When Coke signed on as a co-sponsor of American Idol in 2002 for $10 million, little did the world know that it was going to unleash yet another marketing communication innovation. While the brand’s ads ran on American Idol, it also got its Coke branded cups on the Jury Table. This was not an accident but a part of the sponsorship deal. The TV network embraced the new idea since it, Fox to be precise, was getting ready for a new world of DVRs (digital video recorders, which enabled the audience to skip through the ads). The partnership between Coke and American Idol ran uninterrupted for.....
When Coke signed on as a co-sponsor of Idol Across America alongside Randy Jackson’s boots and Season 7 winner David Cook’s guitar.”

Coke created a new wave in brand-event partnership and many brands followed. TV channels embraced this with great enthusiasm. Ernest Dichter (1907-1991), the father of Motivation Research, is said to have observed: “In modern communication we have to penetrate to the deeper meaning which products, services, and objects that surround us have for the individual. Only by this deep insight can we truly be creative and communicate effectively.” While there was no Ernest Dichter to find out if more Coke was consumed during the American Idol programme breaks, chances are that Coke must have tracked this carefully. When the programme lost its cache, Coke pulled the plug or should I say, removed the Coke branded cups from the Jury Table?

Coke bottles (or cup, in the case of American Idol) on the table was a new message to the marketing world and consumers on how brands can be integrated into programming. Little wonder that Coke bottles feature on the FIFA Euro 2020 media tables. It must have been negotiated as a part of the overall sponsorship of the tournament. When Cristiano Ronaldo moved the Coke bottles from the media table, he was changing the nature of the Coke-FIFA Euro 2020 sponsorship contract. It is unlikely that he was not aware that the Coke bottle on the table was not an accident but a clear advertising message. Will he next want Coke ads stopped from running during the break time? Will he object if he sees Coke logo on the stadium runners, refusing to score a goal? One wonders. Brands have had a merry time indulging in “Moment Marketing” after the Ronaldo-Coke goal, though.

Learning from Coke, other brands, too, are getting their spot on the media table. And Heineken got into the news because Paul Pogba moved its bottle away. Reason cited: he is a practising Muslim and Heineken is a beer brand, though the bottle on display was a non-alcoholic drink. He allowed the Coke bottles to stand.

It is interesting that Coke did not throw the rule book at FIFA or Ronaldo. Its reaction was very mature, showing that it has played this game many times.

Why is the bottle on the table such a big deal? Both Coke and Pepsi play a similar game. And we learnt something when we invited Coke’s Jonathan Mildenhall to the ad festival, Goafest, a few years ago. While the pouring rights for the event was with Pepsi, we were requested by Coke and its agency partners to ensure that there was no Pepsi on show when Mildenhall was in the Grand Hall for his talk. The bottles on display had to be Coke brands such as Kinley water or Diet Coke. Even the visi cooler in the hall had to be covered with cloth. The paranoia is not easy to understand but Coke knows that in this era of social media and camera-enabled phones, all it takes is one photo with a Pepsi bottle to create a Twitter storm. Though Pepsi folks are a lot “cooler” about this “message in a bottle” and bottle on the table thing, we had to ensure that Indra Nooyi got only Aquafina at the hotel where Ad Asia was being hosted in Delhi some years ago. There it was Kinley that had to be moved off the table.

You may call it hyper-paranoia. But if you are selling sugared water, you have to be sure that your pack, your logo, your design, your colour, are indeed your code of conduct, your coat of armour. Not to be played around with.

As we get ready for non-linear television content consumption, we should be ready for many more versions of “bottle on tables”. We may not even know that we have been played. Only the brand and the programme producer know that. And if Ernest Dichter was around, he could probably tell us how we got played.

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