If you are in your middle age like me, you would probably remember this commercial that literally got everyone singing then – ‘I’d like to teach the world to sing’. Yes, the song is based on the famous Coca Cola TV commercial that featured the lyric line ‘It’s the real thing’, the company has established its credentials as a bona fide entertainment company. The other famous commercial – ‘Times of your life’ – sang by Paul Anker for Kodak films then.
But Coke’s investment in that song, melding its marketing ambitions with the entertainment industry, was not its only early foray into the craft of branded content. As Jonathan Mildenhall, Coke’s VP, global advertising and content excellence, explains, the Coca Cola brand has worked with Hollywood stars since the 1930. In fact, research reveals that the company was backing opera singer Lillian Nordica at New York’s Metropolitan Opera on a Coke tin in 1903.
Coke collaborated with such U.S. singing sensations as Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Diana Ross in the 1950s and 1960s. It even owned a major Hollywood studio, Columbia Pictures, in the 1980s, during which it won a Best Picture Oscar for Gandhi.
“For the past 125 years, Coke has understood the importance of earning a disproportionate share of popular culture,” Mildenhall said. “As well as being refreshing, our brands have to be seen as credible sources of entertainment in their own right.”
More recently, the Coke Zero drink has had prominent placements in action movies like the James Bond franchises. Coke financed a No. 1 hit in 18 countries with Wavin Flag. The official FIFA 2010 World Cup theme song. It has worked with international DJ David Guetta, Bollywood star Akshay Kumar for its Thumps UP drink in India, and the production of the six-minute multi-platform short film Great Happyfication by ad agency Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam.
Each project’s sole purpose is to reinforce Coke’s brands in consumers’ consciousness. And the strategy must be working. Consultancy group Inter-brand ranked Coca-Cola No. 1 in its 2013 Top 100 global brand, giving it a brand value of US$71.8 billion.
Mildenhall adds, “We do not do anything unless we are confident the initiative drives shareholder value either through creating brand love or brand value. We are at our absolute best when we do both.”
If branded entertainment is to be an effective replacement of or adjunct to the traditional 30-second broadcast spot. Advertisers need to understand the radically disruptive changes taking place in the way consumers and media interact. Consumers are consuming more content 24 hours-a-day.
Other global brand-owners make similar observation. Procter & Gamble (P&G) funded some of the earliest TV and radio shows in the first half of the century. “It is imperative that our use of branded entertainment helps brands to drive awareness and increase purchase intent,” says Paul Jackson, Associate Director, P&G Global Entertainment. “The most successful branded entertainment are the ones where the brand is an integral part of the story, and the audience grows an affinity for the brands as a result of the association. This is what we strive for in all our projects.”
P&G projects include more than 50-made-for TV movies, 20 soap operas and 30 years plus of the People’s Choice Awards, the US popular-culture awards voted for by the public.
Beer maker Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev), another international marketer, could be forgiven for feeling intoxicatingly smug. Early last year, Bud United Presents The Big Time, a reality-TV series that AB InBev co-produced with transmedia – producer @radical.media, got a hot shot on the U.S. major network ABC. It aired on Saturdays at 1600 hours, just before sports. The series will be distributed internationally by FremantleMedia Enterprises.
Centred on AB InBev’s Budweiser beer brand, the seven episode features contestants from all around the world being mentored by celebrities from the world of baseball, motorracing, soccer, haute-cuisine, music and other entertainment to fulfil their dreams.