Coca-Cola Builds Social-Media Game Around Super Bowl Spot

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Using animated polar bears making jokes on Facebook to win the hearts of Super Bowl ad lovers? That's so 2012.

Last year, Coca-Cola's Polar Bowl became one of the most talked about campaigns of the Super Bowl. Now, it's hoping to duplicate that success and do something its executives call "gamify the game" with the launch of a 60-second spot that depicts three teams trying to get to a giant bottle of Coke -- and asks viewers to help them via social media.

On Facebook today, the beverage giant unveiled a teaser video for a spot it calls "Mirage," a 60-second ad showing that depicts three factions --badlanders, cowboys and showgirls -- racing through the desert in pursuit of a bottle of Coke. The ad, created by Wieden & Kennedy, closes with a cliffhanger, as the groups realize the bottle was simply a sign. Another sign points them "50 miles ahead." In a twist reminiscent of the "Choose Your Own Adventure" series, consumers will sabotage competitors and choose who wins the Coke, ultimately choosing the 30-second spot that will air post game.

"Despite the big success of Polar Bowl, we were not looking to repeat the bears, necessarily," explained Pio Schunker, senior VP-integrated marketing at Coca-Cola North America. He noted the bears would probably not be able to do much more than they did in 2012, and also did little to set up other campaigns and marketing points Coca-Cola might have for the year ahead. "We were looking to see what learnings we could take and reapply. The importance of second-screen behavior, social and digital were big themes on that front."

"Mirage" kicks off a game of sorts that will run through Super Bowl. Prior to the ad's TV debut, consumers will be able to share the spot and vote for the group they want to win the Coke. Sharing content unlocks more content, including 50,000 coupons for a free 20 oz. Coke. Consumers can pick their favorite team, then slow down the competitors with "sabotages" -- videos that show the cowboys delayed at a stoplight or the showgirls stopping to pose for a portrait, for example. A Domino's pizza delivery guy appears in three of the 15 sabotages, as part of a partnership with the chain. It's the first time Coke has integrated another marketer into creative content around the Super Bowl.

"It's Domino's single-biggest day of the year and people pre-order for the game," Mr. Schunker explained. "We're really looking at how do we affect retail and volume differently for ourselves. How do we send people to the store differently, and how do we engage them differently?"

"Mirage" will air during the first quarter of the game, and consumers can vote on who should win the Coke throughout the game. A 30-second spot showing the winner snagging the Coke will air immediately following the conclusion of the game. Last year Coke also made a last-minute call on which spot would air, though in that case the spots were exactly the same with the exception of the color of the bears' scarves, which indicated the team leading at the time.

Post-game gamble
The post-game strategy could be risky. After all, the Super Bowl audience has been known to disperse in the past, particularly when the game is seen as a blow-out going into half-time. And it's not clear that the second Coca-Cola ad will even be considered an official "Super Bowl ad," as commercials shown after the end of the game typically cost significantly less (though if Coke requested that CBS run the commercial at a very specific time, the network could have requested a premium).

Coca-Cola executives said they were confident the post-game spot would get the outsize audience they desired. In recent years, said Allison Lewis, chief marketing officer of Coca-Cola North America, "We've seen ratings on live events and the big game continue to go up," adding "We've studied it very closely, and there is still a very large number of people watching post-game," and social-media can drive additional views.

Interestingly, "Mirage" as a concept has been around for a while. Wieden pitched a stand-alone 60-second spot featuring a host of characters racing through the desert in pursuit of a Coke at the same time Polar Bowl was pitched.

"Everyone loved 'Mirage,' loved that it celebrated the brand, the liquid. But at that point it was only a 60-second spot and there were so many more characters involved," Mr. Schunker said. "When we had Polar Bowl sitting alongside it, which came to the table as a fully fleshed idea, we said, 'Wow, that is truly a first.' [We knew] if we were really going to move into the digital and social arena, [Polar Bowl] was the bet we wanted to take."

When Polar Bowl wrapped up early last year, "Mirage" was back on the table, however. And the insights gleaned from Polar Bowl were applied to the concept to take it far beyond just a 60-second spot.

Custom content has been crafted for a host of platforms, including Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. Behind-the-scenes photos from the "Mirage" shoot are prepped for Instagram, there are animated gifs for Tumblr, as well as "trading cards" with details about the characters. A press conference with the losers has been recorded for YouTube. It's a marked difference from a year ago when the Polar Bowl had a singular approach for social-media channels.

This year also marks the earliest date Coca-Cola has released its Super Bowl creative. It's hoping most folks watching the Super Bowl will already have seen its 60-second spot before kickoff -- a trend that's been hotly debated in the ad world.

"This is the biggest shoot we've ever done, in terms of content," said Mr. Schunker, of the two week shoot in South Africa. "There's so much content that we were actually able to amortize the cost to say, 'Look at what we're bringing back ... it's spend not for one day, but for two weeks.'"

Contributing: Brian Steinberg

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