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Coca-Cola: digital design, virtual flavors and reducing the sugar footprint

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Immersive virtual worlds inspire lasting relationships. Find out how a virtual flavor in the metaverse attracts a new audience. Marketers of global brands like Coca-Cola increasingly blend virtual and real experiences. The soda brand also stresses the importance of purpose including sugar reduction and fighting obesity. 'We want to have loved brands, sustainably produced'

Coca-Cola has just launched a new flavor called 'Zero Sugar Byte' in the metaverse, in this case within the game Fortnite. Yes, it is a virtual flavor and we don't know how it will taste. The new flavor will be available in physical form in May in different regions. Coca-Cola works together with gaming organization PWR in the creation of Pixel Point, an island built in Fortnite. The game's approximately 350 million registered players will be able to enter Pixel Point, hunt for hidden treasures and take part in mini-games themed around the brand's key features.

"For our second expression from Coca-Cola Creations, we wanted to create an innovative taste inspired by the playfulness of pixels, rooted in the experiences that gaming makes possible," says Oana Vlad, senior director of Coca-Cola's global strategy. The project is intended to 'quench Gen Z's thirst for discovery through a series of unexpected beverages and packaging designs, culturally relevant expressions and creative collaborations,' the company explains.

Telling your product story in a virtual way
The challenge is to reach a young audience using cutting-edge technologies. "Young people are really interested in all the new waves of technologies and it is much easier to reach out to them in the places they dwell," says Benny Lee, global manager of experiential design at The Coca-Cola Company, in a LikeXR Podcast. Young generations increasingly meet at gaming platforms and in virtual worlds. "What we do is repack the message of Coca-Cola brands using new ways of virtual technology."

Sometimes the road to success is to change the marketing, not the product. Lee: "It is interesting that our product hasn't really changed over 130 years. But our approach to digital marketing has. We just find different ways to tell our stories. Everything is designed to figure out different ways to serve our product differently in each country and to approach a young audience."

Marketers living in the future
Lifestyles of young generations and other target groups are always changing. Marketing people therefore need to look into the future. "My job is to think three or even five years ahead, and ask myself: how do I want to see the brands then?" says Javier Meza, CMO for the Coca-Cola Company's portfolio of sparkling brands, in a video talk at the Institute for Real Growth. "As a global marketing person, I live into the future. My job is to paint that future to the organization. If the quality of the thinking is good, it's not that difficult to engage people behind the vision. The discussion is always how to bridge the present and the future – that's the strategic piece. The quality of the vision is going to impact the quality of the inspiration."

Coca-Cola is, in Meza's words, one of the easier brands to explain. "There is a product benefit (the authentic cola taste), an emotional benefit (mood enhancer) and a role we want the brand to play in the world and society. We believe that when people are in a better mood, they are more open to be authentic and to connect to each other. At the end of the day, the brand is taste, refreshment, a mood enhancer, inclusiveness and positivity."

Coca-Cola Creations and the taste of space
In the beginning of 2022 the company unveiled a new innovation platform for limited-edition products Coca-Cola Creations. The first product rolling out was Starlight, a limited-edition 'space flavored' beverage. Or as the company states: 'We are bringing the magic of outer space down to earth via the launch of an intergalactic flavor and galaxy of immersive, other-worldly digital experiences.'

Scanning the Starlight can via the Coca-Cola Creations site will open an augmented reality concert from American singer Ava Max. "We love Ava's creativity," senior director Vlad says. "She's bold and bright, and embodies the experimentation we hope to embrace through Coca-Cola Creations. The fact that she is a lover of both Coca-Cola and space made her a natural fit."

As the metaverse is opening up an entirely new world of creative exploration, brands are looking for future opportunities. The challenge for these kinds of projects is how to get the best specialists to do each piece of work. "The best people could be in different parts of the world, so use your networks," Meza says. "When we think about brand positioning, we don't do that with four or five people sitting in Atlanta. We reach to people in the field and involve them."

Moving towards zero sugar
A key element is the brand purpose. "Our purpose says we want to have loved brands, sustainably produced. Within the sustainability agenda we have some pillars. Sugar reduction is one of them. Another one is helping with water problems. Also packaging waste and our carbon footprint."

Discussions surrounding Coca-Cola often focus on sugar and obesity. Does the company do enough to prevent negative health effects? In 2019, a study published by The Washington Post revealed the Coca-Cola Company tried to influence teens about health aspects of drinking sugary soda. But times are changing and more people choose a healthy lifestyle. In his video talk Meza explained how the company is addressing the issue. "Look, obesity is a real problem and we need to solve it. Can we do more? Yes. We need to be open to experimenting with new solutions. We are now putting more marketing dollars behind zero-sugar products and it is working. More than half of the growth of the brands comes from zero sugar. So, people are moving towards zero sugar. They are drinking less sugar in fact."

Create a little piece of magic
One of the major trends in marketing is that physical and digital are coming closer together. It is an excellent idea: launch a virtual event in the metaverse with mini-games and virtual experiences, and a few weeks later present the physical product. There is even a marketing term 'phygital' (physical + digital) that describes blending digital experiences with physical ones. Lee: "Usually people see digital and physical as two separate entities, but we like to see them as the same thing. If you find a way to put them together you create a little piece of magic. (…) Our audience always has an appetite for something new."

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