For me, it’s always been the case that I associate the start of the Christmas period with the iconic advert featuring the Coca-Cola truck more than any other brand. It’s just like the song goes, “Holidays are coming”.

Sure, I look forward to seeing what John Lewis conjure up but I feel like the magic is dwindling from their adverts and I prefer the anticipation more than their execution now.

Other retailers are really stepping up their TV ad game, with supermarkets understandably striving to create impact, evoke emotion, play on the traditions or the magic of Christmas to drive customers into their stores. However, with such a classic in their arsenal, Coca-Cola don’t have to play in this game having, in my eyes, established themselves as the bell ringer for Christmas – after all, they did give Santa his red clothes, not Mrs Claus. So, it’s no surprise that they take the festive period very seriously with their other marketing activity and this year is no different.

Like any good marketing campaign, there needs to be synergy across their activity and this year see’s the brand take full advantage of the epochal truck, putting it on centre stage, more so than previous years. And why not, it makes sense to deliver memorable experiences with something that is steeped in Christmas tradition in the UK.

1. The Good: Creating memorable audience experiences this Christmas

In partnership with laterooms.com, Coke have renovated one of their much-loved trucks and turned it into a proper Christmas grotto getaway complete with fairy lights, a festive fireplace and a Christmas tree to create a perfect woodland snow scene. Lucky winners can spend a night in the truck in a secret London location and listen to Christmas music, watch festive movies, open stocking presents and of course, enjoy a cold Coke. It’s a brilliant example of audience delight and customer engagement, putting the consumer at the heart of the activity to deliver a memorable Christmas experience that people will cherish.

They have already started this year’s exciting truck tour [in November] which sees it visit cities across the UK delivering Christmas cheer and of course, Coca-Cola. On top of this the brand are launching a pop-up shop in Dublin this December providing exclusive merchandise and a virtual reality (VR) experience for shoppers.

Experiential activity done well is the perfect way to generate mass awareness and bring your product directly to consumers. Now don’t get me wrong, Coke don’t exactly need to raise awareness of their brand and I’m fairly sure a vast proportion of Ireland have at some point tasted it. But, what a great way to engage with consumers during the busy shopping hours. While people are ducking and diving through the shops looking for the perfect presents this Christmas, Coke are providing an escape through their VR experience whilst simultaneously reinforcing their own Christmas credentials, delivering product directly to their audience. I can see the bored, weary and disillusioned shopper now relishing the opportunity to dive into this shop for VR entertainment and an ice-cold bottle of Coke to quench their thirst, preparing them for the last leg of shopping.

They’re even engaging with cinema goers this year through their Odeon partnership with such a simple concept, which are usually the most engaging and effective. Take a selfie in the pop-up truck found in Odeon foyers across the country with your Coke and post it on Social Media with the #CocaColaOdeon to be in with a chance to win free tickets. Something for nothing, but great engagement.

“It’s a brilliant example of audience delight and customer engagement, putting the consumer at the heart of the activity to deliver a memorable Christmas experience that people will cherish.”

2. The Bad: Controversy surrounding brand ethics.

Running parallel alongside the accolades Coca-Cola get from a marketing perspective, is the constant controversy around the ethics of their product and this seems to hit hardest around Christmas time (mainly due to the increase in their own marketing activity).

Health campaigners in Liverpool have called for the famous Christmas truck’s visit to the city to be cancelled due to the obesity crisis in the city. The view is that the truck promotes the sugar filled drink to vulnerable audiences around this time of year but can you really pin these issues solely on a brand that is synonymous with Christmas? It would be like calling for a ban on mince pies over the holiday or stopping the supply of chocolate. I agree health problems are a major issue that needs to be taken seriously and not just in Liverpool, but the battle tackling obesity surely starts at home.

And then there is the age-old debate about the product containing too much sugar, contributing to tooth decay. In the defence of Coca-Cola though, they have two products they promote and hand out on their truck tour that contain no sugar (Coke Zero and Diet Coke) and they ask for the consent of a parent to hand out drinks to children under the age of 12. I don’t think there’s any mind control going on here, sure their product tastes good but like with anything that might be unhealthy for you, you need to have it in moderation. A Big Mac is a treat every now and then but you shouldn’t have one at every opportunity you get.

Their tactics and strategy around Christmas are so high-profile that these issues are taken advantage of, around this time of year they are a huge target for people who are nobly raising awareness for health issues.

One of the more direct and personal attacks on the brand this Christmas has come from Greenpeace who have created their own version of the iconic TV advert, which openly features the branding and [a reflection of] the Christmas truck. They haven’t been shy in their confrontation with the strapline “don’t let Coke choke our oceans” bringing home the sharp reality of the amount of plastic the company produces. They state that the brand produces an estimated 110 billion plastic bottles a year which often end up in landfill on beaches or the ocean however can the brand be hung up and be made accountable for the infrastructure of each country dealing with recycling and waste?One of the more direct and personal attacks on the brand this Christmas has come from Greenpeace who have created their own version of the iconic TV advert, which openly features the branding and [a reflection of] the Christmas truck. They haven’t been shy in their confrontation with the strapline “don’t let Coke choke our oceans” bringing home the sharp reality of the amount of plastic the company produces. They state that the brand produces an estimated 110 billion plastic bottles a year which often end up in landfill on beaches or the ocean however can the brand be hung up and be made accountable for the infrastructure of each country dealing with recycling and waste?

3. Using their profile for a worthy cause

Agreed, Coke should think about their packaging to combat this issue more seriously, perhaps introducing thicker refillable bottles similar to the Zero Waste program or turning their own marketing expertise and profile to raise awareness of recycling their current bottles. You see brands like Nescafé tackling their own packaging issues with refillable bags. Something of this ilk must be on their agenda and I’m sure they will adapt and evolve like they have in addressing sugar-free product to combat such a widespread environment issue.

A campaign to commend is their continued support in tackling drink driving. The festive period is a jolly, alcohol-fuelled time of year where people are in full celebration mode but the careless choose to put not only their own lives in danger, but others too around a time that is meant to be full of joy and happiness. Coke use their profile and popularity around Christmas to encourage celebrating the designated driver, in fact this year is the 10th year of the campaign, and it’s a campaign that should be celebrated.

Aside from other controversies around the brand ethics, here they use their power to help reduce tragedy – show your keys to participating pubs and bars when you’re buying the round [and a Coke] and you get your next Coke free. OK, the cynics will say that you have to buy their product to get this offer, that it’s all another marketing technique to buy more but the essence of the strategy is pure. But yes, it is a great tactic to raise the sales around Christmas whilst also doing a good deed.

4. Are they still a Christmas icon after all is said and done?

It feels like for all the good the company do in the marketing of their product – a super-brand of the world – they are constantly dragged back by the negatives that are associated with them. It’s a persistent battle of good vs evil in their own camp, a tipping scale each vying for the limelight. In saying this, I recall my opening statement and I don’t think the bad publicity they attract will change my feelings to the brand around the festive period – this is Coca-Cola’s time of year in my eyes.

I’m a traditional person at Christmas, like so many others, and I like nothing more than sitting down after putting up the tree, a mince pie in hand with a ice cold Christmas Coke. Even the big guy in the red suit enjoys it!

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Coca-Cola: A brand that delights at Christmas.

Written By Adam Burrage
Managing Partner at Trident

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