This weekend, the American Dream mall became one of the first places on the planet where you could sample Coca-Cola Starlight, a limited edition, red-tinted version of Coke that Coca-Cola says is “space-flavored” with a taste that is out of this world and a “cooling sensation that evokes the feeling of a cold journey to space.”
The launch event at the mall in East Rutherford, N.J. was the result of a partnership formed three years ago by Coca-Cola and American Dream. It was announced in the summer of 2019, as the New Jersey megamall was preparing to open for the first time.
The 10-year deal made Coca-Cola the official soft drink provider for the three million square-foot entertainment and shopping complex, but it also envisioned a broader role for the beverage brand, a role that has largely been postponed until now.
Now, with pandemic concerns easing (for the time being at least) and crowds returning to shopping centers, companies like Coca-Cola are looking at malls as places to hold events likely to draw social media posts, and the online attention of consumers.
On Friday, Coca-Cola opened an event space at American Dream called the Coca-Cola Social Bubble. The small lounge has a beverage bar where free samples of new products such as Starlight can be offered, and an attached podcasting studio.
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Coca-Cola executives said the company’s aim was to create a space that would transform social interactions and connections with the brand.
Coca-Cola, and other consumer product companies. like many retailers, are trying to figure out the perfect mix of physical and digital experiences, to win over younger consumers. The Social Bubble space shows Coca-Cola is betting in-person experiences remain important to their marketing strategy.
Starlight is the first launch of Coca-Cola’s new innovation platform, Coca-Cola Creations. The new division has been charged with creating limited-edition releases that will be marketed with both physical and digital experiences.
For Starlight, the digital experiences include a virtual concert by pop star Ava Max that viewers can access by scanning the QR code on thair Starlight can or bottle, and a Starlight Eyes filter for Instagram photos.
Coca-Cola is also investing in the physical, with a Starlight-themed clothing collaboration with fashion brand Staple.
Coca-Cola Starlight was scheduled to hit store shelves on February 21, three days after the launch event at American Dream. A number of stores apparently jumped the gun, and began selling it early, so video reactions to the drink were appearing on TikTok as the first official samples were being handed out at American Dream.
American Dream representatives said the podcast studio in the Coca-Cola Social Bubble – named The Pod – will allow the mall to collaborate with Coca-Cola to host events featuring celebrity podcasters and social influencers.
For Coca-Cola and American Dream, the main benefit of this partnership may be less about selling sodas or drawing shoppers to the mall, and more about how many views they can draw on social media, as a way of spreading awareness of the mall, and the Coca-Cola brand.