SOURCE: Danielle Weiner-Bronner | CNN
Coca-Cola is launching a new limited-edition flavor for gamers, a demographic increasingly pursued by mainstream food and beverage brands.
For this new flavor, called Coca-Cola Ultimate, the soda maker partnered with Riot Games, which publishes the multi-player online battle arena game League of Legends. Ultimate will be available in US and Canadian stores starting June 12 for a limited time, in regular and zero sugar varieties. Globally, it’s available just in zero sugar and is rolling out this week.
Coca-Cola (KO) a few years ago slashed its portfolio to focus on its core brands, including Coke. But full-sugar soda has been a sleepy category for years, so Coca-Cola (KO) has to work to get new people into the mix.
The line of abstract flavors, each paired with a digital experience, is designed to drum up excitement for Coke among younger consumers by focusing on music and online games.
Ultimate is supposed to appeal to gamers in particular. And like most of Coke’s other limited-edition beverages, the actual flavor will remain under wraps.
Other wacky flavors from Coca-Cola’s Creations platform, which started rolling out about a year and a half ago, include Starlight, inspired by space; Dreamworld, supposed to taste like dreams; and Byte, which is allegedly pixel-flavored. Coca-Cola has also partnered with musicians Rosalía and Marshmello on limited-edition flavors.
As in most of those cases (Marshmello’s flavor had notes of strawberry and watermelon) Coca-Cola won’t share what Ultimate is actually supposed to taste like.
“We’re never really going to answer that question” in a “straightforward” way, said Oana Vlad, senior director of global strategy at Coca-Cola. “They’re mystery flavors,” she noted. But they always have to taste like Coke. “The flavor profile is always, we say, 85 to 90% Coke. And then that 10 to 15% twist of something unexpected.”
Ultimate is supposed to offer drinkers the taste of “experience points,” which are earned by League of Legends players based on how much time they spend playing the game, according to a company statement announcing the product.
The flavors are not designed to become permanent offerings, noted CEO James Quincey during the Redburn CEO conference in November. Instead, they’re supposed to help build buzz around the company’s core product.
“They’re more engaging and more interesting, demonstrably, than a flavor, a Coke with vanilla or something,” he said. “Testing the boundaries … that’s about engagement with consumers.”
Coca-Cola’s marketing approach seems to be working. In the first quarter, trademark Coca-Cola grew across all geographic regions, according to the company, thanks in part to interest from the coveted Gen Z market.
“If I were to take the US … we can see that the growth in the Coke franchise is not just being driven by increased recruitment, but increased engagement and recruitment of Gen Z,” he said.
The flavors are also a way to reach people online, in games and beyond.
The limited-time offerings have been paired with virtual experiences. Starlight’s can featured a QR code that granted customers access to a holographic Ava Max concert. Dreamworld drinkers could buy virtual merchandise for their online avatars.
“The digital component … is really at the heart of what Creations is,” said Vlad.
With the platform, Coca-Cola is leaning into music and gaming — which has long proved fertile ground for beverage companies.
Red Bull has been active in the esports world for years and PepsiCo (PEP) has developed a product, Mountain Dew Game Fuel, specifically for gamers. Recently, mainstream snack makers have been betting on gaming, as well.
And the relationship between Riot and Coca-Cola is deeper than the limited-edition flavor. The two companies announced a multi-year partnership in March of last year, and had previously partnered from 2014-2016.
With Creations, Coca-Cola is able to market to gamers in more ways.
Byte, the “pixel-flavored” cola, debuted in Fortnite. Marshmello’s flavor appeared on the gamer Loserfruit’s Twitch channel.
Ultimate, naturally, has ties to League of Legends. Players can earn Ultimate-themed emotes — kind of like in-game reaction Bitmoji — when they achieve certain goals in the game. A QR code on the bottle directs people to an Ultimate Instagram filter.
Ultimate is “the crown jewel of our ongoing and evolving partnership,” said Eric Krause, global head of marketing for League of Legends Games at Riot Games.
This article was originally published on CNN. You can view the original article here.