With its new 'Taste the Feeling' anthem, Coke attempts to revive its musical past

A week ago Coca-Cola ditched its 7-year-old “Open Happiness” slogan and launched a new brand campaign to unite all of the brands — Diet Coke, Coke Zero, and so on — under a single umbrella. The package comes wrapped up in a decidedly retro bow: A new jingle, called “Taste the Feeling.”

To be fair, we’re not supposed to call it a jingle. Sung by Australian up-and-comer Conrad Sewell and produced by frequent Coke collaborator Avicii, the song is both shmaltzy pop fare and a link to Coke’s ancient musical heritage. Most famously, Coke struck gold with its 1971 “Hilltop” ad featuring the song “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke.” That tune would go on to be a global hit for the band the New Seekers (and, spoiler alert, recently regained cultural relevance as the kicker to the “Mad Men” finale).

In the ’60s, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Leslie Gore,  Jan & Dean and others all sang versions of “Things Go Better With Coke” at the height of their fame. The first Coke print ad ever appeared in 1895, when the drink still contained traces of cocaine, and featured a celebrity: music hall singer and actress Hilda Clark.

“It’s incredible to think how Coke has created these moments in pop culture,” said Coca-Cola’s head of global music Joe Belliotti, who has an incredibly cool job. “Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, ‘I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.’ What are we as a music team going to create that has the staying power and is as powerful as what Coke has done in its history?”

Hilda Clark and a bump of Coke

The answer, Belliotti hopes, is “Taste the Feeling.” Coke tapped agency Music Dealers to create the song, which was written by Scott Fritz, Jeremy Bircher and Josh Jones. The brand bought the rights and had Avicii, a Swedish DJ, doctor up several versions in the studio. The result is as airy, snappy, bubbly and light as the fizz in your glass. “It’s impressive work,” said Clay Johnson, CEO of Music Dealers. “A ton of people collaborated globally to make this thing happen, and we’re really happy to be a part of the core.”

“I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” it is not. But that was 1971; this is 2016.

“When you talk to the average consumer who remembers those classic campaigns, the first thing you recall is the music. We wanted to make music a thread through what we’re doing with ‘Taste the Feeling’,” said Belliotti. “Music is the most liquid thing in the world. It’s extending the message into different places in pop culture.”

The song is currently available for download on the Coke site; a new, somewhat edgier version will be available for purchase in the iTunes in March. Versions of it will appear in Coke campaigns for the Rio Olympics and the Euro Cup. It is being translated into languages for foreign markets all over the world.

This is not a new strategy for Coke: For the last Olympics, Coke teamed up with hit-maker Mark Ronson in a global effort called “Move to the Beat.” With Belliotti, Coke is also working with music streaming service iHeartRadio on First Taste Fridays, a podcast “to help teens discover and debate new music with their friends over an ice-cold Coke,” according to the site.

“I credit Coke a lot for prioritizing music and creating a team to work on it,” said Belliotti, whose background includes stints in both the label and agency worlds. “Brands are still figuring out how to use music and the music industry is still figuring out how to work with brands. Having a head of music at every brand is hopefully going to be the future.”

Not everyone is sold on the song, however. “Is it the right approach in 2016 to put together an anthem that ends with their mantra and tagline?” asks Geoff Cook, founding partner of Base Design. “Is it resonating with their target, which I am assuming is millennials? Such a highly produced approach may not be consistent with this era of transparency and authenticity.” Cook points to Apple, with its penchant for breaking new artists in its best commercials, as a company with a savvier approach to music marketing.

There is also, said Cook, a bigger problem on Coke’s hands: a societal shift toward healthier living. “The branding, the marketing, the music can’t distract us from what’s really the core question, which is: ‘Do I want to be putting Coca-Cola into my body?’” Indeed, that sentiment was echoed online when Internet pranksters hijacked Coke’s “Taste the Feeling” GIF maker on Tumblr.

Still, Coke appears to have made an impression with the new campaign. Since January 18, the day before the campaign reveal, “Taste the Feeling” has been mentioned more than 100,000 times on social platforms Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, according to data from BrandWatch. The hashtag #TasteTheFeeling was mentioned nearly 95,000 times and accumulated over 75 billion impressions. Coca-Cola purchased so many sponsor mentions that the hashtag #Sponsored (required by law on all paid social media posts) appears in more than 24,000 tweets and retweets. Talk about thirsty.

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