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In its first-quarter earnings release yesterday, the Coca-Cola Company made it clear that a focus on AI has become a high priority for 2023.
First, the company highlighted its position as the first company to collaborate with OpenAI and Bain & Company to use text and image generators ChatGPT and DALL-E to “enhance marketing capabilities and business operations and to build capabilities through cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI).”
The release also shouted out the company’s Create Real Magic platform, which was launched just a month after announcing the Bain/OpenAI collaboration. Create Real Magic invited consumers to use AI to generate original artwork with iconic creative assets from the Coca-Cola archives. Finally, the company noted that it is looking to use AI to improve customer service and ordering, as well as “point-of-sale material creation in collaboration with its bottling partners.”
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Coca-Cola says creative AI efforts are just getting started
In an interview with VentureBeat, Pratik Thakar, global head of strategy for the Coca-Cola brand, said these efforts are just getting started.
“This is just a starting point,” he said of the generative AI used in the Create Real Magic campaign. “I think it’s going to become mainstream.” His team is also experimenting with video tools like Runway as well as delving into how AI can work in other creative areas such as marketing.
The company’s initial foray into AI-generated art actually began last October, when it was developing its “Masterpiece” short film that aired last month.
“Our post-production house said they needed to use AI in order to meet their timelines and get the perfection they needed,” he said. “That’s when we looked at different platforms and used Stable Diffusion for that.”
By January, Thakar said, his team had begun experimenting with ChatGPT, Midjourney and DALL-E and realized that the generative AI space had become very dynamic. This led to the launch of a creative AI incubator, while Coca-Cola’s consulting firm, Bain & Company, brought the idea of an OpenAI partnership into the mix.
Create Real Magic platform received 120,000 submissions
When Thakar’s team had settled on the idea of asking artists to play with Coca-Cola’s brand assets, he hired three artists from different areas of the world to get the ball rolling. They created around 350 pieces of artwork to start with.
Then, working with Bain and OpenAI, the team launched the Create Real Magic platform and contest: Fans had 11 days in March to access dozens of branded elements — from the distinctive Coca-Cola contour bottle and Spencerian script logo, to storied symbols from Coke’s advertising archives like the Coca-Cola Santa Claus and Polar Bear — to use as a creative canvas to experiment with the AI tools.
Artists were able to download and submit their work for the opportunity to be featured on Coca-Cola’s digital billboards in New York City’s Times Square and London’s Piccadilly Circus.
“The quality of work was amazing,” said Thakar, who said the platform received 120,000 submissions of AI-generated images. But he added that it took, surprisingly, a few days for the traffic to get going. “I thought that when we launched there would be a tremendous traffic, a lot of people would create, and then it would taper off,” he said.
“But it happened the other way around. People started playing with our tool and basically they were getting used to it and figuring out how it works. So the first three-four days was slow. But then every day we were getting 10-12,000 submissions and the quality of work got better as the days went by.”
In mid-July, Coca-Cola will bring 30 AI artists on an all-expenses-paid trip to the company’s headquarters in Atlanta. “We want to work with them and create more ideas,” Thakar explained. “We have our brand licensing, fashion, digital collectibles, billboards — so many different elements can be generated from this art. I think it’s going to be fascinating.”
The value of AI for Coca-Cola and beyond
Coca-Cola has had a history of investing in trendy technologies, from NFTs to the metaverse. But Thakar says AI is different.
“I was the one who launched our first NFT for Friendship Day in 2021 and it worked very well, and after that we launched multiple different digital collectibles,” he said. “But I think AI is a more approachable technology. I can collect NFTs if I’m a big fan, but then I don’t use it every day. [Generative AI] is available to you — you use it you can turn that into your profession, your marketing efficiency machine, you can create and it’s happening now. So I feel the utility value of this technology is much higher.”
And Coca-Cola continues to experiment with AI, he added — including looking at beta versions of generative AI for music. However, he cautioned that the company is very careful about being ethical in its use of AI technology and recognizes that copyright issues have to be dealt with. “So we may not use it immediately for our business or for marketing purposes,” he said.
Thakar said he continues to be bullish on generative AI, for his work at Coca-Cola as well as his own personal creativity. “I’m telling everyone … please learn to prompt, it’s going to be useful and it’s fun,” he said.
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