Coke thinks globally, acts socially and blogs totally with Expedition 206

Coke investors conferenceThere's an old saying: "Fish where the fish are." That's exactly the approach big brands are taking as the era of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube transforms how companies engage with consumers, especially the youth market.

Case in point: Coca Cola (KO). The beverage giant is taking a deep dive into experimental marketing, in line with one of the key elements outlined in the company's 2020 vision: to develop and deploy the world's most innovative and effective marketing. One key component in the charge is Expedition 206, which is being touted as the largest social media program ever.
Starting from Madrid on Jan. 1, three young people, known as "Happiness Ambassadors" (in my opinion, one of the coolest gigs on Earth), will travel to all 206 countries where Coca-Cola is distributed, and blog, tweet and otherwise communicate about their experiences online. The lucky trio was announced last week at Coke's investors conference. They are: Tony Martin, 29, a Washington, D.C., native, now teaching kindergarten in Munich; Kelly Ferris, 23, a university student in Brussels and native of South Africa; and Antonio "Toño" Santiago, 24, a university student from Mexico City.

"This project is really the cornerstone of a new philosophy ... that we call fish where the fish are," says Adam Brown, director of digital communications and social media. "We know people are talking about Coca-Cola on our Facebook page, on YouTube, on Flickr." One goal of Expedition 206 is to "put content that's compelling in those locations and get the same type of enthusiasm that we would get from a traditional digital campaign," Brown adds.

The ambassadors will chronicle their journey while asking the people they meet along the way what makes them happy, which is aligned with Coke's "Open Happiness" slogan, unveiled earlier this year. But what Martin, Ferris and Santiago will need most is help from the public. Martin urges followers to "go to, tell us what you did that was cool, where we should go, what kind of food we should check out, because these are the secrets of a place that we can't find out in 2 days. We need people from there to tell us those things so that we can really have that magical journey." While the campaign is sure to give Coke a stronger footing in the social media realm, and allows the company to scale globally while remaining locally relevant, it also helps to reach out to a critical growth area: the youth market.

"The youth market is important for most commercial beverages: carbonated soft drinks, sports drinks," says John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest. "Young people generally have the highest per capita consumption of ready to drink beverages." While he notes that the company faltered earlier in the decade by becoming too internally focused, he thinks Coke is getting its marketing mojo back, becoming more externally focused, while working hard to figure out ways to appeal to young consumers.

Coke appears determined to reach this demographic both domestically and in emerging markets over the next decade, with plans to market aggressively to the youth segment. "Nothing will be more important than making Coca-Cola No. 1 with these new, young consumers," says Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent.
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