NEW YORK CITY — It was time for the The Coca-Cola Company to “turn up the volume” around its relationship with EA Sports and FIFA 18, according to Matt Wolf, Vice President of Entertainment, Ventures and Strategic Alliances.
In the new video game, which just launched late last month, Coca-Cola sponsored its first-ever virtual athlete. In 2016, EA Sports scripted a storytelling mode dubbed The Journey, allowing the user compete as 17-year-old Alex Hunter, a player from the inner city of London who has one final shot at a professional contract.
As Matt Prior, Creative Director at EA, explained, it wasn’t until after the fact when the conversations started taking shape about how to integrate Coca-Cola into the overall narrative and “make it feel perfectly natural.”
Added Prior: “We’ve historically done a great job of focusing on the 90 minutes on the pitch. We’ve never been able to take it off the pitch, go behind the curtain and give people a window into the life of a footballer. Just in general, that’s much more prevalent, and it’s something people are more interested in.”
With the “new dimension to FIFA,” Prior said that gamers can now control Hunter’s personality as he interacts with teammates and coaches along with his physical attributes as well, with his football success in the users’ hands as they have to overcome the lowest points of Hunter’s career.
The integration is a result of what Wolf explained as a re-evaluation of the brand’s relationship with FIFA and EA and how Coca-Cola could provide consumers with the best possible experience, whether that’s online, retail or through unique features like a sponsored virtual footballer.
“This particular culmination taps into this amazing world of gaming, and is steeped in a very long history with the sport of football and The Coca-Cola Company,” he added. “It’s just one more facet where we can deliver value back to the end consumer through our brand marketing. ”
Additionally, based on Coca-Cola’s roots in football — which includes relationships with 30-plus national teams and signage at every FIFA World Cup since 1950 — the FIFA 18 integration is the next evolution of that relationship with the sport and EA.
“There is something that is very special with football. It’s the DNA link that we have all over the world,” said Alban Dechelotte, Senior Entertainment Marketing Manager at Coca-Cola.
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Coca-Cola’s investment into gaming isn’t a new one, though. The Atlanta-based brand was one of the first big players to enter the unknown entertainment arena, partnering with publisher Riot Games and its League of Legends multiplayer game in 2013. Wolf, who’s held previous positions at Riot and EA, has been firmly ingrained with gaming and esports for over two decades. He understood that if gaming was one of the key areas where the brand’s consumer was, then he and his team needed to calculate how to proceed into it in an authentic way.
“There was a lot of white space for a big brand to enter and if they were brave enough, to really lean in,” Wolf said about the historic deal with Riot.
“It was a labor of love, and it took a lot of soul to make that happen. … We look very holistically at gaming.”
Through internal data collection, the brand’s tracking of consumers’ reactions on social media and other metrics, Wolf and his team have stayed consistent with their investment, which now includes the niche of esports.
“Gaming is probably the fastest growing form of entertainment on the planet. FIFA is arguably one of, if not, the largest entertainment property on the planet. And we’re the best known brand on the planet with our Coca-Cola and other portfolio of products. … When you consider the commitment EA had by weaving our brand into the fabric of their game and then our commitment by taking their intellectual property and weaving it into the fabric of our brand and our product, it really is this awesome union,” Wolf said.
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