Virtual teen hangout promotes Sprite to Chinese teens

Coke will launch mobile site in U.S.

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SHANGHAI--Coca-Cola Co. is promoting its Sprite carbonated lemon-lime drink with a virtual teen hangout that provides social connections for young, tech-savvy Chinese as well as downloadable content via their mobile phones.

Coke has created a real-time digital community site, “Sprite Yard,” available to any Chinese with a WAP-enabled phone. Users can build a community by inviting their own friends or being accepted by other Sprite Yard users. The Aegis-owned digital marketing unit Wwwins Consulting in Shanghai and, the popular Chinese portal that is the campaign’s digital distribution platform, developed the site.

Launched June 1, the initiative creates a social experience beyond the value of traditional online destinations by providing consumers constant mobile, social and brand connectivity through mobile devices such as cell phones and personal digital assistants, said Winnie Ma, Coke’s Shanghai-based marketing director for Sprite, based in Shanghai.

“We went with mobile media for a couple of reasons,” she explained. “Based on current communication trends regarding Chinese consumers, we are looking beyond traditional media more and more. Looking at what media teens use in China, they mostly want to create their own content and they want brand messages to be customized.”

The site’s functions include a photo-sharing “pix” gallery and the ability to showcase snapshots in a “planner," post pictures and discussions in a “scribbles” section and send short mobile messages dubbed “shouts” to individuals or groups.

Sprite Yard also features exclusive downloadable content like “visitones,” or visual ringtones that combine music with images or animation, and animated short “mobisodes” that can only be unlocked through a PIN number found under the cap of every 20 oz. Sprite bottle. Many of the downloads are linked to music, such as free images of pop stars like Singaporean singer J.J. Lin, or images from Lycra My Show, a Chinese singing contest created by Univeral Music and co-sponsored by Sprite.

Coke’s decision to promote Sprite, largely a teen brand, through a mobile community is based on the immense popularity of handsets in China, the world's largest mobile phone market with 467 million subscribers in a population that tops 1.2 billion. Chinese teens in particular are highly connected through digital media, including the internet and online games, prompting youth-oriented marketers like Motorola Corp., Nike and PepsiCo to develop their own digital media initiatives.

With the increasing popularity of mobile phones in China, “we want to drive WAP activation in China as well as leverage music as a key passion point, and mobile phones are another way to connect Chinese with music,” said Ms. Ma.

Sprite Yard is not the first time Coke has allied its brands to digital media in China. The U.S. beverage giant has partnered with internet cafes across China for branding exercises as well as with World of Warcraft, one of the most popular online games in China, for the past two years. The new mobile community, part of an umbrella Sprite-sponsored music promotion in China that also launched in early June, is one of its largest mobile efforts in China to date.

Sprite Yard will go beyond China. Coca-Cola already takes new beverages created in North Asia to other countries, and now is looking to the region for inspiration about how to use new media. A similar mobile community promotion debuts June 22 in the U.S.

In the U.S., consumers can text “YARD” to 59666 (“Lymon”) and receive a reply with a WAP link to access the Sprite Yard for the first time, a process similar to the one created for China. Clicking the link directs the mobile device to the “Yard” where users are invited to register by selecting a tag name and password. As soon as they are registered, users can opt to create a profile to share information about themselves with their friends in the yard.

Sprite Yard provides “an efficient, sustainable and fresh marketing platform that reflects changing consumer demands and significantly personalizes the relationship between consumers and Sprite,” said Mark Greatrex, Coke’s senior VP, marketing communications and insights in Atlanta.

There are an estimated 2.7 billion mobile phones in use globally, three times higher than the number of computers and double the number of televisions. Also, more than 80% of Americans aged 18-24 year-olds now own a cell phone,

“We know that when it comes to reaching teens, mobile is the medium. This program will enable us to connect with teens by putting Sprite both in their hand and in their phone,” said Denis Sison, Coke’s global brand director for Sprite, also in Atlanta.

The mobile program was tested in Shanghai during the spring through a partnership with McDonalds Corp. Customers received PIN codes with any beverage purchase at the fast food restaurant. The test was not limited to Sprite drinks; all carbonated beverages sold at McDonalds in China are made by Coca-Cola.

By the end of 2008, Coke plans to roll out Sprite Yard in other markets around the world, but has not identified which countries will be running the program.
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