Coke to close its 'Park' in Japan after nearly 10 years

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Coke On connects users to services such as vending machines (source: c.cocacola.co.jp)
Coke On connects users to services such as vending machines (source: c.cocacola.co.jp)

The soft drinks giant is putting a smartphone app at the centre of its engagement strategy

Coca-Cola will close its ‘Coca-Cola Park’ online media platform in Japan in December after nearly a decade, apparently in response to changing consumer behaviour.

Coca-Cola Park is one of the largest brand-owned media properties in Japan, claiming membership of more than 13 million. Coke set the portal up in 2007 as a means of managing its various social platforms and driving traffic to Coca-Cola Journey, a separate content-marketing site. On its corporate website, Coke says its aim with Park “is to inspire more than 1 million people to visit Coca-Cola Journey each month.

Pablo Largacha, vice-president of public affairs and communications for Coca-Cola Asia-Pacific, confirmed to Campaign that the company had decided to close Park “in order to better meet consumer needs”.

Largacha said rewards and casual games had made the Park attractive, but “consumers’ behaviour and needs in the digital space have changed significantly in the past few years, and we decided that [it] was not the best platform to keep engaging consumers, especially the youth”.

In its place will be a new smartphone app and loyalty programme, Coke On. Largacha said this would offer consumers “multiple benefits through our vending machines, brand sites and Coca-Cola Journey corporate site”. He said the move would ultimately help improve communication with consumers and “generate better experiences for them”. Coke On has driven a sales volume increase of over 3 percent nationally for Coca-Cola West, he said.

Marco Koeder, digital strategy director at J. Walter Thompson in Tokyo, noted that Coca-Cola Japan’s digital activities were plentiful but often tactical, and suggested that consolidation was needed.

Coca-Cola’s following on social media in Japan, while sizeable, is small compared to the number of members its Park had attracted. The brand has around 1 million Facebook fans and 560,000 Twitter followers. The engagement level of the Park members is open to question, of course. Similarly though, around 80 percent of apps in Japan are unused 'zombies'.

Kaori Yatsu, head of planning at BBDO Japan, said it was a “bold and advanced decision” but also that rising above the ranks of the zombies would be a challenge. “It shows companies’ digital strategies are shifting to the next stage,” she said.

Koeder also called it a “smart move” given that ‘digital’ should no longer be seen as a separate entity. “Coke On connects online and offline much better and links to actual purchase and repurchase, which will allow for a more KPI/ROI-driven approach,” Koeder said. He added that it would likely “enable new innovative business strategies”.

In Germany, for example, Coke’s ‘Get Happy’ smartphone and tablet app has yielded business opportunities between the brand and small restaurants. In Japan, the company is known to also pursue non-food-and-drink-related initiatives. In one example, it recently announced a tie-up with Japanese street fashion label Soph for a branded clothing line.

Coca-Cola is Japan’s leading producer of soft drinks, controlling around 25 percent of the market. Its closest competitors are Suntory and Asahi.

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