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Pitch-Perfect Photo Opp: Coke’s ‘Happiness Flag’ Gives Fans the Chance to Join the Action in Brazil

By:  Jay Moye Apr 30, 2014
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Can’t swing a trip to the 2014 FIFA World Cup? Not to worry, you can be part of the action in Brazil thanks to an inventive Coca-Cola program fusing street art, digital technology and social media.

Through May 12, fans could visit www.happinessflag.com to submit a “soccer selfie” for inclusion in a massive Photomosaic® flag to be unveiled on the pitch before the 2014 FIFA World Cup opening match at the Arena de São Paulo on June 12. An estimated 1 billion people around the world will see the flag unveiled either in person, on TV or online.

Happiness Flag

Fans have until May 12 to upload a photo to appear on the Happiness Flag.

Happiness Flag is part of “The World’s Cup” campaign, which celebrates the inclusive spirit shared by Coca-Cola, football and the tournament’s host country. “We knew we couldn’t make a claim like ‘The World’s Cup’ without proving it,” explains Neil Bedwell, Coke’s global group director of digital strategy and content. “And we’ve proved it in a number of ways, from our films to the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour. Now, Happiness Flag will give everyone around the world the chance to participate in the World’s Cup story and collectively demonstrate the unifying power of football.”

Brazilian street artist Speto, who created the visual identity for Coke’s “World’s Cup” campaign, designed the physical flag in collaboration with Argentinian artist and fellow São Paulo resident, Tec. “When we first briefed Speto, he quickly responded, ‘With Brazil and Argentina in football it’s war, but in art it’s peace,’” recalls Brad Fields, Coke’s global licensing manager  “And that’s what this project is all about: ‘Hilltop’ on a flag.”

He’s referring to the iconic 1971 Coca-Cola ad featuring a multinational chorus of young people gathering on a hilltop in Italy to sing together. “The flag we will present on the pitch on June 12 will represent the world coming together to celebrate football,” Fields adds.

Building the Flag

Producing the Happiness Flag is a logistically complex task that requires close coordination among multiple players around the globe. Once Speto and Tec completed their canvas painting, Coke sent a digitized version to Robert Silvers, CEO of Runway Technology and inventor of Photomosaic® technology.

Happiness Flag

Speto (left), Coke's Brad Fields and Tec in São Paulo.


Over the last few months, Silvers has recreated the colorful flag design with fan photos posted to HappinessFlag.com -- more than 140,000, to date -- and shipped the finished product, section by section, to a digital printing company in Rio de Janeiro.

“When viewed from a distance, it looks just like the original artwork,” Silvers explains, “but when you come up close you can see the people that formed the image.”

Once all 192 panels are printed, they’ll be stitched together before the epic, on-the-pitch reveal. The Happiness Flag will span 3,600 square meters of printed nylon fabric, covering most of the field.

After June 12, fans who submitted photos will receive an email with a link to HappinessFlag.com to see where they were on the flag -- and on the pitch. “They’ll see an aerial shot of the flag and then be able to hover over the mosaic to explore the photos,” Fields explains.

‘Universal Social Language’

Two years ago, Coke’s digital team kicked off the initial ideation sessions for “The World’s Cup” campaign with a question. 

Happiness Flag

Happiness Flag represents several digital firsts for Coke.

“We asked ourselves, ‘How can we ensure there are no barriers to participation?’ Bedwell explains. “So we started with mobile phones, the most prevalent consumer technology and their most basic functions: taking and sharing photos, and tweeting or texting.”

Bedwell’s team created a program that enables Coke to convert fan tweets into a graphic image in the “World’s Cup” visual style, then return it to the sender. They also built a system to opt-in fans through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram since, legally, Coke cannot use user-submitted photos without permission.

“Photos -- the world’s universal social language -- are the heart of the Happiness Flag ,” Bedwell says. “Photos are a great leveller; no translation is required. Whether you’re in Kenya or Shanghai, chances are you’re taking and sharing photos. A person in London can look at a photo of a football fan from Bhutan and say, ‘Hey, that looks like me.’ And that’s what we want everyone to take away from the World’s Cup, which is all about the fans and our shared passion for the game.”

Read a Forbes feature on the Happiness Flag.