Why mobile is critical to Coca-Cola: talking QR codes and SmartLabels with Coca-Cola’s Tom Daly

“My job is pretty simple: I have to make sure that if consumers have a mobile phone in one hand, then I need to put a coke in the other.” Tom Daly is global group director for mobile at The Coca-Cola Company. He is in charge of spotting trends and guiding the mobile strategy worldwide. Right […]

Date published
March 21, 2016 Categories

“My job is pretty simple: I have to make sure that if consumers have a mobile phone in one hand, then I need to put a coke in the other.”

Tom Daly is global group director for mobile at The Coca-Cola Company. He is in charge of spotting trends and guiding the mobile strategy worldwide.

Right now, top of the agenda, is the drive in the US, headed by Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) to make products, and their ingredients, more transparent for consumers, called SmartLabel, Daly tells ClickZ.

Mobile – specifically quick response (QR) codes and mobile web – is core to this ground-breaking SmartLabel initiative, backed by 30 leading grocery manufacturers, that aims to put QR codes, each linking to a dedicated mobile web page with all product details, on 30,000 products by the end of 2017.

So how important is mobile to Coca-Cola?

It is critical. Mobile is the technology and, more importantly, the experience shared by 3.8 billion people around the world every day. So, if you are a brand like Coca-Cola which is a brand that is shared 1.9 billion times a day then there is a gap.

My job is pretty simple: I have to make sure that if consumers have a mobile phone in one hand, then I need to put a coke in the other.

Coke’s mobile strategy was first articulated in the 1920s by Robert Woodruff [president of The Coca-Cola Company from 1923 until 1954], who described the role of the company as putting its brands “within the arm’s reach of desire”.

The only thing that is different today is that is at the end of that arm – between it and desire – is a mobile phone.

So our fundamental choice is: do we want mobile to be a barrier to, or an enabler of, desire?


Video: In 2011, a Google-led project re-imagined Coca-Cola’s classic 1960’s and 1970’s “Hilltop” advertising campaign, by allowing people to send a Coke to a stranger from their mobile phone.

So when did you realize this?

I have been on this thread for about six years. But in some parts for the world, such as Germany or Japan, Coke was using mobile to communicate with customers as far back as 10 or 12 years ago.

So what are the best mobile channels?

I work for Coca-Cola Company, so I don’t work in any of the business units. I am based in Atlanta, so I am not part of the US team any more than I am part of the team in GB, China or Brazil.

So my role as a corporate guy is to look at trends. What are the things that are going to work most often, for most people, in most places? So I think about messaging, that includes SMS – which is still very relevant in many parts of the world – I think about mobile web, apps, location, video and QR codes.

When it comes to QR codes I might be the last guy thinking about them, but I believe they are super valuable, very utilitarian, and super useful for consumers.

I think it is only in the US where people still query the effectiveness of QR codes – in Europe they’re a common site in shop windows, on event or plane tickets and product packaging. So how does Coca-Cola use them?

So our present challenge is to work out how we will use QR codes with packaging.

Coca-Cola in the US has announced its support with an initiative called SmartLabel which is run by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) [launched December 2015].  

Is that nutrition based?

It will be. Fact based, nutrition, ingredient and allergen information, certifications and other things that are relevant to consumers in their shopping journey.

We are one of more than 30 companies that have signed up to SmartLabel. 

How long from signing up to getting it on the cans?

I can’t commit to a date, but we are working on packaging of some products in the US today. Other companies are there already.

Hershey’s, for example, has been very active in this space and I’ve seen SmartLabel QR codes on their packages in retail environments.

We have worked with them very closely to understand all the standards and rules around how this would work in a multi-marketer, multi-brand environment.


Image: Holiday Hershey’s Kisses (November 2015) were used to pilot the SmartLabel QR code which hyperlinks to the product’s dedicated mobile friendly SmartLabel page for instant detailed product information. Coca-Cola and 30 other brands are adopting this model.  

These are QR codes?

These are SmartLabel-branded QR codes that lead to a template-driven, but brand-owned web site.

So when you scan the QR code/SmartLabel it takes you to a consistent presentation of factual information about the brand and nutrition details specific to that product.

And this is all on a mobile website?


And have you had feedback from other countries is that they are likely to follow suit?

Maybe not on use packaging to communicate that type of information. Other marketers will use different methods to engage with consumers for different reasons.

They might use QR codes or they might use image detection or augmented reality. The principle is interacting with packaging via a smart device.

Does it help that packaging is a free medium?

It has that benefit, but I’m not sure it’s the driver. We can use them to do something useful for everyone – useful for the brand and useful for the consumer.

It must be useful for the consumer otherwise they won’t engage. It’s also helpful for the retailers who are selling Coca-Cola, the people who do don’t have the information or don’t want to be answering the questions on our behalf.

Is every QR code unique?

It’s unique to the SKU – for example a 12 ounce Coke vs 8 ounce Coke.

Is it feasible to make a unique QR code to that item?

That is a printing challenge. That is an operational challenge rather than a technical or conceptual one.

It is an interesting thing to be able to do… but no.

And what are your other favourite mobile channels?

Messaging capability e.g. the work we do with Snapchat or Line. Also Social media, of course – the Coca-Cola brand has a very robust presence on Facebook and other social platforms.

People want to engage with it and share their passion for the brand in a way that is truly and genuinely unique.

It’s a fun space to watch – people are just sharing their stories.

Image: A US Tweet-a-Coke promotion with Regal Cinemas enabled consumers to send a Coke voucher via Twitter redeemable at participating cinemas.

And how do you find the level between taking part in the conversation, rather than spying or interrupting?

It’s about adding value. It’s the same with everything we have been talking about. It requires that you are respectful of the community that you are a part of. It may sound cliché or even trite, but it is the only way to do it.

The mobile phone is a very personal device, and consumers are paying for the access – generally speaking, we are not subsidising them.

Whatever tariff they are paying per month – especially a teen who may be on a pre-pay package – you can’t just start gobbling up their minutes and their data. You are just not going to win, so it is silly.

Do you ever use zero-rated data?

Free to end user, zero-rated data and promotional programs have been successful. We have the capability to put pin codes under the cap, so consumers receive some free mobile data with each purchase.

That has been successful with teens around the world. It is the modern Maslow’s hierarchy of need. Access is more important than food.

Image: Coca-Cola Turn Up promotion in Ghana 2015. With the right code under bottle tops customers could win a smartphone, mobile airtime or a bottle of Coke. Source DAXEnet.

What, even more important than Coca-Cola?

We might well laugh, but it is taken up by the UN as a basic human right – we could have a debate about that.

Is it fun – to enter a code and get 5 megabytes for free – or is it a basic human rights to delivery of education, health and public services?

This interview took place at Mobile Media Summit in Barcelona, February 2016. It is one of a series of ClickZ interviews with luminaries from the mobile world that took place at Mobile World Congress 2016.

See also:

Bank of America’s Lou Paskalis on mobile: think marketing not advertising 

Andy Favell is ClickZ columnist on mobile. He is a London-based freelance mobile/digital consultant, journalist and web editor.

Read his weekly column on mobile best practiceContact him via LinkedIn or Twitter at Andy_Favell. 

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