The Coca-Cola Co. is pioneering digital marketing with plans to launch this month a social community for teens via mobile phones for its Sprite brand.
Sprite is the company’s second largest trademark behind Coke and the third largest sparkling beverage in the world, sold in 200 markets across the globe. Teens are by far the largest market for Sprite and this new community, called The Sprite Yard, is targeted to that group, as well as young adults.
“This generation seeks customization in their on-the-go experiences, and expects it,” Denis Sison, global brand director, Sprite Corporate Marketing said yesterday during an event at the Mobile Marketing Forum in New York City. “This makes Sprite the perfect brand to lead into the mobile marketing space.”
Beginning June 22, consumers can text “Yard” to 59666 and receive a message with a link to the Web site where they can register. Once signed up, they can create a profile to share information about themselves with their friends.
The experience offers of number of functions.
Among them, “Profiles” lets users create a network of friends and invite new friends to join in. Friends can be searched by a number of criteria, such as interest or whether they feel happy or sad. “Pix” lets users upload photos in real time and share them with friends. Comments can be posted with the photos, which can also appear on a message board. A “Shout” function lets users message friends one-on-one or in groups. “Scribbles” is a mobile messaging board and the “Planner” can showcase a snapshot of the user’s activities.
The “Nuggets” function is where Sprite takes a lead role. Codes found under the caps of 20-ounce bottles of Sprite can be entered to access proprietary digital content developed specifically for mobile phones, such as visitones (visual ringtones that combine music with visuals) and mobisodes (animated shorts).
“This is a world where technology has a profound effect on how we relate and build relationships with customers,” Sison said.
Since the experience is targeting young people, Big Brother is watching. Content and images in The Sprite Yard will be screened to eliminate offensive language or photos. And a function available to users lets them report distasteful content with the punch of the keypad.
Mark Greatrex, senior vice president of marketing, communications and insight for Coca-Cola said that the company is a pioneer in creating new connections with consumers and cited its use of music, games and sports on such platforms as YouTube and Second Life as examples.
He said that the company is making increased investments in mobile marketing in two respects: to build out its infrastructure and services, and to activate mobile promotions. He said there is a shift underway from ads being on air some of the time to ads being accessible all of the time.
“This is transforming the marketing model as we know it,” he said.
Officials termed the funding for The Sprite Yard as a “significant investment,” but declined to offer specifics.
To get the word out, the program will be promoted on single serve bottles of Sprite, of which 10 billion are sold worldwide each year. It will also be advertised with help from the popular My Coke Rewards program and through other partnerships. The company is also banking on spreading the word through the sheer design of the program, which encourages viral marketing.
The Sprite Yard debuted June 1 in China and was activated through a partnership with McDonald’s where customers received a pin code with purchase. China and the U.S. comprise the two top markets for Sprite, which was first introduced in 1961.
The Sprite Yard is a comprehensive network that operates with help from a number of partners, including mobile content providers and carriers, social networking sites, the National Basketball Association and McDonald’s. Discussions are underway with other partners.
The company plans to determine the success of the program through sales, unique users, the number of pieces of content downloaded and the length of time users engage with the experience. Officials said the flexibility of the program and media allows the company to develop and post content quickly, something it is unable to do with its traditional marketing tools.
There are 2.7 billion mobile phones in use across the world, said Nigel Morns, CEO of Isobar, the digital marketing network that worked with Sprite to develop The Yard.
Coca-Cola has plans to take the experience to its other brands in other markets. The Sprite Yard will be introduced in several additional markets globally by the end of 2008.
“We feel we are on the cusp of transforming the marketing model,” Greatrex said.