Coke Is Virtually It

Move over, MySpace. In your face, Facebook. Meet the new kid on the digital block. He's all sugar, no spice, and not really all that nice, either. He's Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO  ) , and he's coming for you.

This week, the soda king announced plans for a new social network based on Sprite, its signature drink for teens, which will be accessible via your phone. Called "Sprite Yard," the new digital digs went live in China on June 1. The network goes live here in the U.S. on June 22.

Will Coke succeed in creating a virtual hangout for on-the-go data junkies? Executives seem convinced. "Mobile marketing is absolutely where it's at for us going forward," marketing senior vice president Mark Greatrex told Reuters in an interview.

I'll understand if that sounds like bluster. Trouble is, Coke plans to jack up its new network with downloadable content. Each 20 oz. bottle of Sprite will contain a code to unlock music, videos, and other goodies. That, in turn, could lead to a refreshing stream of eyeballs.

Yet I remain skeptical. MySpace works because it connects those with common interests. Fans of alternative rock typically want to hang out with other fans. That's why News Corp. (NYSE: NWS  ) bought the company.

And that's how it's always been. Like-minded individuals tend to enjoy each other's company. That's why LinkedIn works for business pros. And why Baby Breaker myYearbook works for students. And why The Motley Fool works for investors.

Where's the common thread among Sprite drinkers? What? That they're thirsty? Oooooooooh.

Maybe it's not necessary to have a common thread. Maybe an edgy reputation is enough. Sprite has that; just check out its ads. One features "lemon" and "lime" sumo wrestlers colliding into a hapless soda drinker in slow motion. (Yuck.)

Or maybe this isn't really a social network we're talking about. Maybe it's just a smart way for Coke to bundle its sugar water with the hottest online content, just as PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP  ) did when it teamed with Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) for an iTunes promotion in 2003.

No doubt, content is on the move and marketing is riding shotgun. Researcher Yankee Group says that the total spent on mobile advertising is set to quadruple to $275 million this year, up from $60 million in 2006. I'd want a piece of that action, too, were I on the marketing team at Coke.

So, make room, MySpace. Face front, Facebook. Coke is, virtually, it.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers, who is ranked 5,870 out of more than 29,800 in CAPS, prefers Cherry Coke and Mountain Dew. Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article at the time of publication. Tim's portfolio holdings can be found at his Fool profile. His thoughts on Foolishness and investing may be found in his blog. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy is :-) to see you.


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