For the next few months Coca-Cola's animated polar bears will be stepping aside to put the spotlight on their real-life counterparts. The effort is expected to raise several million dollars to aid World Wildlife Fund's polar bear conservation efforts.
"We always intended to separate the authentic polar bear from our iconic polar bear, in making sure we were clear this was an effort to support WWF efforts," said Pio Schunker, senior-VP integrated marketing at Coca-Cola. "But as we approached this, sheer good luck and timing prevailed."
Mr. Schunker said that Coca-Cola was already in the midst of developing creative with Leo Burnett when MacGillivray Freeman Films, which had spent the last few years filming polar bears in the Arctic, asked if the company would be interested in partnering. "At that point we scrapped the TV campaign we'd been working on in favor of taking their footage and incorporating it into the TV spots and website," Mr. Schunker said.
MacGillivray Freeman Films is working with Warner Bros. Pictures and IMAX Corporation to co-produce "To The Arctic 3D," which is scheduled for a 2012 release. Two 30-second commercials using that footage will begin airing Nov. 14, while additional 15-second spots and online videos will focus on different aspects of the campaign.
Polar bears first appeared in Coca-Cola's print advertising in 1922 in France. For the next 70 years, they were used sporadically in print advertising. But it wasn't until 1993, with the debut of "Northern Lights," that the animated polar bears became a mainstay of the company's marketing efforts.
The campaign, dubbed "Arctic Home," has been in development for about 18 months and will tap into every single aspect of the Coca-Cola system, said Katie Bayne, president-general manager of sparkling beverages. A dedicated website, ArcticHome.com will feature a 3-D experience that has digital representations of actual polar bears that are being tracked in the wild. The company will also leverage its digital network, whiting out billboards across the country, including in New York's Times Square. Mobile, tablet and social media elements, in-store merchandising and a variety of traditional media executions are also planned, as are tie-ins with the MyCokeRewards program.
"There are so many different ways to participate, that 's what will make it different," said Ms. Bayne, of standing out during the holiday season, when a variety of charitable causes compete for consumers' attention. (Coca-Cola's Santa Claus will still make an appearance this holiday season.) "When we talked to Mom and family decision makers, they said, 'this is the time of year when I try to teach my family to just give a little back.'"
But the real showcase is the packaging. More than 1.4 billion special-edition Coke cans, designed by Turner Duckworth, will roll out beginning Nov. 1. Bottle caps on products across the portfolio will also turn white. Ms. Bayne said that the company has been stock piling white cans for months, in order to roll them out nationally in a big way on launch day.
"We wanted to avoid the very traditional path this could have taken," said Mr. Schunker. "It was literally a two-sentence paragraph in a 40-page deck from Leo Burnett -- 'Coke cans turn white.' When Katie and I saw that we were like, 'This is what makes this big.' It was the lead idea, everything pivoted off of that idea."
Coca-Cola has committed $2 million up front to the WWF, and will match up to $1 million in donations made with package codes through March 15. The company worked with mobile carriers to lower the minimum text donation from the standard $10 to $1.
Asked whether the program will be incorporated into the Super Bowl on Feb. 5, well before the program officially concludes, Ms. Bayne said that Coca-Cola is "still looking at a lot of things around that part of the year," but said it's too early to talk about specific plans.