Why Coke's YouTube channel lost its fizz

Somethin' Else's managing director explains how the world's biggest brands will eventually get it right in the battle for eyes and ears.

Last month Coca-Cola announced that it was closing its UK YouTube channel, Coke TV. Fronted by vloggers Manny Brown and Dodie Clark, Coke TV was aimed at younger audiences, a new video was released each Thursday at 4pm, featuring the pair taking on a new challenge such as learning how to be a stuntman, drone racing, or enjoying fast cars at Silverstone.

McDonald’s made a similar move last year, closing down a YouTube channel also targeted at youth audiences. With only 44,000 subscribers it’s clear that Coke TV struggled to find the appeal it might have hoped for among a similar young target group. 

Coke TV may also have struggled with the issue of authenticity

For these audiences, it’s a given that their consumption is sophisticated, multi-screen, and multi-platform. To that extent, it’s intriguing that Coke and McDonald’s each opted for a strategy that saw content focused on one platform and, in Coke’s case, releasing videos at a set time each week, as a linear broadcaster would. This possibly gives an insight into the mindsets of the agencies behind the work. Research and media planning stats might be able to pinpoint behaviour on paper, but audiences are unpredictable, ever-changing, beasts in their content consumption. You only have to look at the incredible growth of Snapchat and Instagram over the past few years to see this.

Successful content strategies need to start with a long-term vision on not just how to reach a targeted audience but how to create a long-lasting relationship. This means asking questions around the range of platforms used by that audience and then the type of content that will work on each of those platforms. Topman, Burberry, and of course Red Bull have shown with their approach that creating a strong content relationship with the audience means producing appealing video content over long periods of time, not just for YouTube but Snapchat, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter and wherever else the audience chooses to be.

These audiences are platform agnostic in the content they consume. The brands that succeed at content understand this. This means creating bespoke video content for every social platform (and maybe even broadcast TV too as Vice and Red Bull have done), with all platforms being treated equally in importance. It’s an approach that aims to let the audience, not the content creator, decide where, when, and how they consume.

Despite this setback, I would still put my money on a Coke or McDonald’s getting it right 

Coke TV may also have struggled with the issue of authenticity. With the mindset changing from a "campaign" approach to one of "always on", the strategy that sits behind a successful content campaign needs to focus more on the authenticity that the brand can offer to the content, than the blunt messaging that a campaign produces. It’s this authenticity that Coke TV struggled with. In other words, what was the reason to watch Coke TV that was something only Coke could offer or own? The content, though watchable, wasn’t original – there’s stuff like it all over the internet, and it wasn’t authentic to Coke in any meaningful way. Of course, there’ll be a PowerPoint deck somewhere that shows, from a planning perspective, the content on Coke TV represented the values of the brand, but content means exposing yourself to the audience who vote with their eyes, and the low subscriber numbers show that, from an authenticity perspective, this just didn’t cut it.

Most crucially, brands must identify the passion point that is not only relevant for their audience but where they can have true authenticity and a long-lasting relationship. McDonald’s and Coke passed the first test but failed the second. The "why should I watch" test just wasn’t compelling enough. Broadcasters have lived for years with the knowledge that good ideas can be brutally rejected by the audience. Shows that looked on paper like a hit, fail to attract an audience and are pulled as quickly as they arrived. Brands will learn that the same brutality applies to their content too. Trial and learn are the watchwords of all successful content creators as ideas are refined, improved, and tested against the audience. Brands must adopt the same approach.

This will also ensure authentic content that allows audiences to approve of the brand’s connection to it and leads to relationships that are far more powerful than most traditional advertising. Creating this relationship, becoming the thing people want to consume instead of being in the way of what they want to consume, is what’s at the heart of great content and where Coke struggled.

So, while Coke TV airs its last video for the moment, the size of the pockets of the biggest brands should mean that sooner, rather than later, they will succeed. Despite this setback, I would still put my money on a Coke or McDonald’s getting it right in the battle between content creators for eyes and ears that lies ahead.

Steve Ackerman is the managing director of Somethin' Else

Subscribe today for just $89 a year

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.com , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a subscriber

GET YOUR CAMPAIGN DAILY FIX

The latest work, news, advice, comment and analysis, sent to you every day

register free