By Mark Sherbin published November 18, 2012

Big Content Marketing Plays From Coke, Pepsi and Red Bull

content marketing institute Coca-Cola Content MarketingFor years, soft drink brands have helped set the pace for marketers across the globe. The reasons why shouldn’t surprise you. Today’s leading soft drink brands dominate the universal beverage market.

To help build loyalty, globally known brands like Coke, Pepsi, and Red Bull are keeping pace with content marketing tactics. If you are a regular Content Marketing Institute reader, you’ve probably noticed we’ve kept a close eye on Coca-Cola’s Content 2020 manifesto — a strategy that’s earned the brand praise from marketers across the web.

With this week’s unveiling of Coca-Cola Journey, we thought now might be a good time to take a look at how today’s soft drink market leaders put their own spin on content marketing.

The undisputed global king: Coca-Cola

content marketing institute Coca-Cola Content Marketing- Coca-Cola Journey

The marketing team for Sprite famously claimed, “Image is nothing. Thirst is everything.” That ironic tagline wasn’t Coca-Cola’s first contribution to contemporary branding — and it won’t be the last.

On Monday, November 12, Coke launched its most recent foray into the battle of the beverages. Coca-Cola Journey is a reimagined version of an old website — a storytelling machine in online publication format. The new publication features company-specific content across nine categories, including all beverage brands owned by the Coca-Cola Company (like Sprite).

According to the New York Times:

“Four full-time employees are devoted to the corporate Web site, [Ashley] Brown [Coke’s Director for Digital Communications and Social Media] said. And content is also being created by 40 freelance writers and photographers, as well as ‘people throughout the Coke system, in marketing and public relations.’”

Prior to launching Journey, Coke outlined a new global direction for its brand strategy, meant to focus on creating content that tells the company’s story. Coca-Cola Content 2020 is an ambitious new campaign, and Journey represents the brand’s strong first step into becoming a true digital content machine.

(Check out Robert Rose’s interview with Coca-Cola’s Jonathan Mildenhall, the architect of Content 2020.)

Coca-Cola’s content: What works

The Coca-Cola Company has a deeply entrenched brand. For years, the company’s strategists and marketers have done incredible work defining and representing the brand across the entire enterprise, and Journey benefits from that work.

From related content recommendations to highlighting top performing articles, Coke has laid the framework for a successful brand-centric online publication. The site is a home both for the Coca-Cola story and the channels that tell that story, featuring quick links to the company’s branded blogs and other social media pages.

What to expect on the horizon

While the website debuted with tons of great content, it’s unclear if Journey will have fresh content on the website daily. A big question we hope to see answered before 2013 is whether or not Coke can keep content updated frequently enough to build and maintain an engaged audience.

While the brand journalism approach rings true, it would be nice to see additional engagement elements. Social shares are one thing — but content becomes truly impactful when it asks the reader what he or she can add to the conversation.

Backed by a seasoned marketing team and a strong vision, Journey will likely see its fair share of growing pains. Fortunately, Coca-Cola seems to have the resources and the determination to keep the site evolving as it tests what components work best for its audience.

What we can learn

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Storytelling is the thread that ties your content together. Coca-Cola has a narrative so rich and extensive that it couldn’t possibly capture everything. Old or new, your brand has a narrative thread, too. Consider having a shorter history to be an opportunity to define your own story.

The perennial challenger to the throne: Pepsi

content marketing institute Content Marketing Pepsi Pulse

Pepsi has enlisted the likes of Michael Jackson, Ray Charles, and Britney Spears to support its brand — pop icons who have helped solidify the brand’s focus on achieving cultural relevance. Centered on social media, the soft drink brand’s content play continues on that same ultra-timely path.

Launched earlier this year, Pepsi Pulse is very much a curation engine that relies on user-generated content (like tweets) and articles from other publications for its fuel. It follows a long brand tradition of pop culture relevance, appealing to its massive audience through timely content — the “now” factor infused into Pulse’s purpose.

On a given day, the site features the top piece of content. Visitors can even search different dates to find out what piece of pop culture got the most buzz that day. Users can even stream featured live events and watch real-time reactions to them, all from the same screen.

What’s most intriguing about Pulse is the back-end scoring system for how articles make the cut. It uses data pulled from fans on Pepsi’s social media channels to pull in the content that fans and followers discuss and share most often. The result is an extremely accurate dashboard that’s sure to catch its audience’s eye.

Pepsi’s content: What works

Pulse is very eye-catching and works well to get the audience involved in the conversation — much better than we’ve seen with Coke’s Journey. While much of the content is brand-agnostic, the dashboard itself is sprinkled with pictures, sounds, and videos focused on reinforcing the brand.

Based on the algorithm for featuring content, it doesn’t appear to require a huge staff to run. Much of the promotional content that enters into the mix seems par for the course for Pepsi, solidifying Pulse as a channel that runs almost entirely on recycled content.

What to expect on the horizon

Yes, the site is eye-catching — almost too eye-catching. There’s so much going on and so many colors that it’s sometimes difficult to focus on a single piece of content. For example, the spotlighted tweets on the page revolve so quickly that it’s hard to read them before they’re replaced.

While the site features plenty of great content, concrete calls-to-action are conspicuously missing. It’s hard to know how you’re meant to interact with the site, even after pulling up the “about” content.

As Pulse is still labeled “beta,” you can expect Pepsi to make updates to site usability and presentation. Hopefully, the brand will also work on developing a clearer purpose for visitors.

What we can learn

Today’s content is all about what’s happening right now. While timeliness is part of Pepsi’s brand, it’s also a universal truth for content marketers everywhere. Create or curate content in as close to real-time as possible and you’ll gain ground on the competition.

The upstart with street cred: Red Bull

Content Marketing Institute Content Marketing Red Bull Wings

Ranked #8 in 2011’s top soft drinks worldwide, it’s no surprise that Red Bull has earned a formidable share of the market. As an energy drink, its sales surpass any contenders the Coca-Cola Company or PepsiCo have launched in the last few decades.

Red Bull didn’t take long to find an edgier niche than the competition for its brand. Between extreme sports and alternative music, the energy drink brand found its wings in alternative lifestyle content, snagging market share that Pepsi’s pop focus leaves in its wake. The content finds a home on the brand’s website, providing fodder for social media channels and driving a powerful branding mechanism.

Sometimes, it takes a fresh face to jump on new marketing strategies early. Red Bull did just that with content marketing. In fact, many consider Red Bull the gold standard of content marketing. Of course, owning the gold standard means you have to put a little gold on the table.

Following the recent Red Bull-sponsored space-dive, Brian Morrissey of Digiday couldn’t have put it more perfectly: “The Austrian energy drink brand cemented itself as the Coke of the shareable content era, willing to spend freely to produce content so good that it is indistinguishable from non-marketing content. Red Bull truly is a media company that happens to sell soft drinks.”

Red Bull’s content: What works

Pretty much everything. The company creates written content, sponsors events large and small, develops videos, takes shareable photos — and does it all with the same level of passion with which its audience consumes that content. In addition, the brand’s website is well organized, with a clear theme and plenty of exclusive articles and videos.

What to expect on the horizon

Like Coke, Red Bull doesn’t seem to put much stock in creating content that encourages interaction on the website itself. A renewed focus on this strategy could help create an even more visceral connection between Red Bull and its followers by empowering audience members with a voice.

With a strong content core that mirrors the brand, all Red Bull needs for the future is the will to evolve with the shifting dynamic of alternative lifestyles.

What we can learn

I think a more accurate question is: “What can we re-learn here?” Harken back to that old adage, “You have to spend money to make money.”

We aren’t all lucky enough to have Red Bull’s budget. But we do have the ability to put serious resources into a content plan. After all, you can only toe the water so long before you have to dive in headfirst.

“Drink” on this

With so much at stake in the race for beverage supremacy and consumer mindshare, it’s… well, refreshing, to see these leaders forging innovative content marketing pathways — which may encourage other big brands to follow suit. While there is still room for these programs to evolve and expand, these encouraging starts will certainly leave consumers thirsting for more.

Get more insider information on Coca-Cola’s content marketing efforts from Jonathan Mildenhall’s keynote presentation at Content Marketing World 2013

Cover image via Bigstock Photo

Author: Mark Sherbin

Mark Sherbin is a freelance writer specializing in technology and content marketing. He shares occasionally insightful information at Copywriting Is Dead, where he promotes authentic communication between organizations and their audiences. Contact him at msherbin@gmail.com.

Other posts by Mark Sherbin

  • http://twitter.com/BobMcCollum Bob McCollum

    This is the epitome of advertorial and the content on their website is actually a pretty great read.

  • http://twitter.com/Bebabz Becca Babicz

    I’m not sure Pepsi or Coke do it quite like RedBull.. but creating a lifestyle around a product is what Redbull does best. They aren’t about brand awareness or brand promotion… they are about brand experience.