,000 visits. Something about the hopeful note of the content won people over.
He explains, “It just allows people in Pakistan and India to come together, dance with each other, hold hands, talk to each other, communicate, draw
pictures to each other, which you never could do, because you can’t travel freely between India and Pakistan.”
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