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Lessons from Coca-Cola

October 18, 2010

Coca-Cola can save lives. Not because of the medicinal powers of its recipe at the origin of its invention, but because it is ubiquitous globally, and as a result, it can act as a case study for marketing social causes. At the latest New York TEDxChange, Melinda French Gates asked what Coca-Cola can teach non-profits. If Coke can be found in the most remote corners of Africa, why can’t NGO’s and governments aiming to distribute medicine or condoms do the same? In addition to harnessing real-time data and local entrepreneurs, the key is aspirational marketing. Current health and development campaigns are all about avoidance (ie “Use a condom, don’t get aids”), but even when communicating about something that people need, you have to make them want it. And to do that, there are two tricks: create an emotional connection, and embed it into popular culture. Both of which Coca-Cola masters.


It’s not the first time that the tools of behaviour change marketing are sought for public health initiatives. Proctor & Gamble is another company whose tactics are used as case studies for social good. A couple of past issues of IDEO’s Patterns also provide useful food for thought: how can public policies be designed to ensure private individual action? And how can social taboos be transformed into design opportunities? Both discussions hold lessons that, like Coca-Cola, non-profits could benefit to learn from.

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