Deepashree Banerjee

"We did not want to just copy-paste the global template": Ajay Bathija, Coca-Cola

Coke has been using its bottle packaging as a media platform. We spoke to Ajay Bathija, director, Colas, Coca-Cola India & South West Asia about it.

Should ads deliver social messages too? It's a question worthy of debate, but perhaps not one that would end in a solid conclusion. Meanwhile, Coca-Cola, in a new campaign, has created limited-edition cans with logos printed half in English and half in Korean. They read - "Here's to peace, hope and understanding" along with the hashtags #TastethefeelingofHope and #PathToPeace marking the historic summit that took place on June 11 in Singapore, between US President Donald Trump and North Korea's Supreme Commander Kim Jong Un.

"We did not want to just copy-paste the global template": Ajay Bathija, Coca-Cola

#TasteTheFeelingOfHope campaign

Reportedly, Coca-Cola, together with Ogilvy Singapore, also revealed an animation where Trump and Kim are depicted as cartoon characters. Currently displayed in Singapore's Changi Airport, the animation shows Trump and Kim approaching each other from opposite direction. As they meet and shake hands, their respective trails merge in a very Coke-esque motif.

"We did not want to just copy-paste the global template": Ajay Bathija, Coca-Cola

Beverage maker Coca-Cola has dedicated a special marketing initiative in honour of the recent historical peace summit held in Singapore, where US President Donald Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un titled #PathToPeace

The agency behind the campaign, Dentsu Merdeka LHS Malaysia, deserves a huge kudos!

"We did not want to just copy-paste the global template": Ajay Bathija, Coca-Cola
"We did not want to just copy-paste the global template": Ajay Bathija, Coca-Cola

The seven-year-old global campaign, now travelling to India, features Coke bottles and cans with words like Mom, Daughter and Bhai replacing its logo

But getting back to the local scene, Coca-Cola India, one of the country's leading beverage companies, has unveiled a new ad campaign for its recently launched 'Share a Coke' initiative. #ShareACokeIndia is the Indian spin-off of Coca-Cola's majorly successful global campaign that has been reinvented to connect with Indian consumers. The theme uses 'Relationships' as the concept. With the theme - Har Rishta Bola, Mere Naam Ki Coca-Cola - the narrative draws upon the significance of various relationships for Indians and reignites them by creating moments of happiness that come from sharing a Coke.

Recent research on shopper behaviour reveals that the average consumer scans the retail shelf in 20 seconds or less. In recent times, brands are taking note of that and turning to specialised design firms to revamp the packaging of their products to improve their appeal and ensure ease of use for the consumer. Therefore, packaging, a brand's first point of connection with consumers, has to deliver more than ever.

"We did not want to just copy-paste the global template": Ajay Bathija, Coca-Cola

The Share a Coke campaign was first launched in Australia in 2011 and its packaging carried names of people

In 2012, the Coca-Cola Company decided to venture out into unchartered territory of brand journalism. The corporate website was reimagined as a dynamic digital magazine and an owned media channel. The 'Share a Coke' campaign originated in Australia in 2011 and has proved to be a success across multiple countries.

"We did not want to just copy-paste the global template": Ajay Bathija, Coca-Cola

Ajay Bathija

When asked if this is the right time, Ajay Bathija, director-Colas, Coca-Cola India and South West Asia says, "We did not want to just copy-paste the global template, instead, we wanted to build it around a clear Indian-relevant insight which resonates with Indian teens across the country. Hence, our journey was to first understand the platform which we wanted to pursue - based on all our consumer interactions and research, 'Relationships' came out the clear winner. Post that, we co-created the campaign together, with the Indian consumers."

Labels have been created in 12 languages - English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Bengali, Malayalam, Oriya, Assamese, Gujarati, Punjabi, and Marathi. Each relationship is accompanied by an exciting descriptor such as Grandad (Old School. Yet Cool), Grandma (Scolds me. Spoils me), Daddy (My teacher. My friend), Mom (Above the rest. Simply the best), Son (My devil. My angel), Sis (Supermodel. Super role model), Bro (Troublemaker. Merrymaker), Boss (Pushes me. Promotes me). Also thrown in are modern nicknames like BFF (Laughs with me. Cries with me) and Bae (Bugs me. Hugs me).

"We did not want to just copy-paste the global template": Ajay Bathija, Coca-Cola
"We did not want to just copy-paste the global template": Ajay Bathija, Coca-Cola
"We did not want to just copy-paste the global template": Ajay Bathija, Coca-Cola

IPL themed posts uploaded on Coca-Cola India's Facebook page

Bathija explains that the company plans to execute the 'Share a Coke' campaign as a series where each year a new theme will be leveraged. Currently, the campaign has been promoted through youth properties like IPL. There will also be an elaborate experiential leg later on.

The seven-year-old global campaign has made its way to India and features Coke bottles and cans with words like 'Papa', 'Didi' and 'Bhai' replacing the traditional logo. But the execution and response vary from one country to another.

"We did not want to just copy-paste the global template": Ajay Bathija, Coca-Cola

A recent poster uploaded on the brand's Facebook page
Click here to enlarge

"The Indian campaign is unique because it celebrates today's relationships which are ever-evolving and gives them a refreshing spin. Further, the multi-faceted India campaign includes a number of consumer touchpoints, including marketing activations, digital and social media engagements, in-store marketing, and marketing campaigns with Diljit Dosanjh to elevate brand love. Consumers can also go online to download virtual 'Share a Coke' labels at Coca-Cola India's Journey webpage."

"We did not want to just copy-paste the global template": Ajay Bathija, Coca-Cola

Another recent Facebook post

The brand's approach to the Indian market

"Our consumer research showed that relationships in the country are becoming more informal than they were and we wanted to highlight that. In line with this, the 'Share a Coke' campaign brings out a refreshing take on the changed nuances of relationships. Through this campaign, we are encouraging our consumers to communicate, refreshing relationships in the new light. The idea is that you can use Coca-Cola as a way of expressing how you feel with your family, friends, co-workers etc. For example, a consumer can now let his 'Father' know that he is a 'Friend/Guru' by sharing a bottle of Coke."

"We did not want to just copy-paste the global template": Ajay Bathija, Coca-Cola

#ShareACoke with your favourite YouTube stars

Research, sample groups, geography, and respondents, nothing left to chance...

"Coca-Cola India conducted a survey amongst its target audience - 18-29-year-olds to identify what the campaign should be about. Out of the five concepts shared with the participants (name, designations, relationships, film dialogues, and film names), most of them picked relationships. Participants were also asked to list their top 20 relationships and the most popular ones made their way to the labels on bottles and cans. The process helped Coca-Cola understand the relationships that are most significant to today's youth."

Establishing a deep emotional connect with the customer was the primary aim of the brand's new campaign. But catering to the vast, culturally and demographically diverse audience across India was not an easy task for sure!

When asked about the logistical issues involved in an initiative like this Bathija adds, "We tied-up with HP for printing the labels. Their technology allowed us to produce varying run lengths of each of the 12 relationships based on the demand from each State. Further, we ensured the campaign connect was intact across every state and each Coca-Cola case, with a balanced mix of relationships, was shipped to the market."

Expert Talk

We asked a few experts what their take on the concept of the campaign was as well as what kind of logistical issues might have sprung up during its execution.

Shekhar Badve, director-strategy and marketing, Pune-based Lokus Design

"We did not want to just copy-paste the global template": Ajay Bathija, Coca-Cola

Shekhar Badve

I think it is a good idea to achieve a temporary (very short-term) spike in sales. On an average, 64 per cent of consumers cite shared values as the primary reason they have a relationship with a brand. But this idea does not take it to that level of creating shared values. This idea is very overt, very impulse-driven. But consumers get bored very quickly with such idea/s and then it becomes a blind spot. It's a good, bold, but temporary attraction technique, not a long-term idea.

The concept calls for different and variable batching of systems, but it's not a big logistical issue. They will be batched, combined and then distributed. It calls for additional cost and effort but in the whole scheme of things, it is negligible.

Most consumers, if asked about this idea they will overtly say yes, they like this idea; but if one probes further, they would say after a few seconds/ minutes that one will forget, ignore or turn a blind eye to it. It has a good impulsive, feel-good factor. Yes, as I said, it will give the brand a small temporary spike unless this rolls out as a totally big relationship-based experiential strategy, then it might turn out to be something big.

Ashwini Deshpande, co-founder, director, Elephant

"We did not want to just copy-paste the global template": Ajay Bathija, Coca-Cola

Ashwini Deshpande

The 'Share a Coke' campaign has been doing the rounds for more than five years the world over. Finally, it's here in India. As it rides on the importance of relationships and their changing manifestations, it may touch an emotional chord somewhere. But Star TV has done - 'Rishta Wahi Soch Nayi' - so I am not able to see a fresh thought here.

Finding different labels for the same content on shelves has been a huge fascination for me. To be able to come up with a well-executed brand-aligned idea is a very challenging task. I am always thrilled to see how Absolut dishes out one remarkable packaging idea after another where no two bottles may look alike. Coke has also done some outstanding work with their limited-edition packs in other markets. Most recently, they invited illustrator Noma Bar to create playful illustrations to represent 23 Chinese cities.

Multiple artworks are not only complex in terms of production lines but also for secondary packaging and distribution where a proper mix needs to be assured in every lot. If Coke has actually managed to make sure that each label is available at every store, hats off to them!

But, the campaign also comes with its own share of loopholes for which Deshpande shares an anecdote, "Recently, at an airport, the only cans available were 'MOM' cans. This may mean that the kiosk didn't receive much variety or that all other relations were lapped up and leaving only the 'Moms' on the shelves! Either way, the exercise is not easy to pull off. And I would complement the team for their gumption.

But such ideas have a short life in terms of the novelty factor. I doubt anyone will change their cola-drinking pattern because a bottle has 'Bhai' written on it. But then they have another purpose. These ideas will enable additional share of eyes and ears for the brand. They become the vehicle to announce that the brand wants to play a role in consumers' lives beyond the beverage it represents. "

Navin Kansal, chief creative officer, 21N78E Creative Labs

"We did not want to just copy-paste the global template": Ajay Bathija, Coca-Cola

Navin Kansal

Kansal feels that de-branding the logo in favour of mass personalisation has reaped dividends for Coca-Cola elsewhere. He says, "I wouldn't be surprised to see a sales uplift in India as well. By getting people to participate in co-creating the labels in the context of relationships, the messaging will strike a chord. They are fun conversation-starters and quite entertaining - be it in the context of everyday usage and even occasion-based as well," he concludes.

Interestingly, on the other hand, Coca-Cola's competitor, Pepsi, came up with "Foodicon" bottles featuring images of street food, for its summer campaign and features characters from the popular film franchise Fukrey.

Pepsi India has been heavily relying on its packaging-led campaign since 2016 (when it launched the 'Pepsi Moji' campaign featuring multiple emojis on the product packaging). Last year, as part of its 'Moments' campaign, Pepsi went hyperlocal in its packaging using colloquial pop-culture words in eight Indian languages.

It may have taken Coke seven years to bring the 'Share a Coke' campaign to India, but it's here now and has the potential to be just as big a success as it was globally.