A young boy sits on his bicycle at a deserted city street corner and opens a bottle of Coke. As he drinks it he looks into the distance and his eyes widen. He begins to pedal through the empty streets. Then he is suddenly riding through the middle of a parade. The landscape changes and he is in the middle of a flat rural landscape, still passing between marching bands as he crosses over a river on an antique metal bridge. Then he rides into a small town and passes the WWII veterans marching beside their vintage jeeps in uniform. We see a long shot of the main street of a small town. We see Mexican mariachis playing, beauty pagent contestants on a float and then Scottish bagpipes in Manhattan as the boy continues his trip. The pulsing, voiceless music intensifies as a Chinese dragon and Uncle Sam on stilts kick out. The boy tilts his head up, taking a long swig of Coke and finishing the bottle as he rides. Suddenly he is back by his urban corner store. He looks down at his empty bottle and back at the empty cityscape. The spot cuts to a white screen as a spinning red coke bottle icon appears with the new tagline, “The Coke Side of Life.”
At long last we find a Coca-Cola commercial that we can support and – no surprise – this one is a product of the relatively new relationship with Wieden + Kennedy (Portland). For those who do not know, this is the agency behind Nike’s iconic spots.
Coca-Cola is an even bigger challenge than Nike was for Wieden for three reasons:
- Mature Category – Carbonated soft drinks have been declining in volume in the U.S. for some time as consumer preferences change.
- Product Comparisons Difficult – Since there is little functional comparison possible for colas, reasons to choose each Cola are more purely related to branding, lifestyle and taste.
- Unclear Brand Positioning – Coke has a confusing history over the past decade of random and sometimes conflicting brand positioning from nostalgia (hilltop + chilltop) to holiday warmth (polar bears) to ubiquity (Always Coca-Cola) to urban lifestyle (many of the spots in between). The accumulated wear on the brand has reinforce the Coke name, but drained it of any specific expertise.
This Wieden spot does an excellent job of pushing Coke into a more narrowly defined, ownable brand positioning. The positioning? American universality. (We’ll stay off of the political implications of this one.) Coke is one of a very small number of cultural icons that links Americans from the heartland to the big cities. At its core, the concept of sharing a celebration is the purest essence of the original Coke brand positioning (‘The Pause that Refreshes’). By linking these celebrations throughout America together on a seamless main street that reaches across the entire nation and using a young boy to experience them together, Coke does a great job of finding that universality that it had lost through years of increasingly segmented micro-marketing. This spot is the product of an excellent insight into the brand: it has the ability to unify and is strongest when it does just that.
As one would expect of a Wieden ad (if not necessarily from Coke spots over the past several years), the production values and pacing are excellent. The branding is also great for three reasons. First, the distinctive Coke bottle and Coca-Cola logo are visible throughout the spot. Secondly, Coke is literally the hero of this spot as it enable the journey that the young boy takes. This ties Coke to the unique selling proposition – only Coke brings Americans from all walks of life together to celebrate. Finally, this execution is so distinctively tailored to Coca-Cola’s brand character that it would be impossible to attribute to Pepsi even if the branding were not seen. In addition, the music and cinematography are top-notch.
Our only quarrel with this brilliantly executed spot is with the tagline, which does not have the stickiness of ‘Always Coca-Cola.’ The Coke side of life is not memorable or even meaningful and the tagline is distracting and confusing. Fortunately the spot works without it.
Branding Bottom Line:
After a long dry spell Coke hits a home run.