The global expansion of Coke Studio platform puts music and experience at the heart of Coca-Cola’s marketing strategy following last year’s Real Magic launch and agency review, Pratik Thakar and Joshua Burke tell LBB’s Laura Swinton
Music has always been at the heart of Coca-Cola’s brand – even before the brand taught the world to sing with its iconic 1971 Hilltop ad. As far back as the 1930s, the Coca-Cola Topnotchers was a 31-piece orchestra dedicated to performing on the brand’s very own radio shows. And in 2022, music is more strategically important for the brand than ever before.
They’ve just brought their popular Coke Studio platform, which has been running in a small number of markets like Pakistan and the Philippines, to the rest of the world. Coke Studio is all about bringing local artists on the cusp of global stardom to the world – cross-fertilising cultures and countries and, the Coca-Cola team hopes, fostering a sense of much needed connection and unification.
“Music is the ultimate connector between people of all races, all ages, for everyone in the world,” says Joshua Burke, global head of music and culture marketing for The Coca-Cola Company. “Right now, in this day and age, music ‘in connection’ is probably the most important thing. There’s Hilltop, but also what we do with all of the Coke Studio platforms locally, the FIFA World Cup anthems, what we do with the Olympics. At the same time Coca-Cola has always been a brand that has a very strong heritage in connecting people across cultures and across borders. So music and Coca-Cola have always had an extremely strong and authentic synergy.”
The expansion of Coke Studio comes with a TVC called The Conductor. It features a celebratory re-recording of Queen’s ‘It’s a Kind of Magic’ – a nod to Coca-Cola’s ‘Real Magic’ creative platform. The new launch features a selection of carefully curated artists, including Grammy nominated American R&B sensation Ari Lennox; British singer songwriter Griff; Turkish electro-pop producer Ekin Beril; Latin urban pop powerhouse Mariah Angeliq; Nigerian singer songwriter and producer Tems; Canadian-Indian rapper and producer Tesher; and colourful, multilingual K-pop girl band TRI.B.
From a strategic viewpoint, music is an enduring and almost transcendent force. Wherever else Coca-Cola ventures in the entertainment space, like gaming or sports, music isn’t far away. It’s unifier in more ways than one.
“Music is a unifier,” says Pratik Thakar, global head of creative strategy at Coke. “Music crosses the gaming world; you can see concerts happening in the metaverse or on gaming platforms. You can see sports and music – FIFA has its anthems. Music is a connecting thread across passion points.
“Another thing is music is also an ‘always on’ platform. Sports are seasonal and sports also have a certain gender skew. Music is always on – whether you run every day with music or your day starts with music, it’s always there. And another part of it is that like Coke, it's a very personal choice. You have your own playlist, but you don't mind sharing with someone else. Music is very personal but it's shareable. That way music is up in our scheme of things. Definitely. It's at the front and centre of Coca-Cola’s strategy.”
And can there be any other cultural force that encapsulates the spirit of ‘Real Magic’, the brand platform that came out in late 2021. Pratik explains that the new global push has very much been informed by the Real Magic idea. “Last year, we launched the ‘Real Magic’ platform. Music is real and it’s magic. You can write notes and tunes on a bit of paper, it’s that real - and when music plays you get goosebumps and that’s so magical. So that way, it connects so well with the brand and what Coke has always done with this particular passion point.”
“The essence of Real Magic is to celebrate the everyday moments – where you find magic in real situations when people come together,” explains Joshua. “And that’s ultimately also how music operates. Music transcends the notes on a page and is something that makes you feel connected. That’s ultimately what we’re trying to achieve here.”
Real Magic came out at a time of transformation for Coca-Cola’s marketing strategy. The brand announced a shift from traditional advertising to creating experiences. Moreover, in November 2021, Coca-Cola revealed the result of a detailed year-long agency review. WPP took the majority of the $4bn pitch, with a new, devoted unit called OpenX. Pratik explains that the process allowed the brand to change how it works with its partners, both those that are part of WPP’s OpenX offering and the other specialist groups.
“Last year we spent a lot of time talking to different agency partners. We announced this OpenX WPP partnership in a very big way. They’re very much part of this experience creation. Media planning, connections planning, PR, event planning, a lot of this stuff is done by WPP and OpenX. The other side is we also have a certain strategic roster of agencies and experts of particular passion points like Universal Music Group, BETC in London. So we want to bring a different kind of ecosystem of experts to serve this experience creation.”
Since that reorganisation, Pratik and Joshua say the impact has been enormous. “We’re super excited - it’s working in every part of the world. That’s why we are building on it, we are investing in it and creating different experiences. This is just a starting point. We launched it last September and you’ll see how these other experiences are coming together. ‘Real Magic’ is so Coke, it’s so human,” says Pratik, who also reflects that it’s a particularly useful organising idea thanks to its flexibility. “This platform operates on a wide spectrum and that’s the beauty of this. We are super excited.”
The emphasis on experience applies to every part of Coca-Cola’s marketing and communications, down to its packaging. QR codes are turning cans, bottles and packs into ‘entertainment portals’, Pratik explains. They direct people to the Coke Studio hubs where they can find prizes, concert tickets and all sorts of content.
And all of that fun and delight, those little drops of ‘Real Magic’, arrive in a particularly challenging global context. With a cost of living hitting consumers around the world, the fall out from the Russian invasion of Ukraine and a generally divisive discourse in politics and culture, perhaps these easily accessible experiences and rewards can give people a sense of respite and connection. Not that the team are making any grand claims about saving the world – just that they hope to sprinkle a little magic.
“There are a couple of things we look at,” explains Pratik. “Coca-Cola has always democratised different experiences. Providing a concert ticket to a teenager, it’s a huge thing for that teenager, right? So that’s one way. The other thing is that the world needs that unification. We will never portray things like saving the world – we will always talk about how we can make that little effort, putting real and magic together in people’s day-to-day life.”
And with that, maybe the brand is teaching the world to sing once more.