Coca-Cola formula revealed for making viral videos

WASHINGTON, August, 1, 2013 – How has Coca-Cola taught the world to sing? Jonathan Mildenhall, Vice President of Global Advertising Strategy and Content Excellence at the Coca-Cola Company has worked with many notable ad agencies in the U.K., such as Mother, TBWA, Lowe and Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

He has also helped lead the launch of many notable viral Coca-Cola campaigns, including The Happiness Machine, The Coke Zero Toe Tappy and, most recently Small World Machine for Coke.

The secret to Coca-Cola is not in the recipe for the drink, but in the recipe for teaching the world to sing… about Coke!

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Rob Bliss: So what is your viral strategy? 

Jonathan Mildenhall: One of our marketing objectives is to help earn all of our brands a disproportionate share of popular culture. One of our measures of pop culture is the amount of conversation that a brand generates.


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And so we’re committed to ensuring that our brands earn the attention of our consumers and as a result earn consumer-driven conversation. One of the drivers is the virility of our films through social media. We want films and viral content that spreads all around the world. 

The most viral of Coca-Cola films have a couple things in common: they’re real activations, so we create a Coca-Cola activation that say a hundred or so people might be able to experience, and then we invest heavily in recording that activation beautifully.

Then we edit the film of the activation into a really compelling narrative that once posted online, is passed along by our fans - only if the consumer finds it interesting enough to pass on though. The consumer is very much in control. And that makes the creative challenge even greater.

RB: So how did Coca-Cola’s involvement in viral videos get started? 


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JM: We were really inspired by T-Mobile’s Liverpool train station activation in London. An event that led to T-Mobile’s first viral smash. After seeing that, we thought, “What is the Coca-Cola equivalent?” 

Coke is a very generous brand at heart, bringing people together and creating happy experiences  with them. So five years ago we launched The Happiness Machine. It still makes me smile every time I watch it. It is just so well-executed, and yet it is brutally simple. Rig a vending machine in a university canteen that gives food, Coca-Cola and the occasional bunch of flowers to a group of highly engaged students and bang, you create viral gold. It generated so much global conversation that we knew we were onto a wining formula. 

The Happiness Machine was followed up by The Happiness Truck. With this idea we sent out trucks into urban areas all around the world, Brazil, India, U.K., South Africa, to name a few. The trucks not only give people free Coca-Cola, but we also include local goodies too. For example, in the Philippines, the truck delivered a full roast pork because that’s part of the Filipino tradition. In Rio, we gave away body boards. In India, we gave away balls and cuddly toys. We did that in all the different markets, which creates huge global scale but also deep local relevance.

RB: What do you think has lead to the repeated success of your video work?

JM: Authenticity is a big driver of success. Our real activations are recorded, then released. We then implement our owned, earned, shared and paid media model to ensure the work travels as far and wide as is possible. So it’s really a case of content and connections strategy and implementation working hand in hand.

RB: How do you avoid impeding on that authentic experience?

JM: There are many different ways that you can do it. For Sprite, on a Brazilian beach, we reserved a place and said to the people there that they’ll be an activation. We’ll build this Sprite shower and if you don’t mind joining in, sign the release, if not, feel free to stand back and enjoy the fun.

The good thing is that people are generally curious and want to be involved. They give us clearance, but they don’t know quite what’s going on. Sometimes we’ll have hidden cameras, sometimes not. But the experience is king. The people there are driving the experience and are the ones that are in control of the authenticity.  

Occasionally, we might need to do a re-take it because we miss something and need to include it. That said, there are different genres of viral from where it’s acted out and choreographed to when people are totally surprised and nothing was choreographed.

RB: Any plans for the future?

JM: We were surprised by how successful the Small World Machine was. It was our most awarded campaign at Cannes Lions this year. So that’s set up an amazing amount of ambition to do more viral films that have a social purpose message at the heart. But over the next 12 months we have every ambition to replicate the success of the Small World Machine.

If you want to engage with Jonathan on the subject of good viral ideas you can find him on twitter @Mildenhall


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Rob Bliss

Rob Bliss is a 23 year old entrepreneur with a deep knowledge of advertising, viral marketing, and all things creative.  Rob is most known for creating the Grand Rapids LipDub video, seen by tens of millions of people worldwide.  His multiple viral videos have been featured by just about every major media organization you can list.  He’s a co-founder of Status Creative, a brand awareness firm that brings large-scale attention to people/products/places in highly unique, creative ways.  

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