The brief In 2011, Coca-Cola’s Australian division launched a marketing campaign where the top 150 names featured on the bottles’ labels. The global drinks brand decided to replicate that drive in Europe but it needed to revamp its supply chain to deliver the campaign.
Client Coca-Cola Europe
Brands Coca-Cola, Coke Zero, Diet Coke
Project manager Eshuis
UK launch date May 2013
When Packaging Newsfirst reported Coca-Cola’s Share a Coke campaign, traffic to the website went through the roof. At the last count, nearly 200 comments were left under the story, many requesting their name to be printed on bottles of Coca-Cola, Diet Coke and Coke Zero. It’s fair to say those readers haven’t quite grasped that Packaging News doesn’t print the labels. But it reflects the buzz around the soft drinks giant’s summer marketing campaign.
It sounds simple. The nation’s top 150 names are being printed on 500ml and 375ml bottles and the chances are that if you wander into a store, a Coke will be sat on the shelf with your name on it. If it isn’t, you can go online and create a virtual one.
But there were plenty of hurdles Coca-Cola had to clear in order to get those bottles into retailers. It resulted in the group partnering with a raft of companies along its supply chain, from printers to bottlers. Coca-Cola also got close to one of the biggest beasts in the digital press market. Not only has the Share a Coke drive given marketing bods food for thought, it’s also had a lasting effect on Coca-Cola’s print supply chain.
The story begins down under. In 2011, the Australian division of Coca-Cola came up with the Share a Coke campaign in a bid to reconnect with a youthful audience – the push made full use of social media and interacted fully with the target market. The results were solid: in three months 5% more people were drinking Coke; volume had also risen by 4%.
With the drive in Australia a success, thoughts turned to how this could be done in Europe. It posed a set of considerable challenges, according to Coca-Cola Europe packaging innovator Gregory Bentley. “Europe is a very different beast,” he says. “Australia broke all the rules putting names where the brand’s name would be. In Europe you have 35 countries, multiple languages and, in some cases, several languages on one pack. We have a huge supply chain with different bottling lines and equipment.”
In Australia, the campaign focused on the red Coca-Cola label; in Europe, the drive was for three – Coca-Cola, Coke Zero and Diet (or Light) Coke. And then there are the volumes involved – Australia produces 75m labels a year while in Europe it’s more than 10 times that figure. So with those challenges in mind Coca-Cola set about developing a strategy.
First up was the technology needed to print the labels. While conventional technology can print on a mass scale, the variable element meant that digital technology was a logical choice. Bentley looked a several options, such as inkjet, and a raft of press manufacturers. In the end he went with HP’s electrostatic technology on its Indigo presses.
“We deemed the quality of the Indigo was the best,” he adds. “The install base, the ink weight [the Indigo presses lay down a similar weight of ink as flexo and gravure technology] and the speed meant that the Indigo was the only option we had. HP were keen to work with us.”
Bentley also called on Dutch label converter Eshuis to project manage the print side. Peter Overbeek, managing director at Eshuis, explains that it selected a network of eight digital label printers in Europe that had either HP Indigo’s WS6000 or 6600 presses. In the UK, Amberley Labels was selected to work on the project. “We needed printers that had free capacity for three months in a three shift system,” adds Overbeek.
The labels were pre-printed reels from wide web gravure or flexo – a total of 10 conventional printers were used on the project. The labels were slit 330mm wide and shipped to the digital printer. The names were digitally printed onto a specific space left on the label. They were then sent back to the original printer to apply the varnish.
Planning took the best part of a year to ensure that the bottles would be on the shelves in May. According to Overbeek, the time frame meant that there was no room for any mistakes and communication was vital – it meant that rival printers would sometimes find themselves having to work together.
“Selecting the right partners was critical to this project – we needed to create a network of digital and conventional printers,” adds Bentley.
One of the legacies of the project is colour management – specifically the colour red. HP’s Coke red for its Indigo presses has now become Coca-Cola’s standard. “Before this project, each country had its own version of Coke red,” says Overbeek. “This project has resulted in a standard colour across Europe.”
In terms of results, it’s still early days. Bentley says that this is the largest digitally printed label project of its kind and was backed by an enormous promotional blitz. “This is the single biggest Coca-Cola campaign the world has ever seen,” he adds. “The technology has delivered a brilliant marketing idea. Digital print is the enabler.”
“For marketing people, this has opened a door that was previously closed.”