Coke sets its sights on teens with mall Red Lounges

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Coca-Cola Co. wants to convince teens that shopping goes better with Coke. Last week, the beverage giant unveiled a branded chill-out environment called Coca-Cola Red Lounge with shopping-center partner Westfield Corp.

Aimed at becoming a destination for the under-20 mall rat, the two lounges opened in Westfield Shoppingtown centers in Los Angeles and the Chicago suburb of Vernon Hills. With the lounges, Coke hopes to convince teens that it's hip and young-co-opting an image rival PepsiCo has owned for years.

While not the first kind of branded environment for Coca-Cola, this concept is new and evolved from market planning aimed at teens, said Eric Johnson, group manager-innovation at Coca-Cola. "Experience is what teens are demanding these days," he said, so the company wondered, "what if Coca-Cola created a space for them?" He said Red Lounge had no connection to Coca-Cola's famed Red Room on "American Idol."

The all-red lounges are set in common mall space and stocked with plush sofas, plasma screens that will feature teen-friendly content via FUSE, G4, Sony, ESPN Video Games and Twentieth Century Fox and vending machines stocked with Coca-Cola beverages. The lounges, which were designed by Rockwell Group, will not be backed by marketing but will be sites of youth-centered events and contests to reinforce the experience. Mr. Johnson estimated that the sites have attracted about 1,000 visitors in their first five days.

"At first blush this sounds like a really good idea," said Rob Callender, senior trends manager, Teenage Research Unlimited. "They're trying to build a band aura by convincing teens that it's a drink for young people and that Coke isn't a brand for old ladies."

Teenage Research Unlimited's most recent study showed 57% of teens said they went to mall in last seven days and that the average teen spent 2.5 hours at the mall in a given week.

"Any time [a marketer has] the opportunity to surround a shopper with its brand, they're adding to the overall experience of the brand," said Gwen Morrison, president of The Store, WPP Group's global retail practice. WPP's Berlin Cameron & Partners/Red Cell has the U.S. Coca-Cola account.

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