Coca-Cola’s Super Bowl Game Plan

Beverage brand pits viewers against each other in (online) desert race

Coca-Cola is hoping to up the ante on its past Super Bowl advertising with an ambitious 2013 campaign, created by Wieden + Kennedy, that invites consumers to play an online game with the brand leading up to—and during—the big game.

The campaign will also set up the brand's broader messaging in 2013, focusing on "product credentials"—namely, establishing Coke as "the ultimate thirst quencher," per svp of integrated marketing Pio Schunker—in contrast to the "brand values" well-established by Coca-Cola's "Open Happiness" campaign in recent years.

The online game pits three fictitious teams—cowboys, show girls and "badlanders"—against one another in a desert race to reach a bottle of the brand's classic sugar water. Anyone who wants to play can use computers, tablets or smartphones to vote for their preferred team on the campaign website, There, players can also sabotage—in other words, vote down—the teams they oppose.

Based on the outcome of its branded online contest, Coca-Cola will also air one of three possible 30-second spots airing after the final whistle of the football game.

The below 60-second spot, released today and titled "Mirage," will air during the first half of the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens matchup, promoting Coke's online game. An online push around the campaign will launch tomorrow with a YouTube takeover, inviting viewers to start playing. In coming weeks, 30-second teaser spots will also run on television—including during Coke-sponsored American Idol—leading up to the Super Bowl itself on Feb. 3. 

So-called "sabotage" videos will aim to entertain CokeChase players by illustrating how they are delaying rivals—featuring such skits as the busload of showgirls taking a break to have their pictures taken and the band of cowboys stopped on horseback at a red light. A deliveryman for Domino's pizza—a Coke partner—also makes a cameo in one of the clips.

The campaign includes social executions across Twitter, Facebook, Tumbler and Instagram, for which the brand has created hundreds of tailored social executions, per Schunker. Players who share the campaign with their individual social networks will unlock new sabotage videos (there are 15 clips total, six of which will be held until the game itself). Players will also be able to vote for their favorite teams by tweeting designated hashtags to Coca-Cola. A special Twitter handle for Dr. Pemberton, Coke's inventor, will offer commentary during the game.

The campaign aims to take lessons from the beverage giant's efforts last year, which featured a website where animated versions of two of the brand's polar bear mascots—one a New England Patriots fan and the other a New York Giants fan—reacted in real time to the football game. That livestream saw 9 million visitors for an average of 28 minutes, the brand said. This year's effort, according to Schunker, aims to engage viewers more actively by letting them participate more and to extend the conversation further beyond the game (the brand plans, for example, to "thank" consumers who participate with follow-up messages after the game, which it neglected to do last year, Schunker said).

A 30-second ad titled "Be OK," the more subtle of Coca-Cola's two new attempts to battle the public perception that its products are making an outsized contribution to America's obesity epidemic, will also air before the big game on Feb. 3. That spot, created by Ogilvy-backed, Latin-America-based shop David The Agency, debuted last week during American Idol.

During the Super Bowl, Coca-Cola will also air another spot, a :30, for one of its yet-to-be-determined brands. Other Coca-Cola-owned brands include Diet Coke, Coke Zero, and Sprite.

@GabrielBeltrone Gabriel Beltrone is a frequent contributor to Adweek.