When Coca-Cola’s ad agencies ran out of ideas for a marketing brief, the company decided to turn to an online community to crowdsource some ideas.

By using co-creation Coca-Cola was able to generate thousands of new ideas from a global community of creative individuals, giving it a huge amount of content to inspire future marketing activities.

And the drinks brand isn’t the only major business using co-creation. BMW has a minisite that allows people to contribute to its current projects.

So to find out more about why Coca-Cola moved away from the traditional agency model and its on-going work with co-creation community eYeka, I spoke to the Asia Pacific regional director for sparkling and activation platforms Leonardo O’Grady…

Why did you first decide to use co-creation?

Obviously Coke is accustomed to seeing consumer-generated content as we have huge online communities, but it’s always been seen as a way to drive engagement rather than a possible source for brand building or for external messaging.

It was originally something we did on a big scale in Asia, but was largely done as an experiment. 

We had trouble cracking some positioning for Coke, so thought we would open it up and invite the creative community to interpret this brief as our agencies were having some difficulty.

And it was kind of a win-win for us, because even if we don’t get content that we can pick up and use right away we knew we’d have a number of new perspectives on a common brief that we could use to develop our own ideas.

So we opened it up internationally to Latin America, Asia and North America, and we got responses from them all.

So it was to try and get marketing content rather than a new product?

Exactly, it was positioning for Coke and we invited people to create a film, print, illustration or animation against that brief.

The results were amazing; we had around 3,600 responses, which we weren’t expecting at all.

We were also blown away by the quality of the submissions and to be honest some of the film quality was better than we get from our global agency partners.

How did you pick a winner?

In the end we got it down to about 10 high quality submissions to choose the winner from, and to make it more interesting we invited the creative directors and heads of marketing from some big companies like Diageo, Nokia and so on to come and evaluate the work.

Our Chinese office then picked it up and they used the winning idea for a broader consumer commercial idea. 

They invited Chinese consumers to interpret the brief in their own way and do China proud, and they had something like 1m people contribute ideas.

So did you use the ads from eYeka in your marketing activities?

We aired one of the winning ads in Asia, which probably wasn’t the most stunning creatively but was very on-brief.

What was the most surprising result from using co-creation?

We had three measures for success and I think what was most interesting was that we achieved great results against all of them.

Firstly, we wanted to get a significant amount of content that we could use, and we got more than 3,000 submissions.

Then we also needed it to be high enough quality that we could air it and be proud of it, and it absolutely was.

And thirdly would it test well against some of our commissioned work from agencies? To find out we tested it on our standard protocols using Millward Brown’s Link score and the winning team came in the top 10% of ads globally. 

The winning ad outperformed a lot of our commissioned work, so it paid of very well for us across all criteria.

Furthermore, we achieved something like a 900% productivity gain against briefing through traditional means.

That’s if you compare all the costs of using co-creation versus our usual agency and production fees for just one piece of copy, never mind 3,600.

So how is it costed? Did you pay per response or one overall cost?

We paid a flat fee that includes tapping into the creative community with the brief, responding to any questions and then some prize money for the winners.

How does social media tie into co-creation? 

The whole process is very social by nature, as the brief goes out and there’s a conversation around it within the creative community.

Then you begin to get the slow trickling in of content and they’re all looking at one another’s work and commenting on it.

Some of it also ends up being posted on the web outside the eYeka community, so other consumers then also respond to that.

As a result some of the creatives take their work away and improve it, so through that whole period you can see that the content is continually evolving due to the discussions in the community, which is just phenomenal to watch.

Why not just use your 54m Facebook fans? Does co-creation with a creative community mean you get higher quality content?

I can’t judge the Facebook community because they’re so great, but I think it comes down to finding people who actually want to generate content.

With eYeka people have opted in to be asked to create an idea, and I would be reluctant to solicit too much from people on Facebook.

In general there’s a small group of people in the world who want to create and come up with content, then there’s another group who want to curate content, but the mass of people just want to judge.

I think on Facebook it’s probably a better environment to have people judge and evaluate.

And that’s probably part of the reason that people become Facebook fans of Coke, as they want to be able to influence some of those decisions.

Did you find out anything surprising about what consumers think about the Coke brand?

It was interesting to see so many different interpretations of the brief, and see the discussions around what other people thought was on-brand or off-brand.

And we use some of the things we learned when briefing our internal teams and our external agencies.

Also, we’re aware that we don’t have the same control over the brand image that we used to, as consumers are easily able to create their ideas and upload them on the web.

So with that in mind, we found it interesting that there’s the possibility of outsourcing work to this community that understands the brand and that we can engage to help develop and create ideas for us.

It’s an amazing demonstration of how creativity is becoming democratised when you’re creating a brand.

It allows us to find the right people out there and work with them to develop content rather than commissioning specific pieces of work.

Who retains control over the responses? Could someone stick it on YouTube if they wanted?

I suppose we could place strict controls on the content we receive, but we didn’t and we don’t plan to. A lot of the stuff is put on blogs or on film sites, which then generates more conversations and reactions.

One project we did focused on Coke’s energy credentials and if you Googled Coke and energy all these videos came up from all of these creators.

But this wasn’t something we paid for, this was natural search results.

So allowing people to have freedom over what they do with the content creates conversations and engagement that we could never commission.

We think it’s fantastic, and we’re very lucky that people care about the brand enough to create this content and put it out there with their name on it. And that’s the kind of thing that you don’t want to shutdown.