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Coca Cola's Catching The K-Pop Wave

We caught up with Coke's global strategy chief Oana Vlad to talk K-Pop fandom and the role of AI to connect with fans

By conor nichols

The fastest growing market for K-Pop and other Korean pop culture content – or ‘Hallyu’ as it has otherwise been coined - is Europe. There are an estimated 13 million Hallyu fans in Europe as of 2022, which is a 37 per cent increase from 2021 (source: Korea Foundation’s annual Global Hallyu Report), and Coca Cola is attempting to capture this enthusiasm of the genre’s fans with its latest flavour launch.

In collaboration with Ogilvy PR and Influence, Coca Cola has chosen to celebrate European Hallyu fans and their “infinite devotion” to K-Pop artists with a new 'Fruity Fantasy' flavour. Coca-Cola K-Wave Zero Sugar has teamed up with some of the hottest K-Pop groups and like all things K-Pop, this will include a musical, physical and digital experience for fans and consumers. We talk to Oana Vlad, senior director, global strategy at The Coca-Cola Company, to talk about "renewing" the timeliness of Coca-Cola and the role of AI in connecting with K-Pop fans.

K-Wave will be sold in 36 markets and promoted through music, experiential, digital experience and fashion. The new flavour can features Korean script and a bright green shading around the standard Coca-Cola text. Coca-Cola has collaborated with three K-Pop groups, Stray Kids, ITZY, and NMIXX, as well as the founder of JYP Entertainment, JY Park who have come together to release an original song and music video. There is also a clothing collaboration with fashion brand Private Policy.

The Coca Cola ‘K-Wave’ campaign includes a limited-edition flavour product and unique experiences led by three of the hottest K-Pop groups, Stray Kids, ITZY, and NMIXX. The groups have not only teamed up to create a song and music video called ‘Like Magic’ but fans can also take part in an AI-powered music video experience to immerse themselves directly into the vibrant world of a K-Pop music video, sharing the screen with their idols. Exclusive ‘K-Wave’ apparel and accessories can also be pre-ordered as part of the campaign.

Coke has also launched a new AI music video experience that will allow fans to take part in the fun - and later this year, the campaign will culminate in a huge K-Wave concert.

Through the Coca-Cola Creations platform, Vlad hopes to celebrate and create magical AI-powered experiences for “one of the most passionate fan communities in the world”. We caught up with her to find out more.

Creative Salon: What were the strategic insights behind this campaign?

Oana Vlad: For the Coca-Cola trademark ‘Coca-Cola Creations’ is our culture-first innovation platform that lives under our ‘Real Magic’ global campaign and global philosophy. For ‘Coca-Cola Creations’, each project always begins with product innovation, which is really important. This will be a new, mystery taste, which is always very Coca-Cola forward, but then it also has a dash of unexpected flavour. Then, around each creation and each product, we usually try to offer really unique digital and physical experiences too. In the case of ‘K-Wave’, the digital piece is the AI experience in which people can customise the ‘Like Magic’ music video, and the physical experience which will be the concert in Korea, taking place closer to the summer. 

In addition to this, for each creation we take inspiration from what we see in culture. Sometimes we're watching macro trends. Other times, we see really exciting passion points rising and emerging. With ‘K Wave’, we've been watching the incredible phenomenon that is Korean culture in general, whether it's food, fashion, drama, and of course K-Pop. We have done some partnerships in the space of K-Pop before that we really enjoyed, with NewJeans last year for example. We feel like now is the right time given the rising relevance and just how passionate the fan communities are to do something really innovative in this space. One of our main learnings was K-Pop, and the fabric of K-Pop, is really made by the fan communities. For us, this felt very on brand because K-Pop is about connecting the fan to the idols and then building those really unique communities. It felt right because Coca-Cola is all about connection.

CS: How valuable do you think it is to tap into fan culture - specifically K-pop fans?

Vlad: For us, the potential to connect with people through their passions is always really exciting. We focus on music as a Coca-Cola trademark more broadly and we have other platforms also through Coke Studio. Through ‘Coca-Cola Creations’ we’ve tapped into different fan communities, whether it's been gaming, anime or music also, for example we teamed up with Rosalia, Marshmallow and Ava Max. Fan culture is something that is exciting for us because we obviously want to be where our consumers are, but hopefully we can also add some unique value to those communities too. In the case of ‘K-Wave’ we definitely wanted original music and art to be a part of this to be able to create something really unique with our partners, but we also wanted to create a unique and very participatory experience for our consumers where they are able to customise a music video with personalised avatars and some other easter eggs because it’s really exciting for people to engage with.

CS: What audience was this campaign targeting? Gen Z? Gen Alpha? And is this an attempt to increase Coca-Cola's perception as a lifestyle brand?

Vlad: Coca-Cola has been around for 138 years so, in many ways it's a timeless icon. But in order to stay timeless you have to be very timely. This is nothing new to Coca-Cola. We've been in the spaces of music, film and culture throughout the last century, but it's still something that we need to keep renewing. Given today's excitement and interest in experimentation and discovering new things, we saw a really unique opportunity to combine innovation, product innovation and science with culture. It’s absolutely part of our journey to renew the timeliness of Coca-Cola and we of course do many other things that reinforce this timelessness around iconic moments like Christmas and other events as well.

CS: There is an AI-powered aspect to this campaign - how was AI used to create this virtual experience for consumers?

Vlad: We see AI as an exciting tool that allows us to make some of the experiences we can offer people more unique and more customised. The technology has been great in the last couple of years for us in terms of gathering insights and creating these digital and creative experiences and pieces of content. With ‘Create Real Magic’ we invited people to use Coca-Cola graphic icons to customise and make their own artwork, which was very exciting. So one is the insights. 

As well as insights and content, our Y3000 campaign saw us use AI in product development by co-creating a product with AI and HI. We leveraged AI to democratise the access to AI experiences. People could use their phone to scan the world around them and convert it into what the future would look like. With ‘K-Wave’ we wanted to make the experience really simple and intuitive but still allow it to have unique value to people. We have a demo video in which you can see how you create your avatar and where in the music video the avatar shows up. 

CS: What’s next in the pipeline for your team?

Vlad: We started the year with a bang, launching two creations in a week and a half with ‘Happy Tears’ and ‘K-Wave’, and we also have more exciting and perceivably unexpected things to come. I'm excited to be able to share more in the future, but for now we’ll keep it a secret.


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