In April 2013, famous beverage company Coca-Cola tried its hand at a quirky digital marketing campaign. It launched 61 URLs commencing with "ahh.com" and culminating with an epic "ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.com." Its aim? To strategically win over a generation of ad-weary and hard-to-please millennials to its fizzy pop brand.
My odyssey into the weird AHHH world began with a typo. Before I knew it, I had all these oddball coke-related images spewing out of my browser. Naturally, after I'd typed a few ahh + extra 'h's' into my URL bar, I got sucked into the bizarreness. It seemed like a carefully orchestrated prank, or some diehard Coke fan's love letter to the beverage brand.
The answer turned out to be simple. Dubbed "The AHH Effect" campaign, Coke's marketing innovation department teamed up with communications company Wieden+Kennedy, celebs loved by teenagers, and millennials themselves to create interactive Coca-Cola "experiences" online. This was all in the name of fun, brand appeal, and most importantly, a reminder of just how great coke tastes (to some).
It was supposed to be, according to a press release back in 2013, "the sound a smile would make if smiles made sounds" … "that multidimensional feeling of happiness, satisfaction and delicious refreshment one experiences after drinking an ice-cold Coke."
The 61 AHH websites, released first in a batch of 17, were choc-a-block with digital "experiences" in the form of interactive gifs, videos, and games. They were designed to capture the essence of the fizzy pop brand with 500 sparkling and still drinks to its name. The websites boasted everything from anthropomorphic Coke bubbles "ahhing" their appreciation of the beverage to Coca-Cola rockets and videos of YouTube star Kurt Schneider.
The 44 remaining URLS that were released gradually throughout the campaign handed over part of the control to the audience themselves—tasked with contributing their own personal visions of Coca-Cola's "AHH" moments.
"Digital, social and mobile are rewriting the rules of marketing. We can no longer have one-way brand to fan communications—instead the brand must facilitate true fan experiences to drive engagement," said Pio Schunker, senior VP of integrated marketing communications at Coca-Cola North America Group, in a press release in April 2013.
"That multidimensional feeling of happiness, satisfaction and delicious refreshment one experiences after drinking an ice-cold Coke."
The figures confirmed that Coca-Cola had concocted the right strategy. According to a "think with Google" blog post, the AHH Effect campaign garnered more than 4 million users, with the average one spending nearly six minutes with AHH. This, said the bloggers, is equitable to 50 years of brand engagement.
The websites were such a success that Coca-Cola rushed to add more dimensions to its teen-reeling campaign, and upped its game by "optimizing" The AHH Effect further in 2014. The second stage in world fizzy pop domination was to bring the experience out from the digital world to the real world with some Coca-Cola magic.
Back in March 2014, Coke aired an AHH Effect-related ad campaign on teen TV networks such as Adult Swim, MTV, and MTV2. The music-style ad video was intended to "recreate the feeling of drinking a Coke."
By 2014, the fizzy pop campaign had spread like wildfire through the millenialverse, penetrating the mass market through mobile, digital, connected TV consoles, search, social media, and TV.
While haters of capitalist consumerism could complain about this being nothing beyond a profiteering ploy, others have actually found that there is, in fact, no direct link between engagement and sales. So while the campaign may have helped Coke boost its street cred among teens, it's not necessarily evidence of more sales.
Though all 61 URLs are still going strong, a possible chip on Coke's shoulder could be that they never got to seize AH.com—that still belongs to Aurora Advanced Healthcare, a medical service based in the US.
Masters of their Domain is a column that investigates who owns popular or interesting domain names, and what they're doing with them.