Coca-Cola Aims to Sell Sustainability, Not Soda, in Animated YouTube Pitch

Courtesy of Coca-Cola Company

The people who once said they’d like to teach the world to sing now want to instruct it on how to recycle.

Coca-Cola has over the decades used TV commercials to make consumers feel good about buying drinks that range from Sprite to Smartwater. To instill similar feelings about recycling the many bottles and cans that contain its beverages, however, it’s testing a different tactic.

Coca-Cola has enlisted science educator Bill Nye to star in a nearly three-minute animated vignette that is available to stream on YouTube and takes viewers inside the recycling process. Nye, depicted as a being made from recycled plastic bottles, tries to demystify the process behind reuse. The idea, says Christine Yeager, who leads sustainability efforts for the company’s North American operations, is to get consumers to understand how easily soda bottles can be disposed of so they can be reused multiple times.

“We are not just trying to sell Coke,” says the executive, in an interview. “We are trying to bring consumers into this idea of recycling with us.”  The hope, she says, is that Coke and Nye can use their social-media properties to direct consumers to the video, which they can then study and pass along.

More of the nation’s biggest advertisers are talking with their customers about sustainability – and throwing out old marketing tactics to do so. Last year, Procter & Gamble shook up detergent advertising, long the domain of housewives talking about bright whites, in favor of celebrity-laden commercials that urged consumers to use Tide in cold water to save money and help the environment. General Motors convened the cast of HBO’s “The Sopranos” during the most recent Super Bowl to promote electric versions of Chevrolet. The savvy advertisers are doing so as they realize using the typical sales pitches might be viewed more skeptically by consumers interested in improving the environment.

Those consumers are also the ones companies like Coca-Cola need to reach to keep things bubbling. “The eco-conscious consumer is growing,” says Yeager. “The Gen-Z consumer tends to make more purchasing choices based on the sustainability of the product.”

Coca-Cola has come under fire in the recent past for the sheer amount of plastic pollution its packaging creates. According to statistics from the Container Recycling Institute, a nonprofit organization that encourages better collection of recyclable materials, 86% of plastic water bottles in the U.S. become waste or litter. Coca-Cola’s Yeager says the company is actively working with policy makers to make the recycling process easier for people. The company recently wrapped a national campaign aimed at getting consumers to “help make old bottles new again,” using social media as well as outlets such as Spotify.

The new video is designed to attract interest, with plenty of goings-on that viewers may want to examine more than once. Coca-Cola enlisted the production company MacKinnon & Saunders, which has worked on such films as Wes Anderson’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and Tim Burton’s “Corpse Bride.”

In the vignette, Nye shows how plastic bottles can be broken down easily and made into new receptacles — and hopes to get viewers to embrace the practice at all times. “If we end up getting young people and kids into this, everyone will recycle. If you’re a parent and your kid is asking you to recycle bottles, then it’s really hard to throw bottles away,” he says in an interview.

“There is just a feeling among consumers, people like me, that the problem is so big, there are so many bottles out there, there is so much plastic, that it’s not even worth getting started,” he says. But the animated short aims to show consumers that recycling is easy to do — and deciding to do so can be as well. “If we really did have a system in place to really recover all these bottles and make them into new bottles, the world would be cleaner and better.”