Now the campaign is being repeated in South Africa, although clearly not on quite the same massive scale! Comparable numbers here are over 600 names printed on some 100-million personalised labels during the campaign period from September 2013 to February 2014.
But in anybody’s book that’s still a complex project and in this country Coca-Cola’s printing partners are two Durban-based converters – Uniprint and Afripack.
Undoubtedly this was a major coup for the Uniprint Labelling & Packaging team, headed by general manager, Leal Wright. He explains that this project – dubbed ‘Project Connect’ – has seen a culmination of two Uniprint strategies, both involving investment in leading-edge technology that can be expanded to meet niche market requirements in innovative ways.
The first had its roots in 2006 when Uniprint purchased a Comco ProGlide nine-colour flexographic press to meet demand in the burgeoning wraparound label market. Printing on a wide range of substrates at impressive speeds, Uniprint soon enjoyed considerable gains in unsupported film products and wraparound labelling for CSD (carbonated soft drink) bottles.
The second part of the strategy was an investment in 2009 in an HP Indigo ws4500 digital press, taking Uniprint into the realm of high-quality short-run labels – again with the aim of extending the use of digital printing in innovative ways.
Now, bringing together valuable knowledge of both technologies – flexo and digital – Project Connect has taken Uniprint into a new era of production excellence.
Already an approved supplier to Coca-Cola South Africa (CCSA) for flexographically-printed wraparound labels and short-run digitally-printed packaging, Uniprint was approached by CCSA to be a printing partner in the Share a Coke marketing campaign.
Asked how the choice of printer was made, CCSA’s marketing director, Sharon Keith, replies: ‘Initially, we looked at options that included importing. However, we finally decided on the longer-term benefits of partnering with a local printer to bring advanced digital technology to our shores. We chose Uniprint, as the company already had digital printing experience – albeit on a smaller scale than the requirements for this campaign. This partnership resulted in Uniprint’s purchasing an HP Indigo WS6600 press.’
Leal Wright takes up the story. ‘In a very short space of time,’ he relates, ‘we explored the equipment required and ways to achieve the necessary hybrid printing process – flexographic printing of wraparound labels followed by random digital printing of names.
‘In three months,’ he continues, ‘working closely with Hewlett Packard and Kemtek (HP’s local representative), and running trials in Israel, a new HP WS6600 digital press (with inline primer) was ordered and installed. As part of our preparation, two of our senior printers spent two weeks at HP’s training centre in Barcelona for advanced training.’
‘To achieve on-time, on-cost delivery, the project required a tight team,’ he adds, ‘and has proved a valuable learning curve for our technical managers, Lorne Andersen and Alan Robertson, as they focused on digital printing trials and analysing teething problems with bottlers.’
Intensifying the project’s complexity was the appointment of Afripack’s ACF Labels-DLC division (another major supplier of wraparound labels to CCSA) to handle the flexographic printing component of the project, compelling the two competitors to work hand-in-glove on a supplier/customer basis.
CCSA led discussions between these two key suppliers to create the necessary alignments and synergies.
Apart from the two printers, another key player in getting the project off the ground was Kemtek. ‘We’ve marketed and supported the HP Indigo range for 17 years,’ explains sales director, Pierre Driver. ‘We arranged for sample labels to be airfreighted to Israel for the print trials and we also airfreighted the press to South Africa in order to meet the tight deadline.’
How the project works in practice
First, the wraparound labels, printed on 38µm BOPP (biaxially oriented polypropylene) film, supplied by ExxonMobil, are flexographically printed using solvent-based inks on ACF Labels-DLC’s high-speed, wide-web Windmöller & Hölscher Miraflex press.
They’re then slit into narrower reels for printing on the 317mm web width of Uniprint’s HP Indigo WS6600 digital press, where they’re printed with a different name on each label – a process made possible by an adaptation of HP Indigo’s software developed by Esko.
‘An important aspect,’ explains Uniprint’s Lorne Andersen, ‘is ensuring an exact colour match between the flexo portion printed by Afripack and the digital portion printing by Uniprint, to maintain the correct shade throughout the print run.’
To achieve this, a Coke Red flexographic ink was developed to exactly match the Coke Red ink developed by HP for the WS6600 platform.
CCSA engaged Durban-based Polyflex as the repro specialist for the project, to facilitate design flow and flexographic platemaking.
As Lorne points out, the design phase required specialised IT and DTP input – not only in choosing typefaces but also in devising templates to allow short and long names to fit.
Once both parts of the printing are completed, there’s the tricky aspect of logistics. Although CCSA initiated the promotion, it’s the appointed bottlers who do the manufacturing and decide production volumes for their markets. So Uniprint had to interact with all bottlers around the country to meet their differing requirements and ensure deliveries to suit their production needs.
Confirms CCSA’s Sharon Keith, ‘As this was the first time bottlers had run labels that had been both conventionally and digitally printed, we engaged our national bottling partners (ABI, CCF, Penbev and Shanduka) to conduct technical trials with Uniprint to verify workability. This was a key point, as the campaign occurred over our peak sales period and we couldn’t afford production issues when demand was high. The bottlers set up technical teams to work closely with suppliers to ensure effective trials.’
It’s clear that such a convoluted process required a significant degree of collaboration between all the players involved.
Supply chain complexities
‘Demands on the supply chain were highly complex,’ comments Uniprint’s Alan Robinson, with a degree of understatement!
‘One of the greatest challenges with CSD production is bottling speed,’ he goes on, ‘and these hybrid labels, with all their production intricacies, have to be delivered in such a way that bottling lines can run at top speed. Also vital is ensuring correct label tension so that labels don’t stretch during application.’
In similar vein, David Patterson, Afripack’s sales and marketing manager, remarks: ‘During the manufacturing process, special consideration has to be given to each bottling plant’s high-speed applicator requirements, such as supplying labels with the correct unwind directions and ensuring careful control of label pitch and reel profiles throughout the flexo and digital print processes.’
The project involved careful planning and enormous collaboration between CCSA, the bottlers, Afripack and Uniprint, to ensure the receipt of the necessary raw materials and sufficient production time for a longer-than-normal manufacturing processes to guarantee continuity of label supply during the traditional peak season.
In addition, CCSA’s procurement process had to be aligned to new purchasing arrangements.
‘This was achieved by discussions across our supply chain with bottling partners to ensure alignment,’ comments Sharon Keith,
She goes on to point out that another key supplier was Nampak Bevcan who rose to the challenge of creating randomness when printing names on cans. ‘These hurdles were overcome by creating a manufacturing and distribution grid for Bevcan’s can-making plants. Despite some initial limitations, this was fairly successful,’ she adds.
Integrated marketing programme
‘We’re swapping our brand name with yours!’ So ran Coca-Cola’s initial consumer publicity.
Supported by an integrated marketing programme to connect consumers online, the first phase of the Share a Coke campaign substituted the iconic brand logo with popular first names, nicknames and terms of affection from each of South Africa’s language groups. On 500ml PET bottles, 100% random digital printing was employed; and on 330ml and 440ml cans and two-litre PET bottles, conventional printing methods were used.
The original campaign featured over 600 of the country’s most popular names.
Asked how these names were chosen, Sharon replies: ‘South Africa’s population is diverse and we needed to ensure a fair distribution of names. Our research included working with the Department of Home Affairs; and we validated the lists through Mxit. We feel pretty certain we had a good representation of names.’
Since January, however, the names printed on the 500ml PET bottle labels have been nominated by consumers. ’Consumers were requested to submit favourite names on our website and 250 of the most popular were selected,’ Sharon explains.
‘Packaging plays a critical role in the campaign, because it connects the physical bottle with online communication channels, including social media and user-generated content sites,’ she adds.
‘The ability to personalise such a high volume of labels, while achieving the required quality and consistency, opens up new possibilities for future creative campaigns.’
‘All marketing starts and ends with consumer insight,’ notes Sharon. ‘Understanding that and structuring marketing programmes to act on that insight is the way we do business. You need to personalise marketing campaigns and bring them into the local context in order to make them meaningful.’
By this she means that, although Coca-Cola is an international brand, its marketing is essentially local. ‘That’s what people care about,’ Sharon states emphatically. ‘Everything we do in local communities, through local media, the packaging – everything needs to specially designed for South Africans.’
The particular insight behind this campaign is that people love to see their names up in lights. It says ‘I see you, I recognise you.’
‘It’s that recognition that everybody looks for and there’s nothing more personal than your name,’ Sharon continues.
Among other promotional activities was the launch of an endearing TV commercial, ‘Share a Coke with Bobby’, in which the eponymous dog interacts with many people during a search for his own name.
‘It’s great to see entertaining storytelling alongside a musical anthem that captures South African youth sub-cultures,’ states Sharon.
‘Although we incurred some unexpected costs during the learning curve, we wouldn’t change the process,’ answers Uniprint’s Leal Wright, when asked what lessons have been learnt from this highly-complex project.
‘Our own project team and those of the other players all showed great willingness to work together. All saw it as a great way to extend the boundaries of what’s possible in promotional print. Following the success of similar projects in Europe and Australia, we obviously wanted to South African project to be just as successful,’ he says.
South Africa is the first country on the African continent to launch the campaign. Cleverly customised by CCSA to fit local insights, culture and humour, and put into grand effect by Afripack and Uniprint, it has clearly caught the imagination of consumers, so much so that the campaign has now moved into phase two.
Undoubtedly this project could open the floodgates for personalised labelling in South Africa and break open an entirely new marketing sector.