Coke goes online with new Liu campaign

First ads by Red Lounge specialist unit

By Published on .

SHANGHAI--In the first campaign created by a new in-house marketing unit in Shanghai called Red Lounge, Coca-Cola Co. is sticking with a formula that has proven successful so far with Chinese teens, using the internet and celebrity endorsements.

A TV spot, the first to show the new plastic bottle for brand Coke in China, features two of the U.S. beverage giant's stars in China, track-and-field Olympic champion Liu Xiang and Taiwanese pop star Pan Weibo. The two playfully fight over who gets the last Coke in a refrigerator, with Mr. Pan even chasing after the hurdler on a running track. Finally, Mr. Liu slips onto a bus just before the doors close, and he gets the Coke--but Mr. Pan, now on his own, meets a pretty girl drinking a Coke, ultimately besting the Chinese star athlete.

The spot debuted this week on 248 TV channels run by 60 major stations, and builds on the U.S. beverage giant’s “Go your own way for shuang" theme, a Coke effort to inspire Chinese teenagers and young adults to pursue their individual goals. The Chinese word shuang means thirst-quenching and refreshing as well as inspirational for young adults.

Mr. Liu's sponsorship by multiple brands including Nike, Visa, China Mobile and Inner Mongolia Yili Co., a major Chinese dairy, has Olympic-watchers wondering if the charismatic athlete is becoming overexposed. But local sports stars remain popular among young Chinese. According to an ongoing study among 15-to-35-year-olds in key Chinese cities like Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai by ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Jigsaw, a research company in Shanghai, Mr. Xiang’s popularity almost doubled last year, from 16% to 28%.

By comparison, popularity for the National Basketball Association’s Michael Jordan hovered at 10% over the course of 2006, while support for global soccer star David Beckham remained static at 5%.

The campaign is also running online on the company's iCoke.cn site. The site features digital content such as a flash movie with branded content, games and virtual items. In a co-promotion with QQ.com, China’s largest instant messaging provider with 100 million users, iCoke members can upgrade to that web site's animation "Fancy QQ Show," by spending iCoke points collected through Coke products.

The specialist agency Red Lounge was established last fall to handle marketing for the Coke brand, particularly campaigns related to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, of which Coke is a global sponsor. Red Lounge includes members of Coke’s marketing department as well as executives from several agency partners such as Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett and Starcom divisions, Aegis Group's interactive division in China, Wwwins, and Heartland, an independent outdoor media company.

Earlier this month, Coca-Cola consolidated the $10 million digital marketing business for all of its brands in China, including non-carbonated beverages, with Wwwins, following a four-way pitch against WPP Group's Neo@Ogilvy and MindShare divisions and Japan's Dentsu.

The creation of Red Lounge was one of the final acts in China by Ilan Sobel, who left his Shanghai-based position as general manager, strategic marketing & innovation earlier this year. His successor has not been named.
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