How Coca-Cola Invested ~$1M in a Gaming Video Ad That Didn’t Resonate with the eSports Audience

October 29, 2021

Key Takeaways

Coca-Cola has been one of the first big brands that tapped into eSports sponsorships. Back in 2013, Coca-Cola signed a contract with Riot Games to tap into its League of Legends audience. Since then, the brand has been sponsoring numerous teams and events. eNASCAR partnership has been one of the latest additions to Coca-Cola’s eSports sponsorship portfolio.

  • Channels — Distinct Channels for Different Audiences: Coca-Cola has various social media accounts for different audiences and markets. The brand used to have social accounts (on Twitter and Instagram) called @CokeSports dedicated to the gaming audience. However, the company has retired them around 2019. Coca-Cola kept its Twitch account with the same handle, however, the brand hasn’t posted anything since 2014. Coca-Cola turns to its @Coca-Cola_Racing accounts when it wants to update its followers about the next iRacingd event and prefers not to introduce gaming to its main social accounts with over 112M followers worldwide.
  • Messaging — New Brand Platform Geared Towards Gamers: In October 2021, the brand introduced a new communicated platform calling to seek the #RealMagic. The brand piloted the communication campaign with the video geared towards Gen Z and the gaming community. Coca-Cola partnered with top eSports influencers who were featured in the video and helped drive campaign awareness through their own social platforms. 
  • Messaging — Shallow understanding of Target Audience: While the general public positively received the video and appreciated its creativity, the gaming community and Gen Z felt it was “out of touch” and “cringey”. Zoomers and gamers thought the ad was inauthentic, based on false assumptions and stereotypes. They took their opinions to social media signaling how the brand missed the mark on understanding their gaming behaviors and values. 

Research shows that eSports fans are very attuned to brand sponsors of their favorite teams and events. 

Big Brands Seeing Large ROI on Esports Sponsorship

Total brands’ investments into eSports have been growing at a +39% average annual growth rate. 

Intro to Esports

Coca-Cola has been one of the pioneering big brands that tapped into eSports. Back in 2013, the brand signed a partnership with Riot Games targeting League of Legends fans (Source). 

In 2020, Coca Cola signed a sponsorship contract with eNASCAR. As part of the deal, the race has been titled eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series. Coca-Cola has been sponsoring NASCAR races for over 60 years, so it only seemed logical to tap into virtual racing.

For almost a decade Coca Cola communicated with its gaming audience solely on dedicated eSports platforms and separate social media accounts. However, in October 2021, the brand released a promo video featuring top league gamers as a part of its global brand update campaign.

Coca-Cola sponsors several eSport teams, with eNASCAR being the most recent and heavily support addition to its eSport sponsorship portfolio.

In September – October 2021, Coca-Cola sponsored its second iRacing Series, which generated 1.2M views, with 73% coming from Facebook. Notably, all the views come from external channels with no contribution from Coca-Cola’s owned channels.

Coca Cola did not leverage their owned media channels to drive attention to any of their eSport sponsorship activities, despite having more than 114M followers.

The brand runs Twitter and Instagram accounts dedicated to racing with 110K and 8K followers respectively. While these accounts are primarily dedicated to NASCAR content, the brand occasionally posts about iRacing. 

@Coca-Cola Racing | @cocacola racing

During the 2021 iRacing Series, Coca-Cola shared a few invitations to watch the Live streaming and reposted a couple more announcements from other accounts. 

Instagram account is the mirror of Coca-Cola Racing on Twitter where the brand posted the same iRace announcement posts.  

Coca-Cola has a Twitch account called CokeeSports which has been inactive since 2014. It’s worth mentioning that that brand also used to have Instagram and Twitter account with the same handles that were retired around 2019.

In 2021 Coca-Cola took a different direction and made gaming a central theme of its brand-wide communication. Coca-Cola revealed its new brand platform that revolves around the idea of Real Magic. The brand says there will be a series of videos and activations supporting this brand message. 

The debut video features top eSports stars (DJ Alan Walker, Team Liquid’s Aerial Powers and Average Jonas) and a partnership with Twitch (Source). 

While the campaign has been getting a lot of attention from the general public, the response from the gaming community and Gen Z struggle to relate to the sentiment.

For the first time, gaming content made it onto Coca-Cola’s main social accounts.

The brand launched a promo campaign leveraging the hero video and distributed it across Twitter, Instagram and Twitch. Coca-Cola tagged its partner gamers, who were also featured in the video in its Twitter ads.

Post #1 | Post #2 | Post #3

Coca-Cola aired several more Twitter ads targeting gaming audiences and using its new #RealMagic hashtag. In the first three weeks of the campaign that started on October 3rd, the brand spent over $775K on Twitter ads alone.

Post # 1 | Post #2

Coca-Cola aired the 15-second video ad on Twitch, supporting it with a $120K advertising spend (Oct 3 – 28th).

Impressions: 3.6M | CPM: $28

Contracted influencers also posted the video and included the #RealMagic campaign hashtag on their channels — Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok.

Post #1 | Post #2 | Post #3

The general public sentiment towards the ads has mostly been positive (55%), and only 10% of the US population perceived it negatively.

Coca Cola Video Ad | Has Coke’s Real Magic ad ‘set the brand back years with the gaming community?’

However the primary target audience of this ad, the gaming community, struggled to relate to Coca-Cola’s video. The comments on social media along with some expert opinions shared the following:

Has Coke’s Real Magic ad ‘set the brand back years with the gaming community?’

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