How SA Artist’s Reimagined Coca-Cola Logo Ended Up on a Can – at Cannes

When Coca-Cola decided to honour the everyday folks who love their brand enough to emulate it, South African artists got their time to shine on the global stage.

One of the big winners at this year’s Cannes Festival of Creativity was Coca-Cola’s campaign “Every Coca-Cola is Welcome” a.k.a. “Thanks for Coke-Creating”. Produced as an international collaboration across VML’s global network, the campaign turned traditional marketing wisdom on its head.

Coca-Cola noticed that interpretations of its iconic logo were being painted on walls and signs outside spaza shops around the world. They were within their rights to crack down on the businesses and artists involved. Instead, they decided to embrace them.

Tapping into VML’s global network, they collected Coca-Cola logo artwork from around the world and celebrated it in a campaign that showcases the diversity of the brand’s customer base and how entrenched it has become in global culture. Among the artwork selected for the campaign were creations from three South African spaza shops.

Bringing the Campaign to Life

It all started to unfold in November 2023 when Wendy Machanik, Head of Production at VML South Africa, received a WhatsApp asking if she and her team could go out and find “Coke Expressions”.

“Basically, what that meant was to find stores – or as we know them, spaza shops – where they have got a local artist to paint the Coke logo in their own way. Of course, these artists don’t know what CI is or exactly what the logo is supposed to look like.”

Wendy recruited two scouts – one in Johannesburg and one in Cape Town – whose job it was to drive around, searching for creative interpretations of Coca-Cola logos. These were documented and packaged and sent to the creative team in Brazil for final selection.

Tech-Enabled Research

The project is an example of technology’s enabling impact on advertising. “What I love about technology is that you can do these things in real time,” says Machanik. “The scouts sent me photographs and voice notes as they were driving around and dropped location pins so that I would be able to go and find the artwork that had been chosen.”

On a larger scale, the team in Brazil could gather submissions from VML colleagues all around the world in a matter of weeks. By December they had made their selections and Wendy and her team were dispatched to create content with three chosen artists and shop-owners from South Africa.

Celebrating the Brand Fans

“It wasn’t just about the designs,” explains Machanik. “They looked at the location of the design, what surrounded it, the artist and their story. What was really, really important for them was the people who were involved – it wasn’t just the Coke Expression itself.”

The final selection from South Africa included two Coke Expressions from the Western Cape and one from Johannesburg:

  • Baraka Shop in Paarl, owned by Abdulah, with the Coke Expression by artist John Mensah
  • Ambush Gedi Shop, owned by Tebogo Ayala with the Coke Expression by artist Zwai Mzwane
  • Appetite Palace, Orlando Soweto, owned by Tebogo Kawunta with the Coke Expression by artist Philani Dladla

Shop-owners and artists were excited to be part of the campaign, which included billboards around the world featuring the selected Coke Expressions, a TV ad that aired globally, video interviews shared on social media, and print ads in local and international publications. Some Coke Expressions – including the one at Baraka Shop – even made it onto Coca-Cola cans.

Triumph in Cannes

After earning an early shortlist – which gives the creative team an opportunity to present the work to a panel of judges in person – the campaign went on to pick up eight Cannes Lions awards (three Gold Lions, four Silver Lions and a Bronze Lion).

Machanik was delighted to see it perform so well, as the campaign was one that she thoroughly enjoyed being a part of. “It was very challenging, especially with the time difference. But I loved the challenge. I was able to choose the team, which was very bespoke, and they helped me create amazing content – the feedback we got was that the South African content was very engaging and well shot. And I loved meeting all these amazing people! I’m always grateful for my job because I get to go to places that I wouldn’t normally go and meet people I wouldn’t have met – like Philani who painted the Coke logo in Orlando.”

Read more about the “Every Coca-Cola Is Welcome” campaign here.

International Production Lead: Nicole Godoy, VML Sao Paulo

SA Head of Production: Wendy Machanik, VML South Africa

SA Photographer: Kgomotso Neto

SA Videographer: Eldon Van Aswegen

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