The Evolution of Coca-Cola's Sponsorship Approach


Take a moment to read the following excerpts from a 4.7.2008 IEG piece that details the evolution of Coca-Cola's sponsorship approach. Coca-Cola is an industry leader in the sports sponsorship space and serves as a great company to benchmark "best practices" in strategic sponsorship thinking and execution.

Coca-Cola's Sponsorship Evolution

I. Pervasive Presence (1890-1990) - Coca-Cola used marketing to ensure that the company's product was available anyplace that beverages were sold. Coca-Cola looked to place its product within an arm's reach of desire of consumers. 
Coca-Cola evolved to expand beyond availability and started sponsoring things and "painting things red" (an ubiquity strategy). With time, the space became cluttered with numerous brands, forcing Coke to seek out a new strategy to avoid diminishing returns.

II. Marketing Activation Strategy / 360 Degree Marketing (1990s) - Coca-Cola began using marketing activation to tap into consumer passions (going beyond just having a presence), and started exploring experiential marketing - creating personal interactions with consumers where they could tap into emotional connections. Coca-Cola began putting their brand in the middle and surround it with advertising, on-pack, POS, and related promotions. Coca-Cola eventually realized that they were confusing consumers with this strategy by having three (3) or four (4) 360-degree programs in the market at one time (NASCAR, football, Six Flags).

III. Marketing Fusion (Present) - After realizing that consumers were confused with Coca-Cola's messaging, the company decided to evolve its sponsorship strategy around "marketing fusion". Marketing fusion places the consumer at the center of Coca-Cola's strategy and is surrounded with a core creative idea (i.e. The Coke Side of Life). Coke's new strategy requires that it be choiceful where it interacts with consumers (selective partnerships/advertising). 

The marketing fusion approach forces Coca-Cola to understand what the critical areas are to develop relationships with consumers (as opposed to just gaining exposure). Coca-Cola also must determine how to synergize the different places that they choose to interact with their consumer base. The company also needs to ensure that its fusion strategy and marketing assets align with its overall vision platform and five (5) P's: profit, portfolio, people, partners, planet.

To achieve the demands of the fusion strategy, Coca-Cola developed six (6) operating principles that guides the sponsorship team in their strategic thinking processes:

  • Understand the Consumer Environment
  • Gain Alignment
  • Be Choiceful
  • Integrate and Activate
  • Be Innovative and Fluid
  • Measure with Objectivity

In addition, Coca-Cola focuses on four (4) different areas when deciding on partnerships:

  • Common Business Objectives
  • Brand Fit
  • Value-Based Relationships
  • Willingness to Innovate