Coke’s Bears Host Live Social Super/Polar Bowl Party


In September 2011 Pepsi signed a mammoth 10-year sponsorship with the NFL worth a staggering $2.3bn, but even this weight of cash can’t prevent rival Coca-Cola from ambushing the Super Bowl with its own-brand Polar Bowl campaign.


Coca-Cola used its well-known and much-loved Polar Bear characters to host the brand’s own ‘live game day watching party’. As with almost everything these days, this was a digital party – hosted on Coca-Cola’s Facebook Page and on its dedicated campaign mobile app.


An additional CSR element to this campaign sees every RSVP to the party matched by a Coca-Cola $1 donation to the World Wildlife Fund.


The celebration was supported by two in-game TV ads: one featuring a Giants-supporting bear and the other bear backing the Patriots (their scarves display their allegiances). The TV spots, which were uploaded to Coca-Cola’s YouTube channel during the game, aimed to drive viewers online during the game, where dual screeners could enjoy the charming/cheeky beers offer their unique views on the game as it unfolded.


The animals tweeted their opinions on the hashtag #GameDayPolarBears. The polar bears’ reactions to ads and the game boosted chatter on Facebook and Twitter – building high traffic as events unfolded. The bears left the room during Pepsi’s ad featuring Elton John and “X Factor” winner Melanie Amaro. They stood with their paws over their hearts during the patriotic Chrysler spot featuring Clint Eastwood. And they dozed off during Doritos ads (a brand that is part of the PepsiCo stable). The polar bears also vogued along with Madonna during the half time show.


The campaign is all about two-way communication and includes a facility which enables fans to respond by sending messages (and photos) of their own to the bears. A live campaign team – listening and writing – will co-ordinate response and conversation across Facebook and Twitter in real time.


Thus the own-brand digital platform was at the heart of Coke’s entire Super Bowl initiative.


“We had to step up our game and join the conversation where it was happening,” says Pio Schunker, Senior Vice President of Integrated Marketing Platforms and Content for Coca-Cola, North America. “We needed to join it in a way that was unique to Coke and at the same time in a way that wouldn’t impose on the conversation but would actually enhance it.”


So in tandem with ad agency Wieden + Kennedy, the idea was developed to build communications around Coke’s polar bears watching The Big Game and reacting to the action in real time. One objective is for these reactions to both support and boost brand-connected social media conversation around the Super Bowl.


“We’re imagining people will have one or two interactions with the polar bears, love it, take a snackable piece of content from the video stream and then forward it on to their friends in their social networks,” outline Schunker. “More than anything we’re looking for the degree of engagement people have and the degree of brand affinity they have as a result.”


The initiative stems partly from a piece of Coca-Cola research which found that 60% of all Super Bowl viewers will simultaneously have a secondary device in their hands (along with their beer and chips) while they watch the game on TV. With a total live audience above 100 million, that’s 60 million people they hope might consider joining their party.


While Coca-Cola thought some people would check it out on their computers and eventually navigate away, it seems many left their computers on the Polar Bowl for awhile. People were tweeting Coca-Cola with pictures of a computer screen showing the Polar Bowl next to a TV screen showing the game.


The results and traffic levels were certainly high enough to surprise the Coca-Cola team, which was repeatedly forced to add servers to accommodate traffic. As kickoff approached, 32,000 people had RSVP’d on Facebook – 15 times the original goal – forcing the Coca-Cola team to plan for 300,000 concurrent users on the live stream. But traffic was even higher than expected and it hit that mark during the pre-game show, so the team had to add six further servers.


The @CocaCola Twitter handle, which was handed over to the polar bears, saw a 12.5% increase in US followers before the game even started. The number of viewers on the live stream grew throughout the game, which led to the addition of another nine servers for a total of 18. Eventually the Coca-Cola team, based in control rooms at Major League Baseball’s Advanced Media Centre moved over to MLB’s servers to accommodate the traffic. By the third quarter, more than 600,000 users were watching the live stream, and capacity had been increased to allow for 1.1 million users.


The Coca-Cola team rehearsed for three months, watching footage of old games to prepare. It was a bonus that this year many marketers decided to pre-release ads, making it easy for Coca-Cola to rehearse polar-bear responses last Thursday and Friday. A campaign team of 35 worked at MLB’s Advanced Media offices through the afternoon and evening (split into three main groups; one including the puppeteers responsible for the polar bears’ reactions, another watching the game and providing feedback about how the game was playing, and the third watching social media and responding to consumers on Facebook and Twitter.


Coca-Cola had pre-prepped two versions of the “Catch” and “Argh!” TVCs so it could air the ones most appropriate to events in the game. Mr. Schunker said there was a “tense moment” when it came time to make the call to run “Argh!” because the game was close and it wasn’t clear which team’s fans were more frustrated. Seconds before the spot aired, the call was made to show the version in which the bear rooting for New York has to vent his frustration.




Working with Coca-Cola on the campaign was agency Wieden & Kennedy, Framestore and Animal Logic.




This is a campaign that aims to truly tie together all the screens and devices into a live, shareable, seamless whole. From lead-in and pre-game, to in-game and post-game, the initiative will spread across Facebook, mobile apps, TV, as well as banner ads, outdoor activity and even product (fans will be able to share a virtual Coke over Facebook).


One might describe it as ‘live social fusion’.


And all on a brand-owned platform – the Polar Bowl is the ultimate social ambush!





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