It all started with a 151-word creative brief. This brief was issued, together with a free-reigning license for the agencies pitching for its business, to deliver a disruptive idea that would make the biggest of headlines for the brand and shake everyone to attention.

Lucie Austin, then director of marketing for Coca-Cola South Pacific, was huddled in a Sydney conference room with her colleagues in 2011, listening to five agencies pitch concepts for Coke’s upcoming summer campaign. 

The rest, as the saying goes, is history!

This campaign, known as “Project Connect,” was based on its ambition to both strengthen the brand’s bond with Australia’s young adults and inspire shared moments of happiness in the real and virtual worlds. You and I know this campaign more commonly as “Share a Coke.” This unique breakthrough activation accorded consumers the license to swap out the Coke branding on bottles and cans with their own personal first names.

This “disruption” not only worked, it skyrocketed the brand into exponential proportions. That summer, Coke sold more than 250 million named bottles and cans in a nation of just under 23 million people. The campaign has since made its way around the world, reaching more than 70 countries to date.

Are there lessons to be learnt from this phenomenal branding coup (which, incidentally, just hit Singapore)? I’d like to think that publishers the world over can take a leaf out of this Coke case study across three fronts. 

1. Ideas stem from disruptions.

This is obviously easier said than done. Most management teams will accept the need for legacy media owners to embrace disruption. But when push comes to shove, not many who value their seat in the hierarchy will put their necks on the block to back a disruptive idea with the fullest of conviction.

The “fail fast” mentality, albeit a concept that has been bantered around for more than half a decade, is still not something that is comfortably embraced. The stigma of failure and fingers pointed back at the “brave” culprit is a mindset to be grappled with.

I say, “If it ain’t broke, fix it.” We can all contribute to making something that seems OK right now even better. Let’s not wait for major alarm bells before looking into what to do next. That’s exactly the reason why we in Singapore Press Holdings have pulled out all stops to “bring sexy back to print.” Everything from three-dimensional newspaper advertisements through to augmented reality embellishments, creative ad buys, panoramic formats, multi-sensory advertising, etc.

2. Ideas don’t come from apples falling on your head.

Staring into a blank space hoping to stumble upon a gem of an idea is probably the worst way to ideate. So is digging into the archives – historical reconnaissance is not the best way to unravel what your company should be doing in the future.

Ideas come from joining the dots. When a bag was a bag and wheels were just wheels, somebody thought that marrying the two would lead to the innovation known as the trolley bag. And from two wheels, it has now evolved to four-wheeled variations with spinners! An example for publishers — think perfume, think ink — combine the two and voila, a scented advertisement!

Ideas also come from adaptations. Take the “Share a Coke” example. What’s stopping The New York Times, or The Daily Telegraph, or even The Straits Times in Singapore, from launching a campaign allowing readers of our titles to have a day’s issue of the newspaper printed with their first name on the masthead – ala “The Geoff Times” or “Geoff’s Daily Telegraph”? 

And now with the surging dominance of social media, you can bet that I will share my personalised front page voraciously with my friends on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. This reeks of nothing but sheer positive unsolicited advocacy for the newspaper brand.

In the words of Lucie Austin: “Our research showed that while teens and young adults loved that Coca-Cola was big and iconic, many felt we were not talking to them at eye level. Australians are extremely egalitarian. There’s a phrase called ‘tall poppy syndrome.’ If anyone gets too big for their boots, they get cut down like a tall poppy. By putting first names on the packs, we were speaking to our fans at eye level.”

Doesn’t this remind you a little of ourselves? Legacy publishers, who for the longest time thrived on being a monopoly, are sometimes guilty of getting too big for its boots. Embarking on an interpretation of “Share a Coke” could go some ways in speaking to our fans at eye level rather than talking down to them.

3. Ideas don’t have to originate from the head office.

“Share a Coke” started in Australia, not Atlanta. It is a great example of how local went global. It was birthed in Sydney, and is now all over the world. Often, the best ideas are not handed top down from the boardroom, but from the ground up. There is much to be learnt from crowdsourcing and the harnessing of ideas from doers rather than policy makers.

What management can do to encourage this is to open up a non-judgmental channel for staff to share their thoughts and suggestions on how the company can best future-proof itself.

The art of “sharing”

“Share a Coke” reminds us that there is every reason to bring our readers into close relationship with our titles. We must strive for our own version of Project Connect and do what we can as custodians of our business to promote a sense of intimacy with our targets.

To think of it, the art of sharing originated with news media publishers like us. The “pass-on rate” for every single copy of the newspaper we sell speaks volumes of how our valued content is shared with the community around us.

Mahatma Gandhi was known to have said: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” Sounds very much like “start-up” mentality to me, coupled with an insatiable penchant for knowledge. I am sure we can all attest to the fact that the publisher model badly needs a new lease of life – and learning from what the best brands in the world are doing is a great way to start!