Coke Olympics Campaign Gets Local Twist in China

Consumers Submit More Than 180 Million Beats for Anthem to Cheer on Local Athletes

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Coca-Cola's global Olympics campaign, dubbed "Move to the Beat," celebrates London's influential musical heritage. But this concept faced a problem in China -- research showed that young Chinese don't associate the British capital with music.

So the beverage giant tweaked the idea and created one of the few localized versions of its Olympics campaign. The "Beat of China" taps into the national pride abundant among young Chinese, urging fans to submit their own beats to help create an anthem to cheer on their athletes competing far away from home.

"Previous research showed that after the huge success and high relevance of '08 (the Beijing Olympics), there was a perceived distance between Chinese people and London. The main task was to close that emotional and physical distance in a relevant way," said Marina Palma, sparkling director for China.

"The idea of unity and uniting the people of China to send their happy energy to beat for the athletes in London actually turned out to be very powerful," she added.

The result is a marketing effort that includes mini-documentaries featuring the personal stories of five Chinese Olympians, calls to action across various media urging consumers to submit their own beats on a dedicated website, a traveling roadshow, special Coke cans and even an Angry Birds game.

The campaign launched in April at the Bird's Nest National Stadium in Beijing, featuring a performance of the official Coke anthem by Hong Kong pop star Jacky Cheung. An updated version of the song will be released on July 12, incorporating the beats submitted by consumers.

The kickoff event was featured by staid state broadcaster China Central Television, including a segment on the nightly 7 p.m. news that 's typically reserved for dry government propaganda.

Engagement numbers have surprised even Ms. Palma and her agency partners. The mini-documentaries were viewed 320 million times within two weeks, according to Coke data. They set a goal to collect 100 million beats, but consumers have submitted more than 180 million, with a few more days to go.

Executives at Leo Burnett, Shanghai, which handled creative for the "Beat of China" campaign, have struck a friendly wager with the Coke marketing team. If the number of beats submitted hits 200 million, Coke will have to treat them to dinner at a Spanish restaurant near Shanghai's famed Bund waterfront.

It would be an appropriate bookend to a campaign that largely came together in four months. Due to their strict training schedules, footage of the Chinese Olympians had to be shot before Christmas. Leo Burnett's joint ECDs (and husband-and-wife team) Gordon Hughes and Amanda Yang, tasked with collecting the necessary footage in ten days, ended up having Christmas dinner with the athletes.

Other agencies involved in the campaign include Starcom and Heartland (media), Redfly (PR), WWWins Isobar (digital) and Bestshine (event). Coke would not give specifics regarding the budget for the campaign.

Coke and Leo Burnett point to various factors contributing to the high engagement numbers. One is the strategy of portraying the athletes as ordinary people who have overcome universal struggles. Diver He Zi says she is her own biggest enemy. Gymnast Chen Yibin was passed over as an elite athlete for years, not joining the national team until age 17. Swimmer Sun Yang, a world record holder, feels homesick and lonely when he competes overseas.

"In the past, there was a tendency to lionize these athletes, to make them into heroic figures. Our first task was to humanize them," Mr. Hughes said. "It's about people who are disconnected from their families, disconnected from their daily routines and need support and motivation."

Added Ms. Palma: "In a society like China, where personal success is so important and to strive to that point is so critical, it's inspirational to see someone who didn't have all in his favor to succeed and be an Olympian."

Since the campaign launched in April, Coke has seen marked increases in brand preference and share gains, Ms. Palma said. Coke is the most-preferred nonalcoholic beverage brand in China, though traditional teas remain very popular. In China, Coke is seeking to increase frequency of consumption and attract new consumers.

Ms. Palma, who came to China a year ago, says the Olympics campaign is a "fantastic first step" and that executives in Atlanta are already asking, "What's next from China?"

Mr. Hughes quipped: "We've raised the bar, but we've gone from high jump to pole vault."

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