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How can established, longstanding businesses attract younger shoppers? It is the question that company after company is attempting to tackle, often in ways that can seem a little strange and impenetrable to some members of older generations.

This past February, for example, Coca-Cola launched its newest foray into marketing to Gen Z, with the Coca-Cola Creations campaign. Coca-Cola Creations is about “new expressions of collaboration, creativity and cultural connections,” according to press materials. This expressionistic goal manifests as limited-edition beverages, supported by celebrity-tied digital marketing, special Instagram filters, and even a clothing line created in collaboration with companies like the streetwear brand Staple. Skeptical of whether Gen Z consumers, or anyone really, would want to buy an $84 sweatshirt or $78 sweatpants bearing the Coke logo? That attitude might reflect your age: The $120 Staple-collab bomber jacket and $120 Staple x Coca-Cola reflective jacket are both shown as sold out on the company’s website.

Everyone needs a jacket, so maybe such sales are reasonable in a way. But Coca-Cola is primarily a beverage company, and its Coca-Cola Creations campaign is mostly about drinks. More specifically, it’s about a series of flavors that are usually described more in terms of vibe than taste.

The company released four Coca-Cola Creations flavors since its launch. The first was called Starlight. Coca-Cola described Starlight in a press release as a “reddish” beverage that provides a “subtle cooling sensation.” Next came the “pixel-flavored” Byte, followed by Marshmello, a flavor created in collaboration with the Grammy-winning electronic dance music producer and DJ Marshmello. This one “captures the feeling of mixing chart-topping beats.”

The most recent release is called Dreamworld. It’s a collaboration with DRESSX, a company that makes digital-only clothes. This flavor is advertised as one that “explores the realms of the surreal, the imaginary, and the otherworldly.” As might be obvious then, of course it comes with a “Dreamworld-inspired digital fashion collection for the metaverse via a partnership with DRESSX and more.”

So was it a successful campaign? If the drinks themselves got mixed reviews, the campaign certainly got people talking. There are countless articles and Reddit posts trying to puzzle out exactly what pixels and dreams taste like, and why. The company has not released any sales figures for Starlight, Byte, Marshmello, or Dreamworld. But in July, Coca-Cola raised its full-year revenue forecast in the face of better-than-expected company-wide sales.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think Coca-Cola Creations is a good way to market to younger consumers?
  2. How else could an established beverage company tailor its products and marketing to Gen Z shoppers?
  3. What are some ways that a company could go wrong with a marketing campaign like this one?

Source: Danielle Wiener-Bronner, “Why Coca-Cola Doesn’t Want to Tell You What’s in Those Weird Flavors,” CNN, September 7, 2022; Danielle Wiener-Bronner, “Coca-Cola’s Latest Bizarre Flavor Is Here,” CNN, August 10, 2022; Elliot Lewis, “Coca-Cola’s Newest Flavor ‘Dreamworld’ Supposedly Tastes Like Dreams,” NBC News, August 11, 2022; “Coca-Cola Launches Global Innovation Platform Coca-Cola Creations,” Beverage Industry, February 17, 2022; Jaya Saxena, “Coca-Cola Please Calm Down,” Eater, August 10, 2022; Charlotte Beach, “Coca-Cola Releases First Flavor from Its ‘Creations Platform’ in a Desperate Bid to Appear Hip & Cool,” Print, February 18, 2022; Uday Sampath Kumar, “Coca-Cola Raises Revenue Forecast as Soda Demand Defies Price Hikes,” Reuters, July 26, 2022