Coca-Cola Learned to its Delight that Consumers Own its Brand


Diet Coke Mentos geyser

As one of the most recognized brands in the world, you’d think that Coca-Cola would have its lawyers squashing anyone who tampered with the company’s iconic image.

Maybe before social media, but now.

Presenting at Social Media Week in New York, Scott Ryan, Vice President Specialty Retail for Coke, made the startling statement, “Marketers don’t own their brand, consumers do.”

For example, Coke discovered a YouTube video with a demonstration showing that candy mints dropped into a Diet Coke cause a geyser to erupt. Instead of sending a cease and desist letter, Coke marketers asked themselves, “What if we were to partner with them — provide them with the right tools access to our brand to create experiences they can share?” He called this the “new brand connectivity model.”

Below is a video entitled “Diet Coke + Mentos” that has gotten 16.9 million views. A video produced by the Discover Channel on how Coca-Cola is made has received only 500,000 views. You get the picture.


Empowering Consumers to Tell Stories

Ryan continued, “Retailers aren’t about selling beverages. We’re about bringing people together as part of special occasions and how we can be part of that.” There are 6.5 billion mobile phones, 1.8 billion smart phones and 80.7 million tablets in use around the world. Just think about the impact of having a consumer promotion go viral.

Brands need to empower user created content, he said. It’s all about engaging consumers in stories around your brand. “People are going to say whatever they want and it will spread with or without us,” he said. Coke links the cultivation of purposeful stories that scale and spread to its business objects. “We need to make sure we have the right stories.”

Coke has launched its first all-digital campaign on a website called in which the company invites consumers to share their own videos with “ahh” moments that can be shared on social networks. “It’s been incredibly successful,” Ryan said.

Here is a video Coke posted just this week explaining how viewers can become part of the Coke marketing team to create the next Coca-Cola commercial. Viewers can post their short “ahh” video clips to Instagram/Vine/Twitter/Tumblr using the hashtag #ThisIsAhh, or submit their clips on the website.

People want personal relationships with brands that speak to them as an individual and not as a group. Ryan cited M&Ms as another company enabling customers to personalize their M&Ms with their own messages and photos for special occasions. Nike allows customers to go online and customize their sneakers.

Coke’s Happiness Campaign

Coke has extended its connection with consumers with a dozen interactive Coca-Cola vending machines around the world in a Dispensing Happiness campaign. In this humorous video, viewed 6 million times, a group of New York college students learn that a Coke machine can dispense more than just a Coke.


What Does This Mean for Your Brand?

Your brand is what you want to be known for, whether you’re an individual entrepreneur or company. But it’s become clear that you can’t impose your brand values on your customers. Your brand will be defined by the sum of the personal experiences individuals have with you and your company. Nothing can be left to chance. The web can spread happy stories about a customer’s experience. Or, as we all know, one false step and a negative tweet can bounce around the world at the speed of light. How are you defining your brand? How do you encourage interaction with your customers? Please share your comments below.

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  1. Excellent Marketing lesson… if there’s something we all have learned from the big brands is…they DO know about marketing.

    • Antonio — they sure do. I was wowed by Scott Ryan’s presentation. I couldn’t begin to describe all the exciting things Coke is doing.

  2. Absolutely love this trend in every sense, Jeannette. Companies have to give consumers what they want, not what they think their customers should want.

    Happy customers is the name of the game and Coke obviously has got it right. The third video is super and shows clearly what it’s all about, Coca Cola = happiness!!

    • Catarina — agree and there are more happiness videos on their website. Coke is really engaging its customers and building brand loyalty in totally novel ways.

  3. That was really cool. I loved the video with Coke and Mentos. That was pretty darn incredible. The happiness video is pretty special and surely points out the importance of consumer brand ownership. I could only hope that my own brand could become as popular and carry that same kind of affection. How to do that is a step by step process, gaining trust and then who knows… :D.

    • Susan — I loved the Coke and Mentos video, too, and also loved the happiness video. The big consumer brand companies like Coke have a decided advantage — money. They have the money to invest in all kinds of promotions. But I’m still impressed that Coke, the #1 global brand for many years, took the risk of letting people play with this iconic brand like never before.

  4. Coca Cola should indeed be delighted and kudos to them for understanding there is a whole other dimension to branding for am international super-brand than for most ‘regular’ branding. There is a degree of truth in 2 old chestnuts “all publicity is good publicity” and “if you can’t beat em join em” When you are as big as Coke people are going to have opinions about you and there is a lot to be said for channelling this. Also, with Coke fighting Pepsi for younger consumers this stakes a claim to some very important ground. Younger consumers increasingly like some irreverence attached to a brand and, to complete the chestnut trio, the best defense is almost always a good offense.

    • Paul — you make a good point that younger consumers want some irreverence attached to a brand that enables them to crate their own creativity and parodies that have the potential of going viral.

  5. Jeannette – Very well done. Business fail because they do not change with times. They do same marketing tactics over and over again. Consumers need to feel like companies are relatable and this helps them to stay relevant to their target consumer. Keeping up with the times and keeping pace with changing customer needs (e.g. accessibility, changing trends and technology) shows the consumer that your company is not scared of change and growth. One of the most common reasons for rebranding is modernization. Over time brands can be seen as outdated.

    I have updated my website, created a survey for our customers to fill and they receive $25.00 off their next order. We want to know what they want, not what I think they want. Enjoyed the video.

    • Thanks, Arleen. You are so smart to incent your customers to identify what they want. If you subscribe to Coke’s POV, the consumer owns the brand, then you’re doing the right thing, making sure you’re giving back what they want and keeping your brand and products fresh and responsive to their needs.

  6. This just explains why Coke is number one, and has continued to be so over many years. They manage to move with the times and embrace what is going on in a very clever way.

    • Becc — You can’t stand still. Everything is moving so quickly that you’ve got to keep up and Coke is doing that very well.

  7. Dan — Having worked in ad agencies years ago I can attest that the agency always thought they knew best what the customer wanted and needed. That arrogant attitude is gone now that consumers control the communications channels. So the next step is to invite their participation in creating commercials that will appeal to them. We’ve come a long way, baby!

  8. We did the Coke and Mentos trick a few years back in Cub Scouts – it really works! Likewise, getting the consumer excited about your brand makes a lot of sense. How to harness that excitement and use it for positive – that takes smart marketing.

    • Leora — Makes me want to try it. Good point about harnessing the excitement around brand promotions for some positive good. As you probably know, many companies are into cause-related marketing. Sure, it helps burnish their brands but also helps the charities.

    • Doreen — It was fun attending the talk and learning all the neat things Coke is doing. Couldn’t even include them all.

  9. Now that is just smart and the kind of marketing that brands need to be taking advantage of today with social media.

    Thanks for sharing this Jeannette, love the concept and the videos were just fun.

    ~ Adrienne

    • Glad you liked the videos, Adrienne. I thought they were so clever and irreverent. Companies don’t seem that worried that much anymore with the liberties their customers take with their brands.They couldn’t control their brands even if they wanted to with the emergence of social media.

  10. I visited the Coca Cola museum in Atlanta when I was living down South, and it really made me think about how prevalent the brand is in our culture. Inviting consumers to make their own videos that involve the product is genius. It reminds me of what Doritos does come Super Bowl time by having people submit commercials. I even did the same thing with a classroom assignment.

    • Jeri — how interesting that you gave your students an assignment to create a commercial. What was the topic and how did they do?

      • At first, I had my sophomores make a mad-lib monologue about a products based off one of three famous speeches in Julius Caesar. Later, I developed an entire unit on media literacy. That’s when they got to pick their own products and film and edit their own Super Bowl style commercials. I received a grant to buy five digital cameras. At the end of the unit, I showed the commercials to all of the ninth and tenth graders who then voted for the top three. Prizes came next. I used to have it all posted on a YouTube channel, but I took it down when I left the classroom. And to think, people would wonder why I didn’t like to spend my time going to student basketball games and such! I was busy with these types of projects…

        • Jeri — I can see what a committed teacher you were. That’s a lot of work, but weren’t your students lucky. Sad that teachers don’t get the respect and acknowledgement they deserve.

  11. Christina – I wasn’t aware of the Seahawk’s Skittles-branded candy. Brands are finding their way onto the the most unusual objects — wonder what’s next?

  12. I love the mind set here. It’s seems like common sense but in practice many organizations don’t really see the role the consumer plays in defining their brand. Heck, most of the time they are making progress if they know they know what their brand is. 🙂

    • Debra — you made me laugh with your last comment. It’s true. A lot of companies are struggling with their brand identity. Coke got it right when they say that consumers control their brand which makes it a lot more difficult to nail down your brand essense.

  13. One word – brilliant! I may think all Coke products are terribly unhealthy, but they sure know how to embrace their customers’ experience and celebrate it. That’s what it’s all about. Nice videos and info!

    • Laurie — I know I often think that Coke and all soft drinks have no redeeming healthy values. I drink Coke Zero myself for the caffeine. But I could certainly live without it.

  14. Brilliant keeping ahead of the curve by Coke and impressive that it is one of the legacy brands. On the other hand, maybe it’s a legacy brand because it changes marketing strategies with the times.

    • Suzanne — Well put. Coke didn’t get to be one the top global brands by resting on its laurels. Good lesson for all of us. Change with the times or die.