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The Real Power of Storytelling From Coca-Cola

I have been a speaker at a conference. I have been presenting marketing ideas to students. I have been talking to clients. And ever single time, I keep using an example from Coca-Cola over and over again. It’s probably related to my love for eating pizza and drinking Coca-Cola Zero, but not entirely. The reason I keep using it, is that I believe it’s one of the best examples of storytelling and targeting prospective customers.

Coca-Cola Zero

Lately, I have been hustling to benefit from keyword research. That’s been my main focus. And I have been doing my best to understand business, and do brilliant work for my clients. I’m not trying to become a problogger, although I have switched focus, to blogging for business. I keep writing every single day. And the more I write, the more I think of stories that I used to tell and that have been with me for a long time.

We Want Stories

The reason why we need to use storytelling when it comes to business, is because people want it. People are used to stories, and they love stories, and if they don’t get a story, they’ll create their own story. It’s better to create the story for people, instead of waiting for them to create their own. If we wait, we won’t be able to control it.

I first started to understand the real power of storytelling when I read Seth Godin’s All Marketers Are Liars. I already understood that stories where being used in marketing, but I had little knowledge about how people perceived them, and what we should be focusing on when it comes to creating and telling the story.

I used to believe that cars are the best examples of storytelling. The car you drive tells a lot about who you are. It’s not just about the advertising, but the stories have been told for many years. Some cars are for people who really care about the environment, some cars are for people who care about safety, more than design, and some cars are more practical than others, and some cars are more or less just symbols of wealth. I don’t know much about cars, I am more familiar with Coca-Cola Zero.

And, I believe that we should all use examples from our experiences and from things we’re familiar with. That’s why I keep using the pizza delivery guy as one of my most used examples of brilliant customer service.

The Real Power of Storytelling From Coca-Cola Zero

The taste is awesome. I should be drinking water. I know. And I do drink water, but once in a while, I love my cold Coca-Cola Zero.

I haven’t been really paying attention to the commercials, or the bottles. It’s more or less just there at the stores, and I grab it when I’m passing by. That’s it.

I remember when it was introduced in Norway during September 2006. I remember thinking that it was no different from Diet Coke (Coca-Cola Light). I couldn’t taste the difference, and the rumors was that it was identical, but that they had created a marketing campaign that was going to help Coca-Cola get more men to drink Diet Coke. And that’s the reason why it’s been called “Bloke Coke”). There’s one very interesting lesson to be learned from what Coca-Cola have done when it comes to storytelling.

Remember. Coca-Cola Zero is more or less identical in the whole world. It shouldn’t taste any different if you buy it in Norway or in the US. The product is the same, even though the artificial sweeteners may vary.

Coca-Cola Zero was the biggest launch from Coca-Cola in 22 years. The target marked is still young adult males. And what they did in the US, was to focus on that the drink is “calorie-free” rather than “diet”. Women are more interested in diet than men, and when you start using different words to describe the same benefits, you start creating a different story.

I have watched the advertisements. They’re always focused on young adult males. I have watched the advertisments for Diet Coke. Do you remember the Diet Coke break? Let’s just leave it at, that it was very easy to spot the targeted audience.

But, what you didn’t know about Coca-Cola Zero is that the marketing is very different in Norway than in the US. In fact, in the US it’s about “calorie-free”, in Norway it’s about “real taste, zero sugar”.

Different people – different problems – different stories

A product should solve a problem, or at least be something people want. It’s not like we market products people need. People don’t really need much. It’s about what they want. It’s a huge difference between need and want. The difference is usually emotions. I don’t need an iPhone or the latest iPad to run my business.

We need to be told different stories. It’s a difference between gender, and it’s a difference between cultures. The stories should be told according to our worldview. If it’s not part of who we are, we won’t believe the story and we won’t be part of the story. In Norway, we’re more focused on not consuming sugar, than the benefits from being calorie free. And that’s why the story of Coca-Cola Zero in Norway has more or less nothing to do with being calorie free.

21 responses to “The Real Power of Storytelling From Coca-Cola”

  1. Jack says:

    A good story is captivating, compelling and capable of convincing people to move mountains. I am biased, but I am a huge fan. A business that knows how to leverage it has a great advantage.

  2. Roberto says:

    really interesting, i knew coke zero had almost no calories compare regular coke, but never thought it was targeted to young males instead. I think it’s usually if marketers come up with stories they are associated with, it should bring out our passion ^_^.

    for example i really like the story about spaghetti sauce from Howard Moskowitz.

  3. Karyn18 says:

    This is an awesome review about Coke Zero! I will never switch to any Cola, Coca-Coca has been here in my life for over 25 years, and it will definitely be here for another 25 years! Ckoe adds life..Lol!

  4. Carolyn says:

    Hi Jens, I’m much too young to remember the Diet Coke break, but I do remember when Diet Coke was launched. It was in response to Tab, another Coca-Cola product, being marketing too heavily to women. Men weren’t drinking Tab so the company introduced Diet Coke as a gender-neutral drink.

    It’s funny to me that now Diet Coke supposedly has a “taint” of being a female drink.”

    I’m a big fan of Diet Coke (yeah, I wish I could quit it), but have never really taken to Coke Zero.

    Interesting lesson today, Jens! Congratulations on your great interview over at Sonia’s place today.

  5. Adrienne says:

    I agree Jens, a great story keeps us interested and at time captivated until the end. Even sharing your experiences and what you’ve been through at times can keep me peeled to the content excited to get to the very end.

    I must admit, I’ve never paid attention to the story of Coke. We weren’t allowed to drink it when we were young. It had too much acid for my Dad’s health. Later in life I did start drinking Diet Cokes but after going to Weight Watchers over 24 years ago I learned how much sodium is in soft drinks I stopped cold turkey. I only drink water now. Occasionally I’ll drink a soft drink with alcohol but Sprite is my preference.

    Interesting story though and you are right, it can keep us captivated.

    By the way Jens, I have a Facebook friend who is going to get in contact with you. He’s writing a novel and could use some advice about time constraints. His name is Khalid so be on the lookout for him. 🙂


  6. Bill Dorman says:

    Ok, little piece of trivial info here; down south in the US we call all ‘soft’ drinks Coke. Up north they call it pop or soda. Coke’s HQ is down south in Atlanta so maybe that has something to do with it.

    When I was little, my dad would cut my grandmother’s grass. I would have to sit outside until he finished, but when he did I got to go inside and my grandmother had ice cold 6.5 oz Cokes in the bottle that were to die for. Man that brings back some great memories.

    I my Coke consumption is almost non-existent these days as it’s either the nectar of the gods – water or coffee in the am. However, if I do drink a soft drink it will be Coke; NOT Pepsi.

    I don’t think this related to your story but I had to make sure I got mine in somehow……:).

    Thanks for sharing; hope you are well.

  7. andres says:

    awesome review about Coke Zero, totally agree that a great story keeps us interested and captivated until the end, especially if it is a real life story which we can relate to on some level

  8. Ashvini says:

    Hey Jens,
    Coca cola zero is not still available here. But Coke is facing a lot of problems in India. They took over a well known Indian brand “Thumbs up”. It was really a great tasting drink. Next they changed the drink and totally destroyed that fan base. Now thums up tastes really horrible and Indian public never liked coke anyway. They prefer pepsi( which I don’t).
    It was a perfect example of not tinkering with the story that is already set in the mind of millions. I am sure Coke is doing much better at your place 🙂

  9. Vakarines Sukneles says:

    Well I had been to Coca-Cola museum at Atlanta. There I tried samples of around 140 brands of Coca-Cola… What happened to my stomach next day is different story.. I think Coca-Cola zero was also there. I didn’t find any thing great in taste of that product. I think you are right. All marketing is based on stories. I still remember they were displaying counter of how many Coca-Cola bottles got sold world wide at their museum.

  10. Sharyn Sheldon says:

    Hi Jens,

    It’s so true about the power of stories. But finding a great storyteller isn’t easy. To some it comes naturally and to others…well, better to stick to brief examples at best for those.

    I think Coke’s appeal is not just in their stories, but in the emotions they conjure up. Like the image of having a cold Coke after a hot day in the sun playing with your friends, or the sentimental memories of sharing a bottle with your grandfather when you were little. They excel at pulling at your emotional heartstrings.

    I thought the whole Coke Zero thing was a flop. Guess I’m not their target market! (Oh, and I actually like Diet Pepsi’s taste more, but I like the stories and vintage bottle from Coke – will that comment get me booted?)

  11. Julie says:

    That’s why I am totally assured be the content-is-the-king theory! By the way, very interesting and useful article! Thanks for sharing it!

  12. Chris Barker says:

    Good idea to site a thing when it regards to explaining something so that the audience can figure out what really the story in it.

  13. Heidi19 says:

    Coca-Cola has been running for years and I heard it’s their Centennial year just passed a month ago or so. Well, I believe Coca-Cola has been serving every family Happiness. 🙂

  14. Darpan Jain says:

    Storytelling and Branding are custom tailored for each other. Now with social media into picture, things have got much better, they have become dynamic. Its like a two way conversation where you need a good story line, your customers are your actors, they should relate to the communication story, and the gist of it should be the Brand USP which should a relevant consumer benefit. If everything is in place, you will see a lot of loyal fans and Brand Advocators.
    You thus become a digital Storyteller.

  15. Maryden25 says:

    I got a story to share to you. My grandma at my mom’s side was really “addicted” to coke. She passed away August 2005. She used to send me to the grocery store and buy Coca-Cola. Everyday, she used to drink 1 liter and more. I swear. One time, she needs to minimize drinking it because she got U.T.I. But it never stopped her. When she died, We used to put a bottle of coca-cola beside her coffin. I missed her a lot. And I;m proud to tell you, that Coca-Cola has been part of the rest of her life.

  16. Born25 says:

    Just like the ads goes..”Always Coca-Cola”.. Happy 100 years old Coke! And this soda will never be replaced by any soda in the whole world!

  17. Darcy says:

    I’m not a big soda drinker. I’ll drink Coke Zero if I do opt to have a soda, however. It’s incredible to see just how articulately and carefully ‘stories’ like these are created for specific products and how we, as consumers, tend to gobble them up. It’s incredibly impressive and slightly disconcerning at the same time 😛

  18. Edward says:

    Wow!! The post jus explained the tactics of marketing to thee best with a extraordinary example.Nothing much necessary to be learnt about why marketing is needed after reading this..

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