How Coca-Cola Journey Made the Most of Its ‘Mad Men’ Moment and Drew 200,000 Readers

On May 17, as 3.3 million people watched the series finale of Mad Men, a handful of Coca-Cola executives were on the edge of their seats. They knew there was a chance the AMC series would reference Coke’s 1971 ad “Hilltop / I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke”—a request for the rights had been made last year—but they had no inkling of the storyline or access to the script.

“An hour went by, and still no ‘Hilltop,'” said Jay Moye, editor-in-chief of Coca-Cola Journey, the company’s digital magazine. “And we were all wondering… Is it going to happen?”

As those who watched the episode now know, the ad appeared in the final minutes of the show, when Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner took some poetic license and had fictional ad man Don Draper dream up the idea for the real-life TV spot.

(Full disclosure: Coca-Cola is a Contently client.)

That’s when Coke’s content marketing machine snapped into action.

“There was a whole lot of conversation going on, people feverishly searching for more detail, and we needed to make sure we had content up to capture that interest,” Moye said.

Journey was the channel through which to do it. The magazine, which launched in 2012 to replace Coca-Cola’s traditional corporate site, positioned Coke as one of the first companies to invest heavily in brand publishing. And a few years later, Journey has firmly established itself as an invaluable storytelling hub, particularly for the way it highlights Coke’s 129-year history with strong storytelling.

Moments after the Mad Men finale aired, Moye posted a short announcement about the episode on Unbottled, Coke’s corporate blog and part of the Journey site. A few days later, when Weiner addressed the “Hilltop” allusion during an interview at the New York Public Library, Moye added a story about that as well.

The best results, however, came from a post by Coca-Cola’s director of heritage communications Ted Ryan that had been published when Journey first launched in 2012. Back in early May, when the Mad Men finale was looming, Moye and his team noticed a traffic spike on Ryan’s story, which explored the origins of the “Hilltop” spot through the eyes of its creator, former McCann Erickson Creative Director Bill Backer. A Reddit community of Mad Men fans had been speculating about how the series would end and scrutinizing relevant historical events. Characters had hinted that Coca-Cola could be part of the last few episodes, and the next thing Moye knew, “The Making of ‘I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke’” was making a traffic comeback.

How Coca-Cola Journey Made the Most of Its 'Mad Men' Moment and Drew 200,000 Readers

Coca-Cola’s confidential—and very limited—knowledge about Weiner’s interest in “Hilltop” negated the possibility of paid promotion. Coke couldn’t let on that the ad might factor into the storyline. “We didn’t know how it would play out,” Moye explained. “All we could do is be as strategic as possible in terms of maximizing what we already had.”

As such, Moye boosted Ryan’s 2012 story with additional context and visuals, and also created a companion piece based on Project Re: Brief, Google’s 2012 effort to re-imagine traditional campaigns as modern-day digital ads—including “Hilltop.”

“It was another way to get more content into our ecosystem and satisfy the appetite for all things ‘Hilltop’ and Mad Men,” Moye said. Beyond that, his hands were tied.

Until the night of the finale.

According to Moye, the “Hilltop” content produced for the Journey site generated nearly 200,000 views over a four-day period. Measured against Coke’s proprietary metric, which encompasses pageviews, social shares, and social reads, the stories were “incredibly strong,” while Ryan’s feature became the top-performing organic post in the magazine’s history. Journalists covering the finale found the content as well, and Coke saw huge earned media gains from publications like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Huffington Post, all of which linked back to the site.

“It was a record week for us,” Moye said. “It’s something to reflect on and see what worked and what can we do to improve our process.”

In this case, what worked was coupling archived content with timely new material that tied back to a mainstream media event. Although Journey is considered to have a long-lead newsroom, real-time marketing proved critical to the brand’s success. Moye worked closely with Coke’s internal historians, brand archivists, and marketing partners to leverage the Mad Men cameo. Coke’s marketing team leaned on its ongoing “Share a Coke” campaign to design a custom ad in which the names of Mad Men‘s primary characters appeared on bottles of Coke. The ad was placed on a digital billboard in Times Square the morning after the finale.
mad men coke

“We can’t take any credit for having the ad placed in the show. No money changed hands,” Moye said. “But we were able to make the most of it by optimizing existing content, producing a few more quality pieces, and ensuring they were front and center on search… It really was one of those great moments when pop culture and content intersect.”

Image by konstantinks

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