Why Coke Ripped Up Its Staid Company Site to Go on a New Journey

Marketers Are Leaving Regular Corporate Web Sites Behind

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20151012P26--CM coke journey website screenshot
20151012P26--CM coke journey website screenshot

Don Draper's Zen moment in the "Mad Men" finale turned into a peak PR moment for Coke, thanks in part to its content hub, Coke Journey, which is about to turn three years old.

The episode, which ended with Coke's iconic "Hilltop" ad, gave the marketer an excuse to flood Journey with content about the 1971 spot. And journalists scooped it up, winning Coke even more attention. "We certainly can't take credit for placing that spot in the final episode of the final show," said Journey Editor Jay Moye. But "we were as prepared as we could have been to make the most of that opportunity."

Coke launched Journey three years ago this November, ripping up its staid corporate site and replacing it with what it describes as a "global media and content hub." It includes a front page and several sections, with a lead story and plenty of images and videos. Other marketers oversee similar properties, like Target's A Bullseye View and Levi's Unzipped. Coke continues to pour more resources into its site.

"Journey exists to tell the stories that marketing -- which is most frequently how people connect with the company -- can't, shouldn't or wouldn't [tell]," said Publisher Doug Busk. The site has a staff of eight in the U.S. Foreign versions are published in 18 countries, ranging from China to Sweden, and the combined global staff, including freelancers, will reach 200 by the end of 2015, Mr. Busk said.

Monthly unique U.S. visits have ranged from a recent high of 907,000 in February -- when the marketer filled the site with Super Bowl ad content -- to a low of 226,000 in October 2014, according to ComScore. Those figures are pretty modest by journalistic standards. But as a PR tool, Journey gives Coke a chance to dive deeper into buzz-worthy topics -- like how "Hilltop" was made -- while providing a new platform to combat critics.

In September, Journey published a searchable list of the scientific and health organizations Coke has provided money to in the past five years. The list came after a New York Times report detailed Coke's financial support of a nonprofit that has argued there is too much focus on diet in the popular media, and not enough on exercise. Coke's list sends a signal that the company doesn't "have anything to hide here and are happy to share," said Linda Eatherton, who directs the global food and beverage practice for Ketchum. (Coke is not a client.)

Most Journey content is less controversial. Among the most popular stories on the site last week was a look at Keurig's new Kold drink-making machine, which can make Coke products, and a piece from a historian documenting the Southern tradition of pouring peanuts into a bottle of Coke.

Journey always has Coke's interests at heart, Mr. Busk acknowledged. But the site avoids over-the-top plugs, focusing on credible storytelling, he said. He pointed to the "Mad Men" coverage: "We were supplying the official Coca-Cola story behind that ad. But we did not seek to crassly leverage or dominate or make a shill out of this neat cultural moment."

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