Coke in China Case Study: Making Coke sales fizz in China.

In China, Coca-Cola faced a unique set of challenges in the eCommerce space. Activating Full Flow marketing helped the brand tackle obstacles head on. 

 The client

The name Coca-Cola speaks for itself – but like any brand, it faces a unique set of challenges in different markets. In China, Coke was grappling with the effects of the pandemic, as well as local challengers and age-old adversaries. The brand looked to Reprise Commerce for help.  

The challenge

Coke took a hit during the pandemic. Global volumes were down by 25% and marketing budgets were cut.  

In China, this was compounded by customers moving to local competitors. The Genki Forest brand had a big influence in the culture-centric market, capturing a larger share of the convenience store shelf. Genki Forest was also dominating the online sphere, with eCommerce live-streaming and product placement. At the same time, Pepsi had a sizeable market share.  

 Coke was undergoing a digital transformation in China, and eCommerce platforms were a key pillar. How could we futureproof Coca-Cola’s eCommerce business, starting with less than a $50,000 budget for Coca-Cola Zero Sugar?  

We teamed up with partner agencies including UM, Reprise, Matterkind and Acxiom to find a solution. 

What we did 

We broke our solutions down into distinct strands. 

Planning around local eCommerce trends 

Though the pandemic had taken its toll on sales and budgets, there was cause for optimism. Chinese soft drink eCommerce sales were growing 34% year-over-year, and this was higher than both supermarkets and convenience stores combined.  

What’s more, Coke Zero was showing 78% growth on eCommerce platform, compared to only 9% across other soft drink categories.  

If this wasn’t a wellspring for eCommerce marketing activity, nothing was. 

A digital eCommerce strategy 

We established a defend-and-attract strategy. We chose to defend Coca-Cola No Sugar and maintain trust and sales with loyal, constantly purchasing consumers.  

Meanwhile, we aimed to attract and convert competitor consumers from Pepsi, and recruit brand-new consumers from Genki Forest.  

Audience targeting was founded on four key traits: 

  • People who don’t just consume soft drinks to quench thirst but to enhance an experience. 
  • Individuals excitedly pursuing a better mental and material quality of life.  
  • Consumers who have one answer to their needs and problems – mobile. 
  • People who connect with brands that share their vision of a better world. 

 Understanding the audience.

Before we could target an audience, we needed to talk their language and understand their voice. We collected 3,000 customer review records and gained consumer insights at both product and category levels.  

We also looked at the consumption of products – the times when a customer bought and drank a Coke. This helped us work out what inspired people to buy.  

Additional eCommerce consumer insights helped us build a new audience for an attract strategy. Beverage lovers who shop online frequently, and often choose different drink types, were identified as a core audience.  

Finally, a messaging plan was built to communicate branding, promotions, seasonality and product differentiation.   

Testing and optimizing identified potential sources of growth through the eCommerce data platform.  

Through a test-and-learn strategy, we identified high switchability and ROI across key competitors and potential audiences.  

We then focused on optimizing these audiences to convert on display, feeds and search, before implementing an addressable content engine to improve messaging. Through test-and-learn, we constantly optimized our approach to create effective, Full Flow marketing.  


The results

During the 2020 Double 11 festival – a major Chinese shopping holiday – our Coke Zero campaign outperformed the category. November is traditionally a low season for the beverage industry due to cold weather, and audience uptake had previously dropped 18% compared to June campaigns. 

But by optimizing audience targeting, traffic, creative and the store landing pages, the team had some great results: 

  • Cost per click (CPC) was optimized by 12.25%. 
  • Return on investment (ROI) hit 2.72. 
  • Sales lifted from 10% to 52% in the ‘no sugar’ category. 

On specifically, Coke No Sugar achieved: 

  • 54% year-on-year growth in gross merchandise value. 
  • 3.5 year-on-year return on investment.  
  • 361% growth in paid customers.  

Key lessons

By activating Full Flow marketing, we were able to provide: 

  • Better experiences. 
  • More efficient media. 
  • Relevant content. 

This helped us overcome a range of challenges for Coke and bring the brand to a new audience. 

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