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Close-Up: Live issue - Coke rediscovers its classic advertising mojo
[August 11, 2006]

Close-Up: Live issue - Coke rediscovers its classic advertising mojo

(Campaign Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Coca-Cola's new commercial spreads the love around a CGI cityscape, but can it reinvigorate the brand, Noel Bussey asks.

A computer-generated thug jumps out of a car, storms into a convenience store, grabs a bottle of Coke, walks into the street, grabs a man by the scruff of the neck and drags him out of his car. It looks like the latest instalment of the Grand Theft Auto computer game series.

But instead of beating him up and stealing his vehicle, he hands him a Coke and clinks bottles with his 'victim'. As he walks down the street, a busker, who the man tips with a big wad of notes, starts to sing the song Give a Little Love.

And so opens the latest global Coca-Cola ad from Wieden & Kennedy Portland, the second execution in two months and a follow-up to 'happiness factory'. Both of these ads push the soft drink's new 'Coke side of life' global positioning.

With a nod to classic Coke advertising such as 'I'd like to teach the world to sing', the spot is designed to evoke feelings of warmth, inclusion, joy and safety, feelings Coca-Cola hopes are still synonymous with the world's largest soft drinks brand.

The ad is a complex piece of work that took 25 people, working under the leadership of the Nexus directors Adam Smith and Adam Foulkes (the creators of Honda 'grrr'), three months to complete.

'Coke wanted something big,' Foulkes says. 'As long as it had all of Coke's brand properties.'

However, despite the detail and complexity of the two ads, Coca-Cola is keen to point out that the global strategy is a very simple premise. 'Coke side of life' was launched in March this year, and was conceived by Wieden & Kennedy Amsterdam after the micro network won a protracted global pitch. Andy Medd, a partner at Mother, one of Coke's roster agencies, says: 'The new strategy just shows Coke's classic brand values presented in a different way. Coke hasn't really changed, but it's putting work back into the brand.'

A spokesman for Coca-Cola adds: 'It was designed to be a simple strategy, and that's why it's going to be successful. It's getting back to Coke's roots and is going to give us the platform to produce some really memorable ads.'

Much of the company's recent advertising has been based around promoting the company's variants, such as Fanta Z, Diet Coke and the new Coke Zero.

While the work by the roster agencies for these products has been creatively patchy, the strategy has increased global sales.

Last year, the company posted revenues of pounds 12 billion, up 5.2 per cent on 2004. However, concentrating on the variants has meant the main brand, which makes up one-third of Coke's pounds 35 billion brand value, has been neglected - one reason why there hasn't been a truly memorable Coke ad in years.

Mother's 'I wish' was a neat step back to the brand's heritage, but ads of that quality have been few and far between, Nick Liddell, the director of brand valuation at Interbrand, says. 'For a long time, the global work has been disappointing. The polar bears and 'holidays are coming' ads are only really memorable for this fact.'

Liddell thinks the brand has been in steady decline for the past 20 years and that it was imperative that Coke created a strong global strategy. 'This is an incredibly positive move, and Coke's fearlessness in pushing for highly creative work is commendable,' he says. 'Foc-using on the variants made the company look a little less self-confident. Refocusing on the main brand makes it appear fresh, exciting and confident.'

Coca-Cola now sees its key challenge as reinvigorating the main business and reminding people of the values that made Coke the world's biggest brand. A Coca-Cola spokesman says: 'The brand needs resuscitating. Any major brands face the constant danger of becoming part of the wallpaper. Everyone becomes used to Coke, so we need to make an effort to become new again.'

As a result, the company is investing heavily in the advertising product and appointing agencies with strong creative reputations, including Mother and Wieden & Kenne-dy. It's a bold step for a company of Coke's size.

Liddell adds: 'Familiarity can breed contempt. If you don't constantly tell people what you're all about, they put their own meaning on the brand, and that's generally not a good one.'

John Grant, a marketing consultant who was one of the co-founders of St Luke's, says on his blog,, that these 'meanings' have changed for the worse and that people's perceptions are becoming derogatory.

He writes: 'Coca-Cola has claimed for more than a century to be 'the real thing'. For numerous reasons, it has lost the absolute reality that it once had as 'THE soft drink'. People say this is because of health trends. But actually Red Bull (which has more sugar and more caffeine) is doing very well, because it seems more real, more 'in', more 'now'. Coca-Cola feels like a 'has-been'.'

The ad might not be as iconic as 'I'd like to teach the world to sing' - not many ads are - but it definitely shows that the world's biggest brand is attempting to rejuvenate itself. It also shows that the company is keen to take risks with its creative, and as a result seems to have got its advertising mojo back.

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