Success Case Study: Coca Cola

Coca Cola Success Case Study Graphic

You don’t need the best product to be successful.

Or even the best service.

You only need to understand one principle of human nature to ensure your product is in hot demand today, tomorrow, and every day.  

What is that principle?

Emotion trumps logic.

Consumers don’t buy by carefully weighing up the pros and cons.

They buy based on a change in their emotional state.

Every. Single. Time.

With that said, it’s important to remember that information can help change that emotional state.

So you shouldn’t remove all the information on your website and replace it with a single image designed to elicit emotion.

But at the end of the day, it is the emotion that is most valuable. Not the information.

The words you use and the language you choose, these are stepping stones in triggering an emotional response in your customers.

And when that happens, your product will fly off the shelf.

For example, if you see a product that reminds you of a joyful and happy childhood memory, you’ll be filled with nostalgia and contentment. And these feelings will push you towards a purchase.

Make your customers feel a certain way and your sales will click into overdrive.

Still not convinced?

Let me explain how it works, one of the biggest companies in the world utilised this simple psychological hack to increase their sales – for the first time in 10 years.

All by encouraging consumers to share a coke with a friend

Share a Coke with a friend advertisement

The buying secret every business owner should know

Consumers are motivated to take certain actions because it makes them feel good.

According to Forbes, there are 5 core emotions that drive consumers to act.

These are:

#1 – Belonging

We all want to feel like we belong.

As humans we are hardwired to seek out community, and avoid feelings of isolation.

When consumers feel like they belong to a brand, this taps into the innate desire to fit in, and helps create close bonds that foster engagement and drive sales.

#2 – Trust

Trust is a vital aspect of any relationship.

This remains the case for the relationship between brands and consumers.

When a consumer feels as though a brand will stand by their word, keep their promises, and stay transparent, then conversions are much simpler to achieve.

#3 – Values

The values held by consumers must be acknowledged and appreciated for brands to thrive.

When a business appeals to these values they send the message that they are aligned with their customer’s beliefs.

This ties into the feeling of belonging, and is a core part of authentic brand/consumer relationships.

#4 – Happiness

Everyone wants to be happy.

When we feel happy, we want that feeling to continue.

There is no single way to make your customers happy. But when it happens the feeling of instant gratification they receive can be addictive, helping foster deeper relationships and driving sales.

#5 – Fear

FOMO. The fear of missing out.

This is a strong emotion that can scare people away when not utilised properly.

However, when used properly, fear, specifically the fear of missing out, can encourage people to make a purchase.

This ties back into the feeling of belonging too.

Two smiling women in pin-up attire drinking cola

Why do emotional triggers work in marketing?

Emotional triggers help sell products and services because we feel first. And think later.

This is the consumerism version of a ‘gut feeling’.

When one, or more, of these emotions is triggered they make our brains light up – responding just as marketers and business owners desire.

So, how did Coca Cola use these emotions to launch a first of its kind campaign in 2011 that was so successful in Australia that it then spread to a further 70 international markets?

They tapped, brilliantly so, into the emotions of ‘belonging’ and ‘happiness’.

Coca Cola played on our innate desire to feel connected.

They wanted to drive conversations and remind people of those in their lives who they care about.

By putting 150 of the most common names on Coke bottles (accounting for 42% of the Australian population) they spoke to the most personal thing any of us have – our name.

But not just our own name.

As people saw the names of people they love, people they missed, or people they’d lost, the feeling of belonging only strengthened.

  • Belonging in a relationship.
  • Belonging in a friendship.
  • Belonging in a family.

In turn, these feelings stoked a happiness that each consumer felt on a personal level.

With feelings of happiness linked to the desire to share, as the New York Times reports, positive news is shared more often than negative news across social media, Coke first stoked feelings of joy and togetherness.

Which naturally led to the desire to share.

While marketing is typically broad, the presence of names on a can of Coke was the most personal approach possible, while still having mass appeal.

With 78% of consumers more interested in connecting with brands who create unique and personalised content, Coke struck an emotional chord.

The ‘Share a Coke’ campaign made people feel famous and personally touched at the same time.

They felt like they belonged to something bigger, while reminding them of the relationships they belong to on a personal level.

And because of these feelings, they felt compelled to share.

The end result? Spectacular.

  • In the first summer of their campaign Coke sold more than 250 million bottles and cans of coke in Australia, (population 23 million)
  • Consumption among young adults increased by 7%
  • Traffic to Coke’s Facebook site increased a mind-blowing 870%
  • Page likes on Coke’s Facebook page increased by 39%
  • Coke’s Facebook community grew globally by 6.9%
  • Over 500,000 ‘Share a Coke’ photos shared on social media
  • More than 6 million virtual Coke bottles shared online
  • An additional 25 million Facebook followers

And that’s only counting the measurable impact of Coke’s ‘Share a Coke’ campaign.

Tracking Google searches for the term ‘Share a Coke’ saw a massive spike between June and August in 2014 (years after the initial 2011 launch of the campaign, showing Coke’s success in stoking the same feelings with subsequent campaigns over the years).

Google Trends data for 'Share a Coke'

That means more exposure, more attention and more word of mouth buzz that continued to drive sales.

This is reinforced by the massive upswing for the search terms ‘Coke’ and ‘Coca-Cola’, showing that Coke’s success wasn’t limited to their campaign, but helped improve their overall brand recognition too.

Google Trends data for Coca Cola

What these figures represent is a strong desire from consumers to search out the Coke brand.

And this is an excellent indicator of their likelihood to interact with Coke’s brand in the future.

With 353,000 virtual bottles of coke shared on Coke’s campaign specific website in this period, Coke used a powerful human emotion to rejuvenate their sales.

This ultimately helped Coke to reverse a decade long decline in US sales, with a 2.5% increase in sales in the two years following the launch of the ‘Share a Coke’ campaign.

And, if any more evidence is needed, limited-edition bottles of coke are still selling on eBay for 733% their original price.

Now that’s a successful campaign.

Your product or service doesn’t have to be better, just make people feel better

You don’t have to have the marketing budget of Coke to achieve the same results.

Remember, it’s not what you do as a business, but how you make people feel.

Emotions are at the heart of sales.

No matter what you sell, whether it’s warm hats, door mats, or small cats, the ability to make your customers feel something will dictate your overall success.

Think of it this way.

Did Coca Cola suddenly taste better, become healthier, or even cheaper?


Coca Cola’s product remained exactly the same.

With the choice available on the market, consumers could have chosen a drink that tasted the same, cost the same and hydrated the same.

Just as they could have paid less, opted for a drink with greater health benefits, or one with far superior hydrating properties.

But they didn’t.


Their sense of ‘belonging’ and ‘happiness’ was stoked by Coke’s creative campaign.

Rather than change their product, Coke’s addition of 150 of the most popular first names to Coke bottle branding across Australia focused on how they made people feel, not what they provided people with.

For consumers, the simple act of seeing a name on a coke bottle – whether it was their own name, the name of a close friend, the name of an old friend, or the name of a loved one, triggered a powerful emotion.

In the words of Lucie Austin, former director of marketing for Coca Cola South pacific, “My reaction was childlike…I knew many others would have the same reaction.”

By focusing on making their customers feel good, Coca Cola was able to create their most successful marketing campaign to date.

Which means you can follow this path and tap into the psychological needs of your own audience too.

How to use this Coca Cola success case study to grow your business

In 2019, where the number of businesses is constantly growing, there will always be a competitor with a similar product, an equal quality of service, or a similar price.

How you make them feel is what will differentiate you from your competitors.

If you make them feel good, they can justify any purchase to themselves.

Use this to set yourself apart from the competition.

Don’t race your competitors to creating the best product for the cheapest price.

Disregard the race completely and take the smarter approach.

Utilise the power of human nature and make your customers feel something to let them justify their purchase to themselves.

This is reinforced by the Head of BBC Storyworks, Richard Pattinson, who says that, “Triggering as many emotional responses as possible in a story is the key to successful branded content campaigns.”

So don’t fight the impossible battle of convincing someone to do something that they don’t want.

Marketing doesn’t work when you throw money at the wall trying to convince everyone to invest in your products and services.

Marketing works, and spectacularly so, when you find the most effective way of making your audience feel something.

Make them want to do something, because it makes them feel good. It makes them feel as though they belong and makes them trust you.

Remember, without making their product different in any way, for the first time in a decade, Coke sales increased.

They didn’t achieve this using a bigger budget or a new marketing approach.

In fact the secret they used isn’t unique to a business of their size.

It’s something you can use to improve your sales and create a meaningful relationship between your business and your customers.

People are subjected to hundreds, if not thousands of ads each day.

To stand out from the crowd your marketing message must cut through the noise by making your audience feel something.

  • A sense of belonging.
  • Happiness.
  • Aligned values.
  • Trust.
  • Fear of missing out.

To paraphrase an expression made famous by Simon Sinek, people don’t buy what you sell. They buy how it makes them feel.

Sell the way your product makes someone feel, not just what it does, and you’ll have the secret to success on your side.

Ready to take your marketing to the next level? Read about the secrets of upselling here to turn your current customers into converts who find your products and services irresistible.