Esports Storytelling Spotlight: Coca-Cola

“Those who tell the stories rule society.”

Plato

Coca-Cola is making noise with its first global campaign since 2016. During its rollout, Selman Careaga, president of the global Coca-Cola category, called the Real Magic campaign, “a new philosophy that will guide everything we do with our brand,” adding that Coca-Cola, “will invite everyone to embrace the magic of humanity.” 

Coca-Cola celebrated the ‘Real Magic’ launch with a 2-minute spot centered around esports – featuring gaming influencers Alan Walker, Ariel Powers and Average Jonas. The ad’s overarching theme is Coke’s role in bringing people together. 

The heavy gaming emphasis is part of the global beverage brand’s commitment to reaching Gen Z. Similarly, ‘Real Magic’ includes Easter eggs where consumers can find hidden codes to win prizes – courtesy of a partnership with Twitch.   

However, despite well over 640,000 views on YouTube and impressive audio-visual execution, the ad copy did not resonate with a majority of the gaming community. Where a large chunk of video’s 6,000+ comments echoed sentiments that ‘Real Magic’ missed the mark as an out-of-touch gaming commercial.  

Image courtesy of Coca-Cola

The following is an analysis of the ad using our esports storytelling framework. The purpose is to shed light on the relationship between Coca-Cola’s marketing story and how the ad is being perceived by gamers across the world. This approach is more constructive than one-off criticism and/or suggesting alternative versions.  

Instead, the focus is on alignment with the tenets of successful esports marketing storytelling. Where highlighting as much reaffirms best practices for all brands and marketers, not just Coke, seeking to forge an emotional connection with esports and gaming fans across the globe. 

Telling stories to win

The ‘Real Magic’ launch is juxtaposed by Coca-Cola’s $4 billion global creative and media agency review. And in the wake of a lingering global pandemic that saw sales drop by 28% in 2020, Coke is committed to expanding beyond broadcast communication and creating experiences for all types of audiences. 

As a combination of traditional sport and online gaming, esports is a distinct digital experience that is massively popular with younger demographics. Coca-Cola is keen to embrace the gaming community to lure more Gen Z drinkers and build connections with diverse consumers across the globe.  

Likewise, the ‘Real Magic’ spot employs esports storytelling to connect with younger generations who are both connected and divided by today’s increasingly virtual world. The ad is a marketing story designed to create an emotional connection between the togetherness of sharing a Coke and the unique culture of online gaming.  

Effective storytelling captures an audience’s attention and showcases brand values without coming off as overly promotional. It is an effective marketing vehicle for bridging the gap between initial awareness and ongoing affinity because everyone loves a good story. 

In Esports Storytelling for Brands and Marketers, we explored why this form of communication is well suited to entertain and inspire, while meeting business objectives: 

Marketing stories are purpose-driven narratives that portray your brand as memorable, relevant, and significant. However, many still confuse stories with closely related concepts. So, it is important to establish what a story is: An escalation of goal-directed, action-outcome sequences in a character’s life. 

Research shows that the brain responds to stories differently, causing what is known as transportation – or a feeling of total immersion in the narrative. Transportation causes you to view the story’s protagonist(s) more favorably and embrace any beliefs and worldviews presented. This effect is why stories are so effective at instilling principles and shaping human behavior. 

Worldviews matter

Applied to the world of online gaming, successful marketing stories tap into the esports worldview – a specific set of beliefs, biases, and values. This worldview represents a unique extension of online gaming culture present across what is commonly termed, the esports community.  

Where the secret to successful esports storytelling for marketers is ensuring everything falls within the same worldview. Why? Because any/all conflicts cause the community to perceive the brand message as inauthentic. Aside from that limitation, esports marketing stories are a vast creative canvas for brands seeking to capture the imagination of gamers across the world.  

Overall, ‘Real Magic’ is mostly framed within the esports worldview. Unfortunately, key deviations cancel out numerous bright spots. Such as, a story setting that accurately portrays the intense energy of gaming competitions. Excellent audio-visuals also transport the audience into a world that is authentic to a tension-filled face-off between competing esports teams. 

In fact, the ad copy vibes perfectly until one player, after dying in-game, opens a Coke and drinks it. Up to that point, the audience has been led to believe that the story depicts a competitive video game event. However, fantasy elements begin to override the plot and contradict esports-related cultural norms. 

For example, drinking Coke causes the player’s character to lay down its weapons and stop fighting. Eventually, the other characters follow suite and peace ensues. Keep in mind that competition is the core feature that distinguishes esports from other forms of gaming. Ending an event prematurely without crowning a winner is akin to undermining the integrity of competitive video games. On top of that, drinking Coke causes the stoppage of play.  

Image courtesy of YouTube

The ad’s emotional tone shifts from disbelief to relief now that peace is finally here in the aftermath of the event’s disruption. The unintended implication is that competition is a source of division for gamers – instead of a uniting force. A message which is antagonistic to the very existence of competitive video games. 

Online gaming culture also makes a clear distinction between actual violence and an in-game universe with elements related to weapons, death/dying, injury, etc. ‘Real Magic’ confuses these boundaries by implying that peace in-game is a proxy for a more peaceful physical world. While the idea sounds good, it clashes with a core maxim in the gaming community.  

Once a marketing story contradicts its target audience’s worldview, the brand-consumer connection is scrambled. To compare, imagine an ad hinting that drinking Coke will cure athletes of the urge to compete in sport and better the world in the process. 

Change for the better

Despite effective creative execution – including cameos by gaming influencers, emotionally compelling music and sharp use of CGI graphics – deviations from the esports worldview short-circuit Coke’s storytelling campaign.  

Fortunately, ‘Real Magic’ shows that Coca-Cola is committed to extending its embrace of unique perspectives to include the gaming community; and effective esports marketing stories have a repeatable structure that can be used to avoid similar missteps. 

To understand the key elements of marketing stories – including how to employ them to establish brand values and tie in a unique emotional experience – download our comprehensive guide to esports storytelling for brands and marketers


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