In the all-competitive battle for share of throat in the soft drinks market, time to market is crucial in the launch of a new product.  When Coca Cola decided to introduce the Powerade brand to Europe, the challenge was to devise and implement a launch programme in less than 90 days.  Given the competitive context, this brand had to hit the street running.  This would require the full commitment of internal Coca Cola sales and marketing teams across Europe, the active support of the bottler and distributor network and a receptive marketplace.

The campaign was designed to take the leadership position in the emerging and highly profitable sports drink category and in so doing to create a positive “halo” effect for parent The Coca Cola Company (TCCC).  The programme embraced technical teams working on a new formulation for Europe, packaging, brand design and communication experts working side by side.  A key role for the PR team was to maintain communication within the development team and to ensure cohesive communication across Europe at regional and country levels.


Communication needed to be tailored to multiple audiences.  From a corporate perspective the launch fuelled interest in TCCC’s competitive position against Pepsi and required careful management to ensure a consistent position and response from all countries.  TCCC wanted a strong and unambiguously positive growth story in the European and international business media.

The positioning and claims of the product (in terms of sustained performance) needed adaptation to conform to local market regulations and all product claims had to be substantiated from scientific research .  This meant working with internal TCCC experts to review product claims and descriptors by each market such as in France where the liquid 8  sub-brand could not be used. 

Consumer communication needed to reflect different national and cultural characteristics and provide core material that could be quickly assimilated by local teams and supplemented with local data to ensure relevance to their markets.  Furthermore the launch coincided with the outbreak of war in Afghanistan, which made achieving visibility an even greater challenge.

Planning & Strategic Approach

The approach involved creating a powerful business story, which could be adapted and built into strong consumer-facing material both for regional and country implementation.

A phased programme was developed starting from the “bang” of the corporate story, to lay the foundations, following through into consumer marketing and advertising in each market to coincide with product availability.  The objective of the initial announcement was quality rather than quantity of media coverage and this involved the targeting of selected media and journalists.  The strategy for consumer communication was to focus on a research-based story designed to appeal to the target consumer of young sports-mad men aged 16-24.  This would be complemented by sponsorships at local market level according to predetermined criteria, to ensure brand-fit.

Use of Research:

The central mechanic to generate content beyond the news announcement was a specially commissioned piece of European research, “The Powerade Performance Report”. This was a research study, conducted with the target consumer groups in six key European markets, and designed to illustrate the need for hydration and to educate the core market. This worked on two levels, for the corporate story it established the growth opportunity in energy drinks for TCCC in Europe, and provided a dimension for business coverage independent of the product launch. For consumer outlets and titles, the study provided a range of “compare and contrast” fun headlines which would appeal to outlets read by the target consumer groups – based around differing tastes and lifestyle habits (eg: British guys are five times more likely to start the day with a hangover than German guys).

Campaign Execution

Activity was implemented at pan-European level by the core Weber Shandwick/TCCC team and in country markets by TCCC country PR teams, using the core toolkit to support both internal and external communications.  The campaign involved partnering closely with advertising and brand identity agencies, along with internal Coca Cola teams and project managers for production.

Corporate story kick off:
Due to the importance of timing and the need for a strong and unambiguous positive story for the European business audience, an exclusive briefing was given to the Wall Street Journal Europe.  This was followed by coverage via key pan European TV outlets (CNN, Sky), to reach the widest possible business audience.

Integrated consumer communication:
Core content was created to provide the basis of the consumer launch.  This involved an integrated PR, advertising and promotional “teaser” programme with the theme of “Get Up, Stay Up” devised to reflect the sustained performance property of the brand.  News hooks and angles from consumer media were based on the Powerade Performance Report and ranged from myths about couch potatoes to extreme sports and popular mainstream angles such as football and sporting heroes with universal appeal to the young male target.

Viral game:
To support the teaser campaign and to generate interest online with media and target consumer audiences, the PR team created a viral game.  Offline media relations fuelled interest in the Powerade web site.   The mechanic is a stand-alone website – – which is a football game based upon the Arcade classic, Space Invaders. The website would be typically passed on via email with the website’s address being attached as a hyperlink. 

Strong use branded visual on/offline toolkits:
The toolkits were, deliberately, highly visual – the aim being to bring the brand to life and communicate the key messages using the universal language of pictures. It consisted of a brand “mood” video (used for media briefings, internal communications and, in some country markets, for advertising); an interactive CD (containing all photographic and audio visuals from the PR and advertising/marketing supporting the brand).  

The campaign has now entered its second phase where sponsorship activity is providing a fresh layer of consumer-facing activity.  Sponsorship activity includes the Istanbul Marathon (Turkey) and Ice Hockey (Sweden). From Q1 2002, Weber Shandwick will be leading a pan-European PR campaign created around Powerade and the sponsorship of three leading European footballers, Steven Gerrard (UK), Thierry Henri (France) and Luis Figo (Portugal).


Kick off: Excellent business coverage achieved to establish the launch as a growth story for TCCC. Including, The Wall Street Journal, and pan-European business TV, notably CNN which ran a package and interview despite the launch falling in the first week of the Afghan war, and the BBC World Service, which reaches an international audience in 70 countries. This was supplemented by strong online coverage.  All business coverage focused on the market potential for energy drinks in Europe and positioning TCCC as a leader. The total audience reach for the business story was 52 million.

The Powerade Performance report: This was used by country teams to generate strong coverage across both trade and mainstream press.  Up to a dozen “hits” across national and trade outlets were achieved in each country within the month of launch.
· UK– Financial Times, Marketing, Campaign, Marketing Week, The Grocer, Retail Newsagent, The Publican
· Spain – Expansión, IPMark, Todo Pymes, Europapress, ATD 3000, Yahoo! Spain
· France - AFP Newswire
· Germany - FT Deutschland x 2, FAZ, Kieler Nachtrichten, Lebensmittel Zeitung, Werben und Verkaufen, Spiegel Online

Viral Game:  notably in Spain, where early use of the viral game contributed to 15,000 hits on the site in the first three days. Within the first three weeks of launch, 175,000 hits on the site were recorded, of which 75% were generated via Spain’s use of the viral game.


As a result of the first phase of activity, TCCC has reported that initial orders for the product from bottlers across Europe were significantly above expectations.

Jon Chandler, Head of Corporate Communications for TCCC EMEA said, “This came to market very fast, requiring us to work across tight timelines and all disciplines. The communications package worked extremely well and was a key part in galvanising the launch team and indeed the business to move forward. It was highly successful in meeting all its objectives with stakeholders both in Europe, and globally, where the investment community has been watching TCCC in new markets.”