“Holiday refreshments is what we bring, tis’ the season it’s always the real thing.” Oh yes, the holiday’s are coming, holiday’s are coming, holiday’s are coming… and for many of us Coca Cola mark the beginning of them. That’s right, a business that sells sticky liquid that rots our teeth, tell a story each year that nobody forgets, and remains embedded in our nostalgia.
As you read the above, did you sing along with the famed Coca Cola tune? I did, because I’m unable to say holiday’s are coming without drifting off into that wonderful harmony. Each year Coke tell a story that has us hooked, line and sinker, and marks the beginning of a holiday millions hold dear.
In fact, when Coca Cola decided to go down a new marketing route in 2001, they created an uproar not unlike their new coke fiasco. By 2007 their famed commercials returned after customers phoned in demanding they bring back their childhood nostalgia. Repeat that for a second and comprehend how crazy it is. This is a company that sells soft drinks, a product that has as much to do with Christmas as a palm tree does.
And it’s a 30-second advert, not some defining speech spoken by a powerful world figure.
Yet each year I know Christmas sits around the corner once I see the advert. Not the decorations in store windows. Not the music whilst I sit in a coffee shop. In fact, I fight the urge to get into the Christmas spirit for weeks, because I don’t feel too Christmasy in early November. But as soon as I hear the Coca Cola song… well, a switch turns on in my brain.
“It’s time,” my inner child says. “It’s time to hum and be merry.“
BUT HOW DO THEY DO IT? How do Coca Cola tell a story each Christmas that ignites our imagination, tickles our sensations, and sends our mind searching for childhood happiness? How has a company that sells soft drinks put themselves in a position to own a market they have no right in owning?
That’s what today’s post focusses on as it delves into Coca Cola’s Christmas Brand Story, and the inner workings as to how they tell a story so many of us know.
HOW COCA COLA USES CHRISTMAS TO TELL A STORY NOBODY FORGETS
As someone who doesn’t drink Coca Cola (it must be years since I last had one), I find it somewhat ironic I love their Christmas Adverts so much. Commercials are designed to sell us stuff, and although it doesn’t work on me, I am writing a Blog Post about them…
This is one of the finest Brand Story examples there is, because it’s much more than an advert or commercial or the product they sell. It’s about awakening our emotions and memories, which is what good Brand Storytelling is all about.
I imagine Coke took a more rational, marketing-sensible decision in 2001 when they pivoted their communications. I picture a high-ranking marketing exec named Bob saying something like, “Those old adverts are good, but they won’t help us sell more products like this idea will…” continues to talk about ROI and product placement strategies for fifty minutes.
I’m not surprised people took back THEIR Coca Cola commercials, because they became part of their lives, and you cannot simply mess with something like that. This is why Brand Storytelling is important, especially in this day and age of chaotic messages from all directions. To tell a story is powerful indeed, and ever since 1995 when the famed Coca Cola trucks rumbled into town, they’ve captured our attention like no other.
Here are 5 Brand storytelling aspects I believe go a long way into explaining why…
1: CHRISTMAS MUSIC
The first obvious aspect is the music that accompanies each Coca Cola Christmas Commercial. Music plays a huge role in how we react to certain messages. There’s an entire science behind it, but the best possible example I can provide is the movie, Jaws. The music and haunting sounds throughout that movie make it what it is. You don’t even need to be paying attention to the screen, but as soon as you hear that build up, you know something’s about to go down.
In terms of music and Christmas, wow does this holiday rely on it a great deal. There are entire songs and albums you wouldn’t dream of listening to at any other time of the year. Easter cannot say this, nor can Valentines Day or Thanksgiving. Music and Christmas go hand-in-hand, and as soon as certain songs twinkle to life in shops and cafes, you know the time has come.
Coca Cola don’t only tell a story on the screen, but through our ears, too.
Just watch the video above and listen to the music that plays throughout. It posses all the jingles and sounds you associate with Christmas, and words and a harmony that suits this time of year oh so well. But it isn’t any old song, oh no. It’s a Coca Cola song that talks about their brand and products and the effect it has on family and loved ones.
The truth is, it’s nonsense because Coca Cola don’t bring families together, or posses any of the traits they shout about – they do, after all, sell sugar water – but it doesn’t matter because our ape-like minds trust these kind of music and sounds. They make us feel happy, and because Coke tell a story we can relate to throughout, the creation of their own song puts them way out in front of most brands (who usually use songs from bands or other artists)
How important is music at Christmas? Well, if I ask you to name a few Christmas associated tis-bits, I bet music is high on your list – maybe even at the top of it. After presents and the general art of stuffing one’s face with food, music has to be next in line.
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2: CHRISTMAS LIGHTS
This follows on from music, because Christmas and lights again go hand-in-hand. Whether it’s the lights on your tree, house, street, or as you drive through your local town, the very existence of a certain type of light cues your mind into Christmas mode.
It’s pretty much the best subliminal marketing message of all time, because the lights go up and you rush to the shops to buy presents.
When Coca Cola tell a story, they know this. The problem is that bottles of liquid don’t sparkle or carry lights. Neither do the cans or the personalities they pay millions to endorse them. So what’s a brand to do? Think outside the box of course, and ensure the trucks that carry their precious cargo of bottles and cans illuminate the night sky.
Not only are the trucks themselves lit to high heaven, but as they pass throughout towns and streets, they the power the other lights in town, too. It’s like Coke are telling us, “We’re turning the lights on for you. It’s Christmas. And we’re the catalyst behind it.“
These days the Coca Cola Christmas Trucks go on tour each year, meeting 200,000 people along the way. Clever marketing aside, what a wonderful way to extend their Christmas Brand Story. You can now go and touch and see the famous lights for yourself. You can recreate the advert that means so much to you in person.
But this all began with the clever use of lights, and the strong association it has with the Christmas season.
3: FAMILY FEELING
I’ve touched on how Coca Cola tell a story about family and loved ones a few times now. Christmas + Coke = Family, but when you think about this, how insane does it sound?
Do we really gather the family around the fireplace so we can share a bottle of Coke together? I associate a lot of drinks, foods and things with family, and a certain few alongside Christmas Day with the relatives. A bottle of coke? Hell no! Who breaks out the Coca Cola on Christmas Morning?!?!?
Yet the entire Coca Cola Christmas Brand Story surrounds the notion of family, love, and celebration.
In the first commercial in 1995, it’s a father and son snuggled up in a truck as they collect their Christmas Tree (a staple moment in every family’s calendar). In the commercials since we’ve seen Grandfather and Grandchild reading stories, snowball fights in the streets, carolling, having friends around for a meal, and the grand street parties we’ve all seen in the movies.
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Coca cola and their awesome trucks make this happen, and although it doesn’t make a smidgen of rational sense, Coke and families fit together like hands in a snug glove. In my opinion this is the second biggest factor in the Coca Cola Christmas Brand story (keep reading for the all important one), because no matter what your relationship with your family, Christmas is a time of year we try and come together and share happiness with each other.
It’s a hopeful time of year, and being a father to a young boy myself, I now get to enjoy Christmas through his eyes. The emotions Coca Cola stir when they tell a story are the exact feelings I wish to feel.
It doesn’t stop with the Christmas Trucks either, because the sub plots in the Coca Cola Brand Story play important roles, too. Try and convince me you watch the Polar Bear Commercials without experiencing a pang of, “Awwwww, that’s so damn adorable. Here, someone come give me a cuddle.“
Coca Cola and families? They shouldn’t go hand-in-hand, but they do at this time of year. This isn’t be accident, folks. Coca Cola know to tell a story during the festive season they need to connect with us on deeper levels. What deeper level is there than families and sharing happy times with loved ones?
Well, there is one…
4: CHILDHOOD INNOCENCE
And so we move on to the most important aspect of them all… CHILDHOOD INNOCENCE.
This is big for two reasons:
- We reminisce about our own childhood, and how Christmas made us feel
- We relive this wonderful magic through our kids, grandkids, nephews and nieces…
Kid Turndog isn’t two-years-old yet, so this Christmas won’t be the most special. But next year? And the year after?
I get to experience the magic through his eyes, and all the while remember what it felt like all those years ago. It’s no coincidence that Coca Cola tell a story though the eyes of a child whenever they can at this time of year. It’s a holiday for kids, and the magic it portrays is priceless. They hack into this emotion and hinge their entire Christmas Brand Story on it.
Coke keep the magic alive, and offer us a link to our children. Because they’ll fall for the Coca Cola Commercials just like we did, and because they keep the nostalgia intact (more on this next), we’re able to share the moment with them. So many other brands change, and toys are always improving, and trends come and go, but Coca Cola remain by our side the entire time – for us and our kids.
It’s not often a business impacts on several generations like this (another company doing something similar in England at the moment is John Lewis), because it requires ‘Bigger Picture Thinking’, and most brands cannot see past the end of their nose. I may not be a fan of Coca Cola as a product, or what they ultimately represent, but the messages they share and portray (especially during this time of year) are something I value and treasure.
They tell a story worth remembering, and it continues to evolve in the most organic of ways.
5: NOSTALGIA WITH A MODERN TWIST
One of the biggest issues about creating a runaway viral success (which Coca Cola’s 1995 original most certainly was) is that in time it becomes outdated and stale. You’re scared to touch it because it’s loved for a reason. But if you just leave it be, in time it’ll die.
Such a fine balance, and one Coca Cola got wrong in 2001, because they scrapped the campaign and people made sure they knew how unhappy they were. As I watch the Coca Cola Christmas Commercials today, they still feel like the ones I remember as a kid, but each year they change and differ just a little.
This commercial is from 2012, and features snippets from the original, sequences from 1997 and various other years, and new additions that seamlessly intergtate into one another. This intermingling is genius, and one of the key reasons the Coca Cola Brand Story continues to be relevant – because like I say, it links several generations together.
Coke aren’t afraid to change things, because they know their message and how they tell a story must evolve over time. BUT… no matter what forms it seems to take these days, it remains true to the original message. It keeps its heart and soul in place, and this is why the Coca Cola Christmas Brand Story continues to mark the beginning of the festive season.
You should tip your cap to Coke, because the way they’ve kept nostalgia intact whilst spicing up the message is no easy feat of engineering. For instance, picture the uproar when Facebook alters their layout ever so slightly. Or when a really good movie comes out, but doesn’t quite live up to the book. Or how we all reach the age where we say, “Music today isn’t like it used to be.“
Whether it’s the main commercial, the Polar Bear ones, an updated song that hits the charts, or a standalone advert that spices things up, Coca Cola reinvent nostalgia each year, but in a way that makes sense.
TELL A STORY WITHOUT A ‘SALE’ IN MIND
There’s many facets that come together to form the Coca Cola Christmas Brand Story, but these are five that stick out in my mind. The overall message to take from all this: THEY NEVER TRY TO ‘SELL’ TO YOU.
Because you don’t create associations with family and childhood nostalgia and the start of a massive holiday by focussing on product features, or price, or how much ROI you can gather in the month of December. This is what 99.9% of brands do, and it’s why 99.9% of brands aren’t spoken of in this manner.
Christmas is an expensive time of year that sends shivers down our spines. I love the festive season, but it’s such a hassle. It drains my bank account, my calendar’s full of random parties and dinners, I hear the same songs EVERYWHERE for two entire months…
What gets you through this hardship are the type of emotions we’ve touched upon (family, nostalgia, loved ones…), and because Coca Cola tell a story about these aspects, and surround everything they do around them, we’ve fallen in love with their Christmas Brand Story.
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Their Christmas Brand Story has lasted the test of time, and suspect it has a great deal of life left in it yet.
But they aren’t some saint-like brand we should bow down to. They’ve brainwashed us into associating sugar water and a company worth billions with facets of life we hold dear to our hearts: family, childhood nostalgia, santa…
I’ll say it again, it makes no sense whatsoever to link Coke and Christmas. But we do. Our kids do. They tell a story that’s nigh on impossible to forget. What a clever bunch they are – or maybe it’s us who are a tad un-clever and simple 😉
At least, this is my point of view on the Coca Cola Christmas Brand Story, and how they tell a story that plucks my heartstrings each year. I’d love to hear your thoughts, so be sure to let me know them via FACEBOOK and TWITTER. It’s been a pleasure, kid. Speak soon.