NEW YORK — The Coca-Cola Company is looking to keep its pace of innovation in high gear fresh off a year that saw the beverage giant run some of the earliest experiments with generative artificial intelligence (AI) in marketing. At a media event Tuesday evening, the brand unveiled the first permanent addition to Coke’s North American portfolio in over three years, the raspberry-flavored Coca-Cola Spiced, along with the latest limited-run Creations drop, a soda inspired by tears of joy that will be sold exclusively on TikTok Shop.
While the strategy behind the two drinks differs — one is permanent, the other ephemeral — both show Coke trying to push new products to the market faster to stay on the ball with shifting consumer tastes, particularly when it comes to digitally oriented Gen Z. In the past, a mainline Coke offering like Spiced would take over a year to develop, whereas now the process is done in just a few months, according to Shakir Moin, marketing chief at Coca-Cola North America.
“The mindset, I think, especially with our marketing transformation agenda ... is that we’re a 137-year-old startup,” said Moin on a panel with other executives. “A fundamental transformation that we’ve taken on is focusing on bolder, faster and fewer initiatives.”
The speedy rollout of Spiced was supported by insights stemming from Creations, a platform Coke debuted two years ago that focuses on far-fetched flavors based on concepts like space and dreams. Creations has helped the broader organization “relearn innovation,” Sue Lynne Cha, vice president of marketing for the Coca-Cola trademark in North America, told Marketing Dive in an interview. Coke has also worked to streamline collaboration between its marketing arm and research and development teams.
“We removed the silos,” said Cha. “We are partners in crime and that makes it more fun.”
Spicing things up
Coca-Cola Spiced, which hits shelves Feb. 19 and comes in regular and zero-sugar versions, aligns with renewed consumer interest in flavored cola. Chief rival Pepsi is also ramping up marketing in the flavored category through a campaign supporting Pepsi Wild Cherry that recently featured a Las Vegas Sphere takeover ahead of the Super Bowl.
Spiced is meant to blend the signature Coke formula with a “burst of refreshing notes from raspberry and spiced flavors,” per press materials, although the taste may be milder for some than the name would imply. Packaging keeps the classic Coke trademark, supplemented by a swirl of vibrant pink and purple raspberry hues. Spiced cans are also taller and sleeker to put forward a premium positioning.
“It’s not spicy but it’s the boldest innovation that we’ve done,” said Cha. “We know consumers, they’re more and more willing to try unique flavors.”
The debut of Spiced is supported through a marketing campaign that includes a custom Snapchat lens and messaging emphasizing the beverage’s sensory experience, aiming for a show, don’t tell approach. To that end, Coke will host an event in New York in a few weeks that uses an immersive AI experience to display the expression of people trying the soda for the first time, though details on the activation were scant.
“The campaign is going to be all about feeling versus telling,” said Cha. “We don’t want to tell consumers what it’s like to drink a Coca-Cola Spiced, we want to tell them how they feel so we can connect more authentically.”
On the theme of feelings, Coke’s latest Creations bet attempts to capture the flavor of euphoric tears — as well as budding interest in TikTok’s e-commerce marketplace. Happy Tears Zero Sugar, which drops on Random Acts of Kindness Day on Feb. 17, draws on joyful moments like a teenager receiving a college acceptance letter or a friend sending a positive text. The cola carries a “splash of salty minerals” to emulate the taste of tears, according to a press release.
Coke is taking a different approach for this Creations offering, selling the sentimental soda on TikTok in the form of “hype kits” that come with tissues to wipe away tears and other merchandise. The idea is to capitalize on the unboxing genre of social media content where creators unpack goods they receive piece by piece. Happy Tears Zero Sugar also stands out for its silvery packaging that features a single iridescent teardrop rolling down from the rim of the can.
Influencer partnerships and a TikTok effect promoting acts of kindness round out Coke’s efforts on the ByteDance-owned app that is trying to get its Shop platform to take off in the U.S., a tough market to crack for social commerce. Happy Tears Zero Sugar will be available in the U.S. and U.K. only, differing from some past Creations.
“It’s a much more limited quantity … but it’s a great way for us to learn,” said Oana Vlad, global brand strategy lead for the Coke trademark and Creations, on the panel. “It’s meant to be a little bit different for us and we’re really excited to learn from it.”
Creations, which has produced eight products since 2022, is a risk-taking venture, though one that has appeared to pay off. Creations beverages, on average, engage young consumers about twice as much as mainline Coke initiatives, Vlad said. Over 75% of those consumers are new to the Coke trademark.
“We are re-introducing the brand, in a way, to the next generation,” said Vlad.