A Slam-Dunk For Coke Zero

Mid-March hits and the madness begins. This is one of the best times of the year for college basketball and avid sports fans. Anything is possible. A number one seed can fall to an underdog, and often an unlikely contender can rise to the top of the ranks. The thrill of victory and agony of defeat keep viewers enthralled. Not only do sports enthusiasts benefit from the exciting nature of the NCAA tournament, but so do brands that utilize social media.


To start, let’s address why March Madness is prime time to utilize social media:

According to www.NCAA.com,

“The NCAA Tournament has grossed a record 166 million total social impressions across Twitter and Facebook, through the second Thursday [of the tournament] for a 36% increase over 2014.”

According to Neilsen, the 2015 NCAA tournament had its highest viewership in 22 years, averaging 11.3 million viewers total viewers.

According to CNN Money,

“On social media, March Madness had 350 million impressions across Facebook (FBTech30) and Twitter (TWTRTech30) — a 45% increase over 2014.”

With such high levels of viewership, impressions, and social media usage, this creates a HUGE opportunity for brands to capitalize on the three-week period of March Madness. Social media is a quick and easy way for fans to view and discuss contents of basketball games.

There are two categories brands fall into when using March Madness to create engagement. They are 1.) Sponsors and 2.) Non-sponsors. Sponsors are those who are directly affiliated with the NCAA Tournament, and have more freedom when using terms associated with the tournament, such as “March Madness” or “Final Four”. Non-sponsors have to tiptoe around legal issues, but can still create interactions by creating associations through images and non- trademarked terms. This method requires creativity, but the brands can reap many benefits by associating themselves in the cultural buzz of March Madness.


Coke Zero is a sponsor of the NCAA Tournament that I feel did a fantastic job using March Madness to create engagement. Coke Zero launched its #OpenToTry campaign as the social companion to the brand’s larger “You Don’t Know It Till You’ve Tried It” campaign. The #OpenToTry campaign encourages college basketball fans to embrace rivalries within the tournament by being open to try becoming “fremenies”.

So how did Coke Zero do this?

Coke zero created a “Frenemies” jersey, and at events during the NCAA Tournament took pictures of fans on opposing teams together in the “Frenemies” jersey.

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Coke Zero posted these photos as well as other graphics to their social media accounts. Fans, in turn, also posted the photos of themselves with opponents in the “Frenemies” jerseys. Coke zero also changed the cover photos of their Facebook and Twitter pages to feature the NCAA logo and associated tournament terms such as “Final Four”. Additionally, Coke zero created a “drinkable billboard” that dispensed cups of Coke Zero to consumers. Curious as to what this means? Well, here is the teaser.

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The Billboard Coke came up out of a bottle and followed a straw that said “Taste It” in cursive to a dispenser on the opposite sides where fans could fill up a refreshing glass of Coke Zero. Not only did this generate a massive amount of buzz on social media as it was teased, but fans generated even more excitement as they posted about it on their social media pages. For instance, take this Coke Zero and basketball fan on Instagram who posted a photo with the drinkable Billboard:

On the same note as the drinkable billboard, Coke Zero had drink a drinkable rivalry contest as fans competed during the Final Four Concert to see who could drink a Coke Zero the fastest. However, this competition was done on their phones. Coke Zero selected “frenemies to compete against one another. The microphone on the smartphones was used as a straw, and the race was displayed on a big screen at the concert.

Coke Zero also created the first ever drinkable commercial that allowed fans to use the Shazam app during the ad to watch a Coke Zero be poured into a glass on their phone screen. As fans engaged with the advertisement, the app generated a mobile coupon for a free 20 oz Coke Zero at participating retail stores. All encompassing, this was the first ever drinkable campaign.



Businesses can take a lot away from Coke Zero’s campaign and social media. This begs the question then… What made Coke Zero’s campaign so successful? (Besides that it was the first drinkable campaign, of course.)

1.) Interactivity

Coke Zero made their campaign very interactive with consumers. The generated a large amount of engagement, which led to consumers posting about the experiences with the brand’s campaign on their personal accounts.

2.) Multiple components

Coke Zero did not only have one interactive piece of their campaign, but multiple. They kept the surprises coming, and as a result, Coke Zero stayed top of mind.

3.) Leverage Your Resources

Coke Zero utilized their sponsorship with the NCAA Tournament. Coke Zero placed the NCAA logo on the images they created and reinforced this by posting profile images featuring these logos as well. Having the Coke Zero and NCAA logos side by side creates a strong association in the consumer’s mind.

4.) Creativity

Coke zero was extremely creative with the drinkable aspects of its campaign. Pushing your brand to explore uncharted territory, if done correctly, can make it stand out in a very crowded industry space.


Overall, I think Coke Zero did a phenomenal job utilizing March Madness to create social media engagement. Some might, in fact, call it a slam-dunk in the NCAA Tournament. Now after creating this post, I’m definitely #OpenToTry a Coke Zero right about now!









  1. Fun and organized post! The number one thing that stood out to me is Coke Zero’s creativity throughout March Madness, more specifically, a drinkable billboard and drinkable commercial. I think their “Frienemies” social media idea was a great, temporary, idea for this time of the year, but the two creative initiatives mentioned before are sustainable. We have been reading a lot that no longer is having a social media account and presence enough, but rather what you do with these accounts that creates business value. This is a perfect example of Coke Zero melding marketing (drinkable billboards and drinkable commercials) and social media to push their brand beyond geographic restrictions. For example, I may not be able to see the billboard, but I get a great sense of what it it use through Instagram posts.

  2. This is so interesting! Admittedly, I didn’t spend much time watching the NCAA tournament, but I think that Coke’s ad campaign is brilliant. As someone who doesn’t normally drink soda, I think that I drinkable billboard is so cool and would totally try it. I feel like all of the activities that Coke did during the tournament (the billboard, frienemies, the Shazam app) all contribute to Coke’s overall idea of happiness. Although happiness was never mentioned in any of these promotional activities, they all have something to do with it. The Frienemies idea brings people together and encourages them to forget their differences to have fun, the billboard is so cool that you can’t help but feel happy when you see it and the Shazam app is an awesome and interactive way to encourage users to utilize new tech to earn coupons. Great blog post!

  3. Awesome thrilling post. haha. March madness goes madd for ads!!! It is crazy the number of ads that appear all over the news, social media, tournament town setting, and on billboards etc. Cokee Zero did an awesome job with social media engagement and taking advantage of it during March madness. I would love to try that drinkable billboard now. haha Frienemies is also a grand idea for bringing everyone together having fun no matter what. Nice post.

  4. Really great analysis. I think it was less about March Madness and more about Cokes innovativeness. Might consider rewriting the title as a result. Nice post, though.

  5. Really interesting post! It’s impressing the amount of social media that March Madness generates. I had the March Madness app and they showed many advertisements of many different companies. It is also very interesting the approach that Coke used to create awareness of their new campaign. I was unaware of the drinkable billboard, really cool idea! Coke is a company that has been able to take advantage of the power of social media and used it effectively in different campaigns throughout the years.

  6. @galleyne0409 I like your idea that happiness is a way to categorize all of the initiatives Coke Zero did with this campaign. The interactive aspects Coke Zero used really created personal connections with consumers and was able to make them feel involved, hence as a result causing them to feel content.

    @emikosmithga you’re right that these innovations allow Coke Zero to push beyond geographic restrictions. Viewing Instagrams and other photos/comments posted on social media allow people to see a consumer’s perspective and thoughts on them. Also, as people see Coke Zero retweeting videos and photos, it incentivizes people to generate content and interact with their handles in hopes that their posts are then reposted by the handle as well.

    @geraldckane I changed the title to “A Slam-Dunk for Coke Zero”. I’m glad you enjoyed my analysis. Thank you for the suggestion!

  7. This is a really cool post! I think it is really interesting how Coke leveraged non-traditional social media strategies in order to make the campaign really interactive. One thing that stood out to me is how the Shazam app can be used for more than just recognizing songs, but commercials as well. I think that Coke did a great job of incorporating this innovative technology into there campaign. I wonder if more brands with utilize Shazam technology in the future. Another thing I would be interested to see is how the brands you described as “non-sponsors” incorporate March Madness into their SM strategy without getting into legal trouble as you mentioned.

  8. Great breakdown at the end. To me, the multifaceted approach goes an extremely long way to not only having your message be more visible, but be more genuine. Having a lot of ads and logo representation is great, but having your campaign feel like an authentic experience is a lot more of and accomplishment and in the end, is what is going to make a real financial impact. Coke’s share campaign is one that did a good job of getting conversation flowing across multiple platforms, but now it looks like they’re doing an even better job at piggy-backing off of a popular event and connecting with sports to cover their obesity bases too.

  9. Really great post Elizabeth! Like @galleyne0409 I didn’t watch much of the NCAA tournament, but I think you did a great job of illustrating how successful Coke’s campaign was. I really like how Coke utilized a number of social platforms in order to reach large audiences and make their campaign interactive with consumers. Their campaign was so innovative and different so it encouraged users to share Coke’s messages, further creating more brand awareness during their campaign.

  10. Terrific post incorporating quotes from outside sources and photos and videos posted on the different social media sites. This year’s NCAA tournament serves as another example of Coca-Cola’s social media prowess. I did find it interesting how Coke Zero was a March Madness sponsor as opposed to regular Coca-Cola. Do you think this is because consumers are becoming more health-conscious and prefer drinks with lower sugar and calorie content? Coke Zero certainly was impressive leveraging its sponsorship. However, I would be curious to hear of some examples of companies that were not sponsors yet still reaped the benefits by associating themselves with the social media buzz of the tournament.

  11. Great post on how Coke dominated the conversation in regards to being a top advertiser this year. I think your final point on creativity was one of the most important aspects of the whole campaign. As we’ve been talking about in class, social media has essentially reached its peak saturation at this point. Everyone uses social media, everyone knows what it is, and more importantly everyone has heightened expectations of what they can get out of social media. Brands need to constantly break the mold over and over again, and Coke breaking out of its comfort zone and trying all these new different campaigns really is a testament to the social media landscape we’re in today. There’s a new normal and firms need to do so much more to both impress us and to make sure that impression lasts.

  12. Amazing post! You did a great job explaining the whole campaign and mentioning what were the key aspects that made it so successful. Being from outside the U.S. and not really following sports, this was the first time I was aware of what March Madness was and how much social media buzz is created around it. I think Coke Zero was so successful in its campaign since at the beginning it had nothing to do with their product. The #OpenToTry hashtag was directly related to the rival fans and, even though their images had the Coke Zero logo at the bottom, the campaign had nothing to do with promoting the drink just the brand. The second phase of the campaign was focused on developing the cool drinkable billboard. This phase was definitely created to promote the product, but by doing it in such an innovative and fun way, customers went crazy and started talking about it in social media.

  13. Great job explaining the marketing plan. This is a great plan by coke made the approach all about connecting with fans both in person and through social media. I would want to try the product simply because it came from a billboard. Great innovation by them to push the experience that much farther.

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