Last Monday, The Coca-Cola Company announced that it would be killing off the consumer end of its corporate website and would be slowly working to do the same to its “press release PR.”
In the place of these vehicles for the Coke message, they’re hoping their year-old online magazine Coca-Cola Journey will step in. Here’s what Director of Digital Communications and Social Media Ashley Brown says Coke learned after launching this social-driven twist on public relations:
Stories that are bright, fun, and brilliant are hits. Readers voted for more Coke-focused stories than un-branded content. They gravitated to stories that focused on Coke’s rich heritage, innovation, careers, and our marketing programs. Virtually all of our coverage of Coca-Cola’s business is a winner. Our readers turned out to be newshounds, travel buffs, photographers, cooking enthusiasts, technology early adopters, sports fans, and music lovers. They left us thousands of comments, and shared our stories tens of thousands of times. We are positively stunned that nearly two-thirds of them are under 34, and that millennials are our most engaged readers.
Now, as a person who uses press releases and corporate websites to do a lot of initial research into my writing, it feels like trends such as these are created to make my job more difficult. But from the corporate standpoint, it makes perfect sense. Instead of handing off a press release to a member of the media and hoping they write something [positive] about you, this is complete control over the communication between you and your customers. And it’s not without precedent. In fact, Coke did pretty much the same thing back in October of 1954. They began distributing quarterly mini-magazines called Pause for Living. They contained mostly decorating and flower arranging tips and ideas with a bottle of coke on virtually every page. I actually acquired the whole set a couple of years ago, and they are a blast to look through. (The scans I feature here are actually from a really entertaining piece about the booklets from the blog Retrospace. I highly suggest you check it out for more fun imagery—it gets weirder.)
This bizarre little marketing gem—“targeted to garden clubs, sororities, Junior Leagues, church groups, PTA groups, women’s clubs, beauty salons, and dentist offices,” according to Coke— hung on until 1969. The sweet editor’s note stapled into the last issue of Pause for Living doesn’t come right out and say it, but my guess is that the magazine couldn’t justify its costs in a world of changing priorities and demographics. And that’s the same problem a lot of brands have today. We talk a lot about blogging to improve your SEO online. But who can defend the value proposition of producing costly content that isn’t a direct ad push? It’s certainly not easy.
Well, Coke’s new answer to this age-old question of marketing costs is outsourcing. In the November 11 blog post referenced above, Brown also announced the launch of The Opener, “an exclusive, invite-only contributor network that will bring the best food, culture, and innovation writing to the pages of Coca-Cola Journey.”
Will we be dismissing Coca-Cola Journey as a bizarre salvo to customer loyalty in fifty years? Maybe, maybe not. But we’ll probably still be drinking Coke.