Super Bowl

Coke's Super Bowl Polar Bears Draw Bigger Crowd Than Expected

More Than Half a Million People Watched Bears Watch the Super Bowl

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Coca-Cola's polar bears watch the game.
Coca-Cola's polar bears watch the game.

For Coca-Cola, the biggest complication in last night's "Polar Bowl" was a happy surprise -- the team was repeatedly forced to add servers to accommodate traffic.

The Polar Bowl ran alongside the Super Bowl, featuring Coca-Cola's polar bears -- one cheering for the Patriots, the other for the Giants -- reacting to the game, the commercials and the halftime show in real time.

As kickoff approached, 32,000 people had RSVP'd on Facebook -- 15 times the goal -- leading the Coca-Cola team to plan for 300,000 concurrent users on the live stream. But the stream hit that mark during the pre-game show, necessitating the addition of six servers. The @CocaCola Twitter handle, which was handed over to the polar bears, saw a 12.5% increase in U.S. followers before the game even started, said Pio Schunker, senior VP-integrated marketing at Coca-Cola.

The number of viewers on the live stream grew throughout the game, which led to the addition of another nine servers for a total of 18. Eventually the Coca-Cola team, stationed in control rooms at Major League Baseball's Advanced Media, moved over to MLB's servers to accommodate the traffic. By the third quarter, more than 600,000 users were watching the live stream, and capacity had been increased to allow for 1.1 million users. Still, there was a slight time delay on the Polar Bowl, Mr. Schunker said -- six to seven seconds on average.

"It was unprecedented for us," Mr. Schunker said just after the game ended Sunday night. "We had planned for contingencies -- if things blow up what do we do -- so it went smoothly. In the end, with all the feeds coming in we couldn't keep up with it. We did our best. We had a whole staff of people writing and responding to people, but it was just crazy by the end."

While Coca-Cola thought some people would check it out on their computers and eventually navigate away, it seems many left their computers on the Polar Bowl for awhile. People were tweeting Coca-Cola with pictures of a computer screen showing the Polar Bowl next to a TV screen showing the game, Mr. Schunker said.

The polar bears' reactions to ads and the game boosted chatter on Facebook and Twitter, building unexpected traffic to the live stream, Mr. Schunker said. The bears left the room during Pepsi's ad featuring Elton John and "X Factor" winner Melanie Amaro. They stood with their paws over their hearts during the patriotic Chrysler spot featuring Clint Eastwood. And they dozed off during Doritos ads -- though Mr. Schunker admitted that reaction was somewhat of an inside joke because average consumers wouldn't realize Doritos are part of PepsiCo. Penguins also planked using Coke bottles. And both the penguins and polar bears vogued along with Madonna.

The Coca-Cola team rehearsed for three months, watching footage of old games to prepare. It was a bonus that this year many marketers decided to pre-release ads, making it easy for Coca-Cola to rehearse polar-bear responses last Thursday and Friday.

On game day, Mr. Schunker and his team of about 35 people arrived at MLB's Advanced Media offices at about 4:30 p.m. They broke into three groups: one including the puppeteers responsible for the polar bears' reactions, another watching the game and providing feedback about how the game was playing, and the third watching social media and responding to consumers on Facebook and Twitter.

Mr. Schunker moved between the groups and coordinated with team members on site at NBC responsible for selecting which commercial to air. Coca-Cola prepped two versions of "Catch" and "Argh!" so it could air the ones most appropriate to events in the game. Mr. Schunker said there was a "tense moment" when it came time to make the call to run "Argh!" because the game was close and it wasn't clear which team's fans were more frustrated. Seconds before the spot aired, the call was made to show the version in which the bear rooting for New York has to vent his frustration.

Coca-Cola worked with Wieden & Kennedy to create and produce the Polar Bowl, as well as the corresponding commercials. New York-based Framestore and Animal Logic, based in Sydney, Australia, helped develop the animations and digital technology.

"We're relieved and excited," Mr. Schunker said. "It went very well. We have a few thoughts in mind as to what we want to do [next year], but it's too soon to decide what we're going to pursue."

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