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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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Being one of the most well-known, most valuable brands in the world, Coca-Cola has done a pretty good job. Even when the recession hit and consumers cut back on every area of spending, Coca-Cola managed to stay ahead of other famous brands such as McDonalds, Marlboro and Disney. In the last decade sales started to drop due to increasing consumer concern on weight and health problems caused by drinking Coca-Cola. The brand identity lost its clarity and became uninspiring. The company decided to turn over a new leaf and design a marketing campaign that goes back to the basics of drinking Coca-Cola: the ‘Open Happiness' campaign. The aim of the campaign was to simplify every aspect of Coca-Cola as a brand, and express this in highly creative and refreshing ways (Coca-Cola, 2012). The campaign started in the United States but soon it became a unique worldwide campaign emphasizing different aspects of Coca-Cola in different parts of the world, but all with the same message: spreading happiness by drinking a Coke.

At the University of Singapore, a Coca-Cola vending machine was installed on campus. The biggest difference with normal vending machines was the text on the front of the machine which said “hug me”. Instead of paying with normal currency, people have squeeze the sides of the machine in a specific way, and in return the machine provides you with a free can of Coke. Public displays of affection are highly discouraged, not only in Singapore but all over Asia, although they are on the rise among the youth. By trying to create a positive and pleasurable psychological association between affection and soft drinks, Coca Cola designed a campaign which was not only a huge success in Singapore, but went viral in a large part of Asia. Their sales greatly increased through the use of one basic emotion in their marketing campaign: happiness (Coca-Cola, 2012).

The aim of this paper is to analyze the success of Coca-Cola's ‘open happiness' campaign in Asia. In the analysis the use of happiness and other psychological concepts that could have influenced the campaign will be discussed. The role of differences in expressing public affection around the world will be investigated and a comparison will be made between this campaign, and western Coca-Cola campaigns.

In order to analyze the success of the Coca-Cola ‘open happiness' campaign, it is important to understand the concept of brand love first.  Prior research shows that brand love is associated with positive word-of-mouth and forgiveness of brand failures (Thomson, MacInnis & Park, 2005). Brand love is a higher order construct defined by multiple cognitions, emotions and behaviors, and self-brand connections (Escalas & Bettman, 2003). Batra, Ahuvia and Bagozzi (2012) developed a structural equations model of the brand love prototype, expanding the understanding of the consumer experience of brand love. Ten major components are distinguished in the brand love prototype: quality; values and meaning; intrinsic rewards; self-identity; positive affect; natural fit; emotional bonding; willingness to invest; frequent use; and length of use. When talking about brand love, the first thing consumers mention are the brand's qualities. Trustworthiness and good-looking design are important predictors of brand love. Brands are more likely to be loved when connected to existential meaning, cultural identities or self-actualization. Strongly-held values and existential meaning are therefore another important component of brand love. A brand provides intrinsic rewards through creating psychological or emotional states such as happiness, as being part of using the product. Intrinsic rewards and extrinsic rewards both have a positive influence on brand love, but only when combined. When brands only provide extrinsic rewards, brand love decreases (Batra, Ahuvia & Bagozzi, 2012). The consumer's direct relationship with the product, and the brand's facilitation of interpersonal relationships reflect the function of loved brands to express existing identities and desired identities (Escalas & Bettman, 2003). Self-identity therefore, is an important predictor of brand love. Consumers experience brand love with positive emotions and ‘warm hearted' feelings. They also experience a harmony with the brand, and a sense of natural fit. Thomson, MacInnis and Park (2005) found that feeling emotionally connected to a brand serves as an important predictor for brand love and that consumers can experience separation distress when they anticipate that the brand will be taken away from them. Consumers invest a lot of time, energy and money into loved brand, integrating it into their identity and increasing attachment with the brand. A key aspect in determining brand love is the amount of time you spend with the product. Frequent thought and use of the product are important and create more strongly held attitudes toward the product. Finally, Batra, Ahuvia & Bagozzi (2012) argue that having a long history with a brand can give the brand a place in the consumer's personal identity. Past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior and thus implies higher loyalty to loved brands (Thomson, MacInnis & Park, 2005).

Holbrook and Batra (1987) developed a model to understand the role of emotions in advertising effects. Ad content leads to emotional responses, which will change the attitude toward the ad and eventually the attitude toward the brand. Ad content can directly influence the attitude toward the ad and the brand, and emotional responses can directly influence the attitude toward the brand. Emotions in advertising are important mediators of the relationship between ad content and attitude towards the brand. Pleasure and arousal can greatly increase the attitude towards the brand (Holbrook & Batra, 1987). Rutledge, Skandali, Dayan & Dolan (2014) proposed a model on the subjective well-being of individuals. Momentary happiness can be explained by the combined influence of recent reward expectations and prediction errors arising from those expectations, rather than by the current earnings. Feelings of happiness tend to be greater in the moment when things are going better than expected. Advertisers thus should focus on exceeding expectations by providing little moments of happiness, to build valuable consumer relationships.  

Another important predictor of the success of Coca-Cola's ‘open happiness' campaign in Asia comes forth of cultural differences between Asian and Western countries. Public displays of affections are acts of physical intimacy in the sight of others. The acceptability differs between different cultures and displays of affection on the street are likely to be discouraged compared to displays of affection in private places. In Europe, the United States, Australia and other western countries it is quite common to display affection such as holding hands, hugging or kissing in public. In many Asian countries inhabitants live up to the rules of Confucianism, in which public displaying of emotions or affect is highly disliked. Over the years the younger generations deviated from traditions although holding hands, hugging or kissing in public is still regarded as unsightly. The integration of public displays of affection in Asian culture is slowly increasing but nevertheless still an issue.

Coca-Cola is a highly popular brand and branding of its products is recognized in the Singapore market. The brand has grown fast for many years and gained popularity among Singapore consumers. Coca-Cola products are not only bought for their quality but they make consumers feel like they are part of something unifying and big. One of the major setbacks for Coca-Cola is a decrease in sales due to negative publicity concerning health. Health issues are a key concern for customers and Coca-Cola is therefore likely to lose customers. In order to keep up the sales and tackle negative publicity, the company set up a promotional campaign to achieve its market plan objectives. Zero calorie products are advertised to target consumers with health concerns. The company introduced the ‘open happiness' campaign in order to help consumers develop a positive reaction towards the brand. This campaign included the ‘hug me' strategy, where consumers can hug a vending machine for a free can of Coke, to increase sales among youth. The main goal of the campaign was to create a positive association between happiness and soft drinks. The designed strategy was a huge success in Singapore, went viral in a large part of East Asia and thus greatly increased Coca-Cola's sales.

The success of Coca-Cola's marketing strategy can be explained by the three major components mentioned before: the concept of brand love; the use of the emotion happiness; and the attitude towards public displays of affection in Asia. According to Batra, Ahuvia and agozzi (2012) brand love can be explained by ten components. Good-looking design and trustworthiness and other quality measures are the first thing consumer mention when describing their love for a certain brand. For the open happiness campaign, Coca-Cola redesigned their products and went for a basic and straightforward design by mainly using the bright red color and white logo which can be easily recognized all over the world. The company's quality team inspects the process of bottling and canning to make sure quality standards are adhered, and further tackled consumers health concerns by advertising their zero calorie products. Strongly-held values and existential meaning are important for brand love and with the ‘hug me' campaign people are encouraged to publicly display affection by hugging a vending machine. In this way Coca-Cola addresses people's cultural identity, leading to increased brand love. A loved brand provides intrinsic rewards and creates a state of happiness. Consumers drink Coca-Cola because they like it and therefore they are intrinsically rewarded. Self-identity is a predictor for brand love. Talking about a brand with others is part of identity-construction (Holt, 1997) and the ‘hug me' campaign elicited high levels of word-of-mouth, which increased brand love. Consumers experience brand love with positive emotions and with the use of happiness in their campaign, Coca-Cola managed to address this component of brand love. Consumers experience Coca-Cola as a unique and irreplaceable brand and it would be missed if lost. They are emotionally bonded with the brand which is another factor that increases brand love. Frequent thought and use of the product create more strongly held attitudes toward the product and Coca-Cola makes sure that their brand is always on top of mind. Products are sold in hotels, supermarkets, restaurants and bars, and grocery stores. The company provides fridges en freezers for preservation and advertises on television, radio and in newspapers. The last important predictor for brand love is the length of use. Having a long, shared history can give the brand an important place in the consumers personal identity narrative. Coca-Cola has been a top leading company for decades and therefore also addresses this component of brand love.

Holbrook and Batra (1987) found that ad content can directly influence a certain attitude toward a brand. Emotions are an important mediator of the relationship between ad content and attitude towards a brand and especially pleasure and arousal can greatly increase consumers attitude toward a brand. Coca-Cola's ‘open happiness' campaign and corresponding ‘hug me' campaign mainly emphasis on emotions and happiness. By doing this they will improve the consumers attitude toward the company. Rutledge, Skandali, Dayan & Dolan (2014) proposed a model on happiness of individuals. An equation was developed suggesting that momentary happiness can be explained by the combined influence of recent reward expectations and prediction errors arising from them. In order to build valuable customer relationships, advertisers should focus on providing consumers with little moments of happiness that exceed expectations. Brands must strive to engage in meaningful relationships and provide an experience of value to be remembered for. Coca-Cola's new campaigns do not only strive for happy consumers, they also provide a valuable en memorable concept with the ‘hug me' machines, exceeding one's expectation and therefore increasing momentary happiness which will establish a positive association between happiness and Coca-Cola.

The last important predictor for the success of the ‘open happiness' campaign in Asia comes forth of the differences in displaying public affection. Public displays of affection are very likely to be seen in western countries, but still highly discouraged in large parts of Asia. Over the years the younger generations deviated from the older traditions and the integration of public displays of affection in Asian culture is slowly increasing, but it still is an issue nowadays. By publicly encouraging people to display affection Coca-Cola manages to address this problem which leads to an increase in people drinking Coca-Cola. The brand addresses consumer's cultural identity and gives existential meaning to the product. The campaign elicits high levels of word-of-mouth and evokes happiness and emotional bonding. Since public displays of affection are not an issue in western countries, the success rate for the ‘hug me' campaign would have been much lower than in Asia, showing that Coca-Cola made a smart move setting up different campaigns all over the world but still uniting them with the general theme of happiness.

Even major brands such as Coca-Cola experience loss of identity and decreasing sales. Whether caused by the economic recession, increasing health concerns by consumers or other reasons, a brand can lose its clarity and become uninspiring. Coca-Cola tackled this problem with a new marketing strategy that did not mainly focus on increasing sales, but also focused on tackling underlying psychological aspects causing the problem. They designed a worldwide marketing campaign with the goal to create a positive psychological association between happiness and soft drinks. The company created different marketing strategies for different cultures, focusing on the most important causes of sales decrease in each area. The ‘hug me' campaign that started in Singapore became a huge success all over Asia which can be explained by three components: the use of the brand love principle; the use of the emotion happiness; and the cross-cultural differences in displaying public affection. They key question for brand managers is how to turn liked brands into loved brands, and how to maintain that relationship. By focusing on specific elements of the brand prototype factors as discussed by Batra, Ahuvia and Bagozzi (2012), managers can create suitable marketing strategies for their brand and increase their sales and likability. In order to do this they should focus on: facilitating passion-driven behaviors; self-brand integration; creating positive emotional connections with the brand; anticipated separation distress; and creating a sense of long-term relationship with the brand. When designing a new campaign, cultural differences should be taken into account and importance of using emotions in marketing shouldn't be overlooked. The Coca-Cola company shows that through unconventional marketing such as the ‘hug me' campaign or the ‘open happiness' campaign, stimulating feelings of happiness can lead to great increases in sales and improve the love for a brand in general.

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