3 Essential Ingredients in Coca-Cola's Storytelling Strategy

September 14, 2017 Shane Schick

Back when Coca-Cola launched its “Taste The Feeling” slogan about a year ago, a colleague of mine went to one of the company’s local events and came back a tad nauseated.

“Everywhere I went, they had staff smiling at me and using ‘taste the feeling’ instead of ‘Hello’ or ‘Thanks,’” she said. “It was like, (fake-grins, nods), ‘Taste the feeling.’”

If Kate Santore had been there to hear this feedback, I think she’d have had a bad taste in her mouth, too.

The senior integrated marketing content manager at Coca-Cola was among the final keynote speakers at last week’s Content Marketing World conference in Cleveland, where she talked about why storytelling has become as important, if not more important, than slogans at one of the world’s most recognized brands.

To Santore, no one summed up the Coca-Cola ethos better than the late Andy Warhol, who once said, “A Coke is a Coke, and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking.”

In the same spirit, Santore said, Coke considers itself a brand that is democrative, inclusive and relentlessly optimistic.

“There’s no VIP, there’s no first class,” she said. “That’s the lens we tell our stories through.”

This might explain why, as rival Pepsi stumbles and falls by using high society influencers like Kendall Jenner, Coca Cola’s storylines tend to feature everyday people as protagonists. That’s not the only critical element, though. Santore outlined three more that may be instructive to other marketers.

1. Follow The Path

We tend to talk about the big TV commercials like the recent “Share A Coke Icebreaker,” but the same thread of that storyline should manifest itself in many other places. In fact, Santore said a brand story should never seem removed or isolated from the over-arching content marketing strategy.

“Sometimes the story is long like a film, or short like a tweet but . . . in a way that every single piece connects,” she said. This means you should see some familiar characters or themes across TV spots, out-of-home billboards, social media, and even Coke trucks and vending machines.

2. Embrace The Fact You’re Not The Only Narrator

According to Santore, 80 per cent of the Coke-related content that lives online was created by “fans.”  Case in point: The concept of #ShareACoke, with those specially-named names and bottles, took on new meaning when they became the focal point of a handmade YouTube video by the McGillicuddys, a couple who wanted a unique way to announce their pregnancy.

“Coke obviously played a big role in their lives. That’s a really special place for a brand to be,” said Santore. “I couldn’t have written a better script if I tried.”

3. Tell Timeless Stories, But Make Sure The Chapters Are Timely

Perhaps predictably, Santore showed the classic “Hilltop” spot where teenagers sing about wanting to buy the world a Coke, as an example of a narrative we remember more than 30 years later. She pointed out, however, that the spot appeared during a period of great social unrest -- which may be why the company received more than 10,000 handwritten letters at the time in response to the ad.

More recently, Coke stirred up controversy with its “America Is Beautiful” Super-Bowl ad which aired just after U.S. President Donald Trump signed his infamous immigration ban. Santore said the brand takes the occasional backlash in stride, as all storytellers should.

“The hate will come first, but the love always comes,” she said. “The positivity of the message started to shine through. This stands the test of time.”

In other words, sometimes you have to let a good story digest before you can truly taste the feeling. 

Shane Schick is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine. He tells stories about technology, marketing, innovation, fashion and more. ShaneSchick.com. 

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