This feature first appeared in the July 2011 issue of Marketing magazine.

 

Brendan Lawley takes a look at the parts that have made Coca-Cola the most pervasive brand in the world: its history, mythology, logo and identity, the product itself, its controversies and the brilliant marketing campaigns.

No one alive in the world today was alive when Coca-Cola first hit shelves. It was 125 years ago. This isn’t a boom and bust story either, nor one of struggle or slow growth; Coke has been on top for a very long time. Even as far back as 1899, it was available all over the US.

Writing for Marketing magazine, I get dozens of brand lists every year from research firms, ranking everything from revenue to power to influence. Whatever the term used, never mind how intangible the property being ranked, Coca-Cola is always right in the mix, often it’s number one.

How could one drink packed with a mountain of sugar and sold in most places for under two bucks bring in so much money and be valued so highly? Marketing. From winning the fierce soda battle with Pepsi to the big budget emotive advertising that we have come to expect, marketing is a major part of this super brand’s success. And it all started with something we now consider pretty basic.

 

Living with history, not in it

“We were the first company to use couponing as a marketing device,” says Coca-Cola’s director of archive, Phil Mooney. “Back in the 1890s, there were actually people standing on street corners in Atlanta, and they would hand out coupons to give people a free drink of Coca-Cola. It was estimated that about 10 percent of the American population had a free drink of Coca-Cola over that campaign.”

Compute the scope of that campaign for a burgeoning brand, and then compute the fact that a soft drink not only has an archivist, but an archives department. It’s Phil Mooney, he works out of Atlanta, and he loves the job.

Mooney started his working life in colleges and universities managing archives. He did time in the archives at upstate New York’s Syracuse University, before moving on to a US immigration historical foundation. He’s not a Coke tragic, he’s an archivist pro, exactly what Coke wanted. Thirty years in the job, though, has made him a true Coke junkie through and through, and he has the right attitude about the enemy.

“We have been around for 125 years; Pepsi has not been around nearly that long,” Mooney says. “The company you know as Pepsi-Cola today really didn’t take shape until the 1930s. So, perhaps their heritage isn’t as strong for them as it is for us. We take great pride in our heritage, and we try to build on the heritage that we’ve been nurturing for a while.”

Coke does not live in the past, though, it pushes forward with new products and campaigns, and a killer instinct sales force that aims for the impulse buy and being the most noticeable product on shelves, and it comes from thinking big.

“They didn’t look at selling a product, they were selling a concept.” explains an ex-sales rep for Coca-Cola in Australia, Craig Scarf (alias used by request). “Coke had to be the first choice in their fridge, so the retailer could make maximum profit. If milk was at the end of the fridge, they would be more likely to impulse purchase on the way to get the product they actually want to buy. Impulse purchasing was number one priority, it was pretty full on.”

Mooney has arrived in Sydney via Shanghai, where he went to the 125th anniversary exhibition in a major shopping mall. And he’s off to Moscow later in the week. He’s been on the media interview circuit, and was even trotted out on some of our morning talk shows. He is an incredible ambassador for the brand, and confirms that Coke is much more than a drink.

“Here is a brand that is universal,” he says. “We’re available in over 200 countries around the globe. It’s a brand that is not only a commercial brand, but, in many ways, has come into the arena of pop culture. So, the privilege of managing the historical records for this organisation is really the dream of a lifetime for someone who does what I do for a living.”

Coke’s place in pop culture is the reason archiving Coca-Cola doesn’t mean putting tax receipts into manila folders. In fact, a lot of Mooney’s work is on display, in Atlanta’s Coca-Cola museum, which sees about a million people pass through its doors every year. On the face of it, it’s hilarious: people pay up to US$26 to look at a drink product they… pay for. Curating the museum isn’t the extent of Mooney’s job, however, there are a lot of other dealings to take care of.

“Every day is different. I often work with press people who are doing a story on the history of Coca-Cola, or on some aspects of our history, and need a visual or need a television commercial to support the work that they’re doing. Or there could be a legal issue. We could have a challenge to a trademark or a promotional contest that we’ve developed. So, because I have the records, I can quickly go back and establish that we actually did a promotional activity first, or did an advertising campaign first before somebody else, so that actually gives us legal standing in the courts.”

Mooney is also full of a lot fun facts about Coca-Cola and takes great pleasure in debunking the many myths that surround the super brand. The mythology and mystery surrounding Coke has been almost as important as its real history in developing its allure as a brand. So let’s go through some of those rumours and legends and sort fact from fiction…

 

The mythology

First up, my managing editor wants me to ask Mooney if it was true that Coke was in the essential rations kits handed out to US soldiers in the war. True.

“The president of Coca-Cola, Robert Woodruff, promised to get Coke to the troops, no matter the cost,” Mooney says. “So in World War II, we actually sent 64 portable bottling plants with US troops that went through all of Western Europe, the South Pacific, North Africa and actually parts of Latin America,” Mooney says. “In Australia, we had one set up in Perth to serve the troops here, and Brisbane was actually one of our biggest bottling manufacturers during World War II that serviced the troops.”

Next up, a very popular belief: Coke invented the image of Santa Claus as a chubby, grandfatherly man in a red suit. False. Kind of.

“Essentially, soft drinks were sold in the spring, summer and fall, and there were very little sales in the wintertime,” Mooney explains. “So, in the early 1930s, they started to try and figure out whether there was a way to generate interest in selling soft drinks in the wintertime.”

In 1931, Coca-Cola commissioned Swedish artist Haddon Sundblom to create images of Santa Claus for winter advertising campaigns.

“The concept was that this guy would have to travel all around the world in 24 hours, and he was going to get thirsty,” Mooney says. “And so, why not have him pause and enjoy a Coca-Cola?”

Mooney says Sundblom didn’t invent Santa Claus as the western world knows him today, but defined our image of him.

“At the time, there were widely differing perceptions of Santa,” he says. “Sundblom and Coke helped define the character. The red suit came from Catholic bishop Saint Nicholas [all bishops wore red], but some interpretations placed Santa in green, sometimes he was very tall or even a dwarf, but Sundblom chose a full bodied man in red who was full of the spirit of the season.”

The common image westerners have of Santa Claus today developed not just because Coke created it and put it on its bottles, but because its festive marketing campaign centred on Santa and was inescapable.

“For 30 years, his illustrations appeared every Christmas season in the most popular magazines of the period,” Mooney says. “So, magazines like the Post, National Geographic… magazines that basically went into every American household. And so this is where I say that the marketing realm of pop culture comes in to play. We have actually helped create the image of Santa Claus itself, and we didn’t start any of it, but we really helped to quantify it and make it into the idea that most people have, I think, of Christmas, and think of Santa Claus today.”

Another rumour that comes to mind is that the original Coca-Cola contained cocaine. It’s a rumour that curious web surfers would probably confirm within seconds, with a plethora of websites claiming the cocaine legend as God’s truth. Even that bastion of irrefutable fact, Wikipedia claims Coca-Cola was coked up. Mooney says, however, it’s just another case of gossip getting out of hand.

“The rumour was concerning enough to Asa Candler and his associates [the owners of Coca-Cola] that they actually did third party testing in the 1890s,” Mooney says, “and they could not find cocaine in the product at that point in time. So, a lot of what’s out there is more in the area of rumour than actual fact. The original recipe had an extract of cocoa leaf, but cocaine was never an ingredient, and there was always an extractive process.”

These myths usually develop from embellishment over generations, or perhaps Coke itself likes to slip a little rumour in to the mixer every now and then, just to keep people talking about it. Mooney may be guilty of it.

“They say that the only word that is known in more places than ‘Coca-Cola’ is the word ‘OK’,” he tells me.

I don’t know if I believe it, ‘hello’ has got to be up there, and ‘football’. Another quick scan of that infallible resource, the internet, has Coca-Cola popping up as a universally recognised word. Mooney is right, surely. I wonder if it could be another brilliant effort from a Coke marketing team to insert that little trivia fact in to the world. And besides, don’t most people just call it ‘Coke’? Why can’t the brand decide what its real name is?

 

The licence and the logo

It’s Coca-Cola you’re drinking, for the record. That is, if you’re not drinking Diet Coke. No one knows the genius who first shortened Coca-Cola to ‘coke’, there was probably more than one, no one really cares. The point is the nickname Coke was decided by the people, and with the rumour buzzing that Coke had cocaine in it, Coca-Cola’s owners wanted to get as far away from illicit drug connotations as possible.

“We actually had campaigns that really asked people not to use the shortened form, to ask for the product by its full name, but people continued to ask for it as Coke,” Mooney explains. “And so, in the early 1940s, we went ahead and registered Coke as a trademark for the company, but up until the forties, we really resisted that, and it was only because people kept on using nicknames for the product, we decided we had better go and defend ourselves, and make sure that nobody else could take advantage of us and actually use Coke as the name for their product.”

Another reason Coke has never seriously thought of ditching its connections to the longer name is surely that brilliant logo, which has remained unchanged for 125 years.

The famous script logo that adorns every bottle of Coca-Cola was created by the bookkeeper for John Pemberton, the inventor of Coke. Mooney thinks it’s a brilliant simple story that has created a truly enduring legacy.

“You think about how few brands have that same brand equity for such a long period of time,” Mooney says, “and we didn’t pay a marketing agency thousands of dollars to do this, it was a simple bookkeeper who came up with the concept. The things that we put around it have changed, it can be a square or rectangle or circle, that sort of thing, but that script has remained virtually identical for 125 years.”

Mooney says another element adding to that incredible brand equity and history is the famous glass bottle shape.

“The contour bottle was introduced in 1915, and it is an icon of our business,” he says. “It’s estimated that something over 95 percent of the world’s population identify [it] as the bottle for Coca-Cola just by its shape. You don’t even have to put the words Coca-Cola on the bottle; they know it’s the bottle of Coca-Cola. To change the script and the contoured bottle would be wrong, we really have tremendous brand equity, things that create a difference between us and every other soft drink that’s out in the marketplace.”

Yes, that bottle – slender, but bulging around mid-way down, a smooth sexy shape. Craig Scarf says employees were told the bottle was based on a fairly sultry figure.

“Through their training program, which was an absolute wank and involved watching DVDs from an American guru talking about what Coke means to the world,” Scarf recalls, “we were told the bottle shape was based on a woman’s figure.”

Other reports say it was originally moulded to represent the shape of a cocoa pod. Once again, the mythology comes in to play. Even internally within the company, rumours and legends are everywhere. Either way, representing a women’s body is a lot more interesting than a cocoa pod and, while the shape may not be recognised as one of the common body types like ‘pear’ and ‘spatula’, it has captured the imagination of many brilliant lyricists, including US rapper Trey Songz.

“Shawty just text me, say she wanna sex, Shawty sent a Twit pic saying come and get this, go to my page and follow, if you got a body like a Coke bottle,” Songz croons in his painful track ‘LOL Smiley Face’. Unfortunately, Coke can’t always choose how it enters pop culture…

Then again, sometimes it can. Take my uncle’s house. He has a red Coke fridge, a lamp in the shape of a Coke bottle, vintage steel Coke advertisements hung on the walls, a table with Coke ads through the ages printed on the top and a whole lot more Coke memorabilia. To make advertising material something people will pay good money for is surely an incredible achievement, and Coke is the world’s greatest collectible brand. And its collectors aren’t just geriatrics with a jar of dirty old bottle caps that make them recall their childhood; Coke’s dedicated collectors are everywhere, and it can be a bit of a cash cow for the company.

Coke loans out its logo and brand image to a few lucky companies, to make a little bit of pocket money on the side, about $40 million annually. The licensing business works much the same as with film companies like Disney and Warner Bros; Coke charges for third parties to use its images, usually to the tune of 10 percent in sales. Phil Mooney and his minions provide a lot of the materials, and make sure that the products fit with Coke’s brand identity. Over the years, however, some quirkier executions have slipped through the vetting net.

“You never quite know what somebody is going to want to do, so every now and then you’ll get people who do really strange things,” Mooney says. “In some of the early pieces of marketing materials, there are some trays that feature topless women, which is not exactly what we would see as being the typical kind of Coke advertising. At that time, the owner of Coke’s brother was a bishop in the Methodist Church, so he was not very excited. Then someone in the 1930s decided that it would be a very cool thing to produce a sandwich press that would put the Coca-Cola logo on a piece of bread. So, again, kind of unusual and not exactly on strategy for what we’d like to do.”

 

The liquid

One undeniable fact of Coca-Cola is that the normal product is absolutely packed full of sugar. Dieticians hate it, some people have claimed it’s addictive, and drinking a lot of it is not going to make you healthy. And people do drink a lot of it: radio shock jock Kyle Sandilands has claimed to drink eight litres of the stuff a day. But at least all of those eight litres taste the same, no matter where Sandilands is slurping.

Perhaps it’s the high sugar content that makes it easy to replicate, but you don’t hear expat Americans getting Coke sent back from the homeland to their new country because they think it tastes better, unless it’s Cherry Coke or they want to taste freedom.

“In every market, we spend a lot of money to treat the water, so that the Coke that you have tastes the same around the globe,” Phil Mooney says. “The key for us is to have a consistent product regardless of where you live. So, we go to extraordinary lengths to try to be sure that the water is exactly the same, no matter where we’re doing business, and obviously in some places, there’s a higher mineral content than others, and you have to make adjustments accordingly.”

Even the most pedantic Coke junkies don’t particularly care if the drink is served fresh, so Coca-Cola could foreseeably produce the same product out of its own factories and ship it, to be damn sure every drinker is getting the same taste. But there are a million other good reasons why it doesn’t, and why it hands out licences to distributors and supplies the syrup, instead of the whole product.

“Back at the turn of the century, the basic model was established for how we would do bottling,” Mooney says. “That was to have individual bottling partners, who were local in the communities to actually do the distribution, and that’s really a model that has served us extremely well. In Australia we have Coca-Cola Amatil as the bottler. They’re local people; they’ve been in the community for a long period of time. They understand the local market very, very well, they know where we want to be in terms of being a good corporate citizen, know what kinds of things we want to support in the community, know how to market effectively in Australia. If we tried to do it all from Atlanta, I don’t think it would be nearly as successful, because we don’t sit in these local markets, we don’t know the local community, we don’t know what works or doesn’t work so well. So, this model has really worked extremely well for us for the last 100 years or so and, as far as I can tell, we have no real reason to change.”

Sometimes there is reason to change, though, well at least Coca-Cola thought there was in the mid-eighties.

 

The controversies

No analysis of Coca-Cola as a brand is complete without a look at the famous New Coke debacle.

Let’s set the scene. It was 1985, Coke had always dominated the soft drink market, and it was still number one, but Pepsi finally had a sniff of the top spot. It had launched the ‘Pepsi Challenge’ campaign, a basic blind taste where random people were given small samples of Pepsi and samples of Coke and asked to judge which they thought was superior. Pepsi usually came up trumps; it made for great television and got people thinking about Pepsi as an alternative. Coca-Cola’s reaction was bold and, ultimately, a massive failure.

“What happened was that there was a concern in the 1980s that the diet category of soft drinks was climbing rapidly, and there was some concern that maybe people were moving away from sugar colas,” Mooney explains. “So, they introduced Diet Coke in 1982, and it immediately became the number one diet drink within a calendar year. So, they were kind of concerned then that maybe it was time to change the formula for Coca-Cola itself, and so they did all this research.”

In much the same way as some consumers were won over by Pepsi’s sip test campaign, Coke itself was won over by the results of its own tests.

“They went out there and tested the flavour of the old formula with the new formula,” Mooney says, “and people said that they preferred the new formula. So, they went ahead and they launched New Coke. But what they failed to do was ask the question: ‘How would you feel if you replaced the old taste with the new taste?’ And they never factored in the psychological relationship that people have with this product, which at that point in time was 99 years old, and that decades of people had grown up with Coke, and Coke meant more to them than simply the taste of a soft drink.”

New Coke was meant to go global and reaffirm Coke’s dominance, instead it was a disaster. The backlash was well-publicised and painful for the Coca-Cola Company.

“This new drink was out there, and people told us pretty emphatically that they weren’t happy about that,” Mooney says. “There were protests in the streets, there were people that jammed our consumer information numbers, flooded the company with letters asking for the old formulation to come back. And so, 79 days later, we reintroduced the old formula back into the US as Coca Cola Classic.”

Mooney says that people’s loyalty to the original Coke ran so deep, company employees received personal attacks.

“It was not a fun time to be an employee of the Coca-Cola Company,” he says. “People would stop you in the streets and say, ‘What have you done?’, and they would be very nasty in their comments about you. It was really very unpleasant.”

New Coke died a slow death, and stayed on life support until the early 90s, becoming ‘Coke 2′ before losing so much market share that moulding the cans just wasn’t worth it anymore. Since the scandalous New Coke saga, debate has raged, spanning from the idea that it was the worst move Coke has ever made, to pundits who believe it ended up being a stroke of PR genius, reminding people that if it wasn’t supported, the brand that people had loved for a hundred years could disappear. Mooney doesn’t know which way to go, but he is sure in the long-term it made Coca-Cola a better company.

I believe it. The company certainly hasn’t repeated any stuff-ups on the same scale, and other brand extensions have been successful. Cherry Coke is a staple in the US, and we’ve seen Coke with lemon, Coke with lime, caffeine-free Coke, Coke with raspberry, Vanilla Coke and a lot more.

Sometimes the flavours catch on and will hang around supermarkets for years, other times they’ll die off rapidly and disappear as if they never existed. Vanilla Coke has been particularly popular in Australia and services a small market, but one Coke reckons is worth keeping.

“Vanilla Coke is small in comparison to Coke and Coke Zero, but it’s had a growth spurt recently and is planning a comeback later this year,” says Coca-Cola South Pacific’s marketing director Lucie Austin. “It has a very loyal consumer base, so is here to stay.”

I wonder where the ideas for these flavours come from. I imagine a group of white coat geeks with rotting teeth sipping new variations of Coke out of steaming test tubes. Wrong.

“We don’t have a team who just look for new product ideas – the marketers are responsible for new ideas, but that is just one bullet point in their job description,” Austin says. “Luckily for them ideas can, and do, come from anywhere – sometimes that’s from planned consumer research or what’s working elsewhere in the Coca-Cola world, sometimes from customers or agencies, but we have had instances where one person’s passion sparks a sequence of events that ends up with a new product launch.”

But the original is still top dog.

“Based on sales, it’s still a case of ‘nothing beats the real thing’ as Coke classic still has the lion’s share of the Coke portfolio at nearly 70 percent of sales, with Zero and Diet making up the rest,” says Austin. “Flavours have always been something that are new and interesting for consumers when they want to add variety.

Launching new flavours will always be a gamble for Coca-Cola. Never mind the extent of research that goes in to the planning phase, if the product doesn’t connect with consumers, the whole brand is in trouble. The last big global launch Coke did was for the no-calorie Coca-Cola Zero.

“There are always some risks associated with a new product, but we work hard to ensure we understand and mitigate them as much as possible,” Austin says. “We did have to consider the impacts of Coke Zero entering the market.”

The new drink certainly made an impact, some say for all the wrong reasons. Leading up to the release in Australia, mysterious street posters started appearing on walls and in underpasses, which were usually the domain of music posters. They posed questions like ‘why don’t relationships come with a gap year?’ and ‘why can’t big nights come with zero morning afters?’ and ‘why can’t bosses come with a mute button?’ It was all very mysterious and intended to get walkers engaged and feel involved with the branding by agreeing with the generic statements. There were also chalk stencils on the street and a bit of online activity that all led back to thezeromovement blog, which was for the major part of its life, unbranded.

The ‘grassroots’ campaign didn’t sit well with some particularly noisy members of Coke Zero’s target market, and they kicked up a storm, with a handful of response blogs emerging attacking the giant company.

The Zero Coke Movement blog in particular gained a bit of clout in the media. The site ferociously attacked Coke’s ‘AstroTurf’ campaign, believing it was offensive for a massive brand to pose as a small player or even a social movement, and that the product itself and the advertising techniques used harmed the environment.

Coke was fined for stencils and ordered to clean them up, with a New South Wales council ranger, Steve Blaydon, saying the three-month spray-on stencils were illegal.

“We don’t know what it is that is going down the drain,” he was quoted as saying. “Unless it’s rainwater, it’s a pollutant really and they shouldn’t be doing it.”

The Zero Coke Movement also deconstructed the ingredients in Coke Zero. Chemicals like sulphite ammonia caramel, phosphoric acid, sodium citrates, aspartame, acesulfame potassium and sodium benzoate didn’t sound particularly appetising, especially given their other uses for rust removal and photography processing.

The trade press jumped on the #fail bandwagon too, often claiming the social media campaign was patronising.

“If breaking the first rule of marketing – don’t hoodwink your target market – is not bad enough, Coke apparently sees no inclination of coming clean,” wrote one blogger for the late Blogging4Business site. “The Zero Movement blog today has big banners screaming Coke Zero has arrived, acting as if there was no deception. The problem is, we don’t even know if Coke meant for this blog to be edgy, or rebellious, or whatever. We just know there are jaded bloggers who feel they’ve been lied to.”

Lucie Austin, however, sees the silver lining in the drama, and can afford to – Coke has ended up with a pretty popular product in its hands.

“When you are doing new things, we all know there is some risk and not everything works first time,” she says. “The Zero Movement was only a part of the Coke Zero launch and, thankfully, the most important thing was most of the launch did work – there were some critics, but overall the launch was deemed a huge success internally and externally. Sure, there would be things we’d change with the benefit of hindsight – that’s only natural. In the end it went down in the Coca-Cola world locally and globally as one of the most successful new product launches.”

Coke has also been criticised for wielding its massive power and popularity to increase the power of the big supermarkets and retailers, while suffocating small business.

“Coke looks after the major chains and stitches up the small players, with their discounting rebate scheme,” says ex-sales rep Craig Scarf. “They’ll sit down and do a planning promotional program with Safeway. They might say we’re not going to run a discount on 1.25-litre Coke this month, so Coke might get a dollar off every case of 1.25, and then they get another dollar that goes into a rebate system, and they can use that credit to discount product next time. That’s how you see ‘buy two cokes and get a blowjob free’, and 99-cent Cokes. Coke has agreed terms with what Safeway gets to discount, while the small independents don’t have the buying power to compete with the quantities and pricing capacity; they often feel neglected and can’t compete.”

Nevertheless, a lot of retailers are probably just happy to stock Coke. Its popularity seems undying and there will always be desperados willing to pay top dollar for it. And we always know it’s around, because even though it’s still on top and doesn’t seem under any threat of falling, Coke still produces brilliant big budget marketing campaigns.

 

The ads

Coca-Cola has often led the way in advertising, and it certainly has come a long way from its almost comical beginnings. When first released on to the streets of Atlanta, Coke was only sold at pharmacists and was advertised as medicine.

“Some of the early advertising, you’ll see slogans that say things like, ‘relieves fatigue’, ‘cures headaches’, things of that nature,” Phil Mooney explains. “It’s actually more about where the product was being served. The product was being served in drugstores and so, when people went into drugstores, they were expecting to get some sort of a health benefit. So, the advertising for all drinks in the 19th century had medicinal claims attached to them.”

Say what you will about Coke’s sugar and caffeine content, but it certainly doesn’t try to make consumers believe it’s a health food today. And its advertising spend isn’t going to shrink anytime soon. A world champion runner won’t stay champion if he never runs.

“There are always new consumers,” Mooney says, “and so you can’t stop marketing. You have to be relevant to a whole new range of consumers who are just entering the marketplace.”

Austin agrees. “If we stopped talking with our consumers, Coke sales wouldn’t drop in a week, but they would over time,” she says. “How quickly, no one can tell you, but I don’t want to be the marketing director to find out. Nowadays, we have to hand our brands over to our consumers much more than we ever did in the past, as interactions between brand and consumer become increasingly personal.”

That’s where that inescapable and fairly new marketing stream of social media comes in to play. The popularity of Facebook, Twitter and online campaigns seems to threaten the big budget emotive television advertising for which Coke has become renowned. Lucie Austin says, however, big ideas will always be the core of their marketing.

“Like everything in life today, the pace of change in marketing communications is phenomenal,” she says. “Advertising will still rely on big, fertile ideas that are brilliantly integrated, but this will now be supported by advances in technology and the use of data that enables us to be so much more precise in how we connect our brands with consumers. It’s these areas that we’re focusing on. As to whether big seasonal commercials will remain, I don’t think there is any doubt that Coke will be always be associated with Christmas, summer and major global sporting events. What will certainly change, however, is the mix of channels we use to leverage these opportunities.”

But it must be tough, with such a storied brand, to ever be truly adventurous with Coca-Cola. It’s a brand that is surely protective of its heritage and doesn’t make marketing decisions quickly. Austin says there is definitely truth in this, but Coke’s marketers are always encouraged to keep an open mind.

“My view is we do have an enormous responsibility to protect the Coca-Cola heritage and brand value,” she says, “but that doesn’t mean churning out predictable things that have been done safely year after year. There is as much danger in boring the consumer as there is in being dangerously maverick with the brand. We actually have a responsibility to our drinkers to be bringing fresh new ways to interact with them, at the same time as respecting our heritage. Just one example of encouraging innovative thinking is we have a budget called ‘test and learn’, where we encourage marketers to try untested digital approaches without having to dip into their ‘this has to work’ marketing funds.

Unlike its sister [probably more like child] brand, Vitamin Water, which has created some brilliant social media executions, Coke has taken its time in testing the waters with the sometimes volatile mediums of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Austin says they’re getting up to speed on it quickly, but don’t want to pry too far in to consumers’ lives. Coke is a brand and a can consumers probably see enough of already.

“Like a lot of organisations, we’re rapidly learning everything we can about social media,” she says. “Social networks are a very personal space for consumers and, if brands are to add value, they need to be very respectful of this fact. We’re focusing on getting the basics right before we attempt to innovate in this space and with a Facebook page that currently has over 450,000 ‘likes’ [Coca-Cola Australia], I’m happy that we’ve started the journey in a positive manner.”

 

Always bubbling

Coca-Cola isn’t a brand that stands still; it’s still got as much energy as when it started on the streets of Atlanta with a few coupons. It’s on a sugar high from itself. It’s not healthy, but it’s not an illicit drug and never was. It didn’t create Santa Claus, but it did bring the modern idea of him to the world. It’s the market leader, it’s a world leader, it’s powerful and has huge clout, which has its benefits, but also means it has a powerful army of both fanatics and detractors ready to savage any mistake. Moving in to the new world of marketing, Coke seems pretty capable of coping with any evolution and, while it may not always be leading the curve, it knows sometimes you have to go back to basics to get a grasp.

I’m at my desk writing this, and my colleague Belle says she’s going down the street to get a free Coke Zero, she’s got a voucher she printed off Coca-Cola’s Facebook page.

Lucie Austin says they gave out three million samples of that new product last year; that’s at least 10 percent of Australian population who have tasted Coca-Cola Zero over the campaign…