‘Zero’ is Big Win for AKQA

Interactive agency AKQA has won online advertising and Web development duties for Coca-Cola Zero, the new male-focused zero-calorie beverage Coca-Cola will launch in June.

Coca-Cola’s choice came after a simultaneous online/offline review, which consisted of two rounds of competition. On the offline side, Crispin Porter + Bogusky won print and television duties. The company didn’t reveal which other agencies were in contention, but those involved said Coca-Cola cast a wide net as it looked at various possibilities. Spending for the account wasn’t disclosed, but an AKQA exec characterized it as “sizeable”.

Coca-Cola Zero is the company’s high-stakes entry into what’s thought to be a burgeoning category — the diet soda for young men. While beverages like Diet Coke skew older and more female, industry-watchers believe younger people, and men especially, would prefer a zero-calorie soda of their own. Competitor Pepsi’s entry into the space is Pepsi One, a reformulated version of which will hit stores around the same time as Coca-Cola Zero. Because of the particular demographic group involved, it appears a significant part of the marketing war between these two products will take place online.

“Our work has had a strong appeal for a younger male audience,” said Tom Bedecarré, CEO of AKQA, citing the agency’s work for Microsoft’s Xbox, Halo 2 and Nike. “I think there was a sense that AKQA was an agency that really understood how to create an immersive brand experience online.”

The Coca-Cola Zero account is the first big win for AKQA’s New York office, which the agency has recently staffed with high-profile creative talents Lars Bastholm and Rei Inamoto. The agency expects to add around 10 new employees in the office to service the account.

“We just opened our new office on Spring Street in SoHo, and Lars and Rei are real magnets in terms of talent, so we’re pretty confident we’re not going to have any problem filling our positions,” said Bedecarré.

Coca-Cola is aiming for an innovative approach to reach a young audience, so every conceivable medium — video, rich media, SMS — is on the table, Bedecarré said. AKQA has held preliminary meetings with CP+B, but they haven’t yet come up with specific plans.

“They really want to push the envelope on creative, so we have very high expectations of the work that’s going to come out of this. They see it as a really big opportunity for the brand,” he said.

Already Coca-Cola has worked with auction agency Kompolt and eBay to set up a charity auction for a preview “sample pack” of Coca-Cola Zero. Bidding begins March 29 and will continue through early April.

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