Last April, a team of Coca‑Cola leaders sat down to tackle a unique commercial challenge in their own backyard. The world’s largest spectator sporting event was set to take place nine months later in Coke's hometown of Atlanta.
The catch? Big Blue had sponsorship rights to the Big Game.
“We knew we didn’t own the asset,” recalls Jamael Hester, franchise director of commercial strategy and segmentation, Coca‑Cola North America. “But we do own this town.”
The group –which included a wide range of representatives from The Coca‑Cola Company, local bottling partner Coca‑Cola UNITED and key supplier partners –crafted a 360-degree plan to defend its home turf in collaboration with key customers and community partners.
“We knew we couldn’t control the air game but we would ‘own the dirt’ and win the marketplace,” Hester explained, appropriately borrowing a football metaphor. “We laid out how we wanted people to see and experience our brands if they were flying in from around the country for the game –from when they arrive at Hartsfield Jackson, to public transit signage, to hotel lobby coolers at check in, to themed product displays in convenience stores, drug stores and grocery outlets.”
Hester tapped the company’s in-house creative and production agency, Coke Studios, to create a visual identity with the inviting tagline of “Welcome to Our House” against a silhouetted rendering of the Atlanta skyline.
“It ended up paying rent across everything we did,” Hester said of the design, which Coca‑Cola UNITED featured across a range of touchpoints –from retail merchandising and packaging, to hospitality event invites, to VIP lanyards and premiums.”
he team welcomed several key customers to the new KOlab collaborative innovation spacein July to sell in the program, using virtual reality (VR) technology to show how everything would look on the shelf and throughout the store. The day after Christmas, nearly 200 outlets brought the “Welcome to Our House” concept to life.
The nearly 10-month creative collaboration paid off. Coca‑Cola posted its strongest January, as measured by retail dollar sales growth, ever in the Atlanta market.
Coca‑Cola also used the Big Game as an opportunity to build deeper relationships with its customers by hosting pre-game tailgate and a VIP watch party at The Gathering Spot for invited guests and shopper sweepstakes winners. The company also gifted key stakeholders commemorative jackets made from recycled PET bottles collected from several marquee Atlanta venues –a gesture that supports its “World Without Waste” vision to help collect and recycle the equivalent of the bottles and cans placed in the market by 2030.
“Without UNITED’s customer relationships and flawless execution, and their partnership with The Coca‑Cola Company, we would not have been able to be day-one, minute-one ready,” Hester said. “We have major events like this every year in cities across the country, so our goal was to set the bar and use this moment as a gold-standard partnership example for others to follow.”