coca cola

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Big World.

While brand planning for an educational technology company I had the pleasure of driving around the great State of NY and seeing a number of its secondary cities and suburbs. It’s an amazing state. The gravitational pull of New York City for Long Islanders and others in the tri-state region jades our point of view, however. And it’s unfortunate. It is not until you get to Florida, NY or Copenhagen, NY that you get the full picture.

As someone who grew up middle-to-upper middle class and also worked in the advertising/marketing business, I confess to be overly focused on brands. I worked at McCann in its glory days when Coke was still there. I worked on AT&T when it had the largest ad budget in the solar system. Brands were subsistence in this world. But outside of NYC and other NFL cities for that matter, the gravitational pull of brands was not that great. People made decisions based on the size of their wallet. It affected what they bought, what they could afford. Post college, while a house painter I was introduced to generic canned good in black and white cans. Eating bait fish at fish fries.

Brand planners don’t research the underclass. But they should. There is a lot of life and learning in this part of the economy.

My first brand planning insight – the reason I became a planner, was this: “Why does a Appalachian father, without a pot to piss in, insist on buying Castrol Motor oil for his truck when so many less expensive brands are available?” Brand planners – get out of the city. The office. Do what Heidi Hackemer did and drive the country. You will be refreshed in your thinking.

Happy Memorial Day…a celebration of Peace.


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Kathryn Ruemmler, the current white house counsel, is leaving her post in May. A long running presidential advisor, one of her more highly rated skills is her “uncanny ability to see around the corners that nobody else anticipates.”  

Lots of marketers, myself including, tell stories about Steve Jobs and how he didn’t listen to research on what consumers wanted next. Jobs would tell consumers what they wanted next.  The oft heard “we don’t skate where the puck is, we skate to where the puck will be,” a Wayne Gretsky-ism also supports this forward looking approach. Seeing around the corner is more than a skill.  Tainted Tylenol.  Spittle-covered pizzas. Ignition keys that fall out of the steering columns. All examples of corners that couldn’t be seen around.  Business needs to be prepared for the corners. Those are on the negative side of the ledger; there will be many positives around the corner as well.

Brand strategy is built upon what customers want and what a brand is good at. One idea, three proof planks is the organizing principle which yields business success. The planks look backward and forward. Coca-Cola is about refreshment and refreshment is way more than high fructose corn syrup, for instance. Forward looking. 

When you evaluate your brand plan ask yourself if it is built to see around corners. Peace. 


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I have mad respect for Seth Godin. He’s a hero. And he’s great for the economy. Anyone who can help marketers focus — and improve product and product delivery is someone worth paying attention to. That’s what Seth does. So you can imagine my dismay this weekend when reading this quote from him in an article about Coca-Cola: “Coke is not in the sugary water business, they are in the storytelling business.”

Coke is in the Coke business. The business of product. Every marketer is in the business of product. It’s ground zero for marketers. Storytellers are in the storytelling business. Creative people are in the story telling business.

It’s not a story hurting Coke sales, it’s high fructose corn syrup. As our brains continue to get bigger (according to evolutionary physical anthropologists) we will continue to learn how to prolong our lives – through better living. Products that get in the way of this will wane. The craft economy is taking hold.

Anyone who suggests stories not products are shaping the marketing future, is spending too much time in tactics land. Mr. Godin gets a mulligan; his product is too strong. Peace.



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I favor the poetry inherent in good brand planning, so in various places on the web you may have seen some of my references to “redistributing marketing wealth.” Redistributing marketing wealth is a great calling if you can do it. It is one goal of great strategy. The only thing that trumps it is “creating new wealth.”  The most exciting work in marketing is not taking a market that currently exists, say a $2.4B market for nutrition drinks, and rejiggering it to get more share – though that is fun.  It’s taking a static market and growing it. Finding new uses, new custies, and new (I can’t think of a third thing)…  

That’s not redistributing marketing wealth, that’s creating new wealth. A smart boss at McCann once asked me, “Where will the money to pay for this product come from?” In other words what will someone not buy to pay for this product? Carbonated soft drink dollars are flowing into waters. So Coke owns both. Now Coke is getting into protein – another reapportionment. But what if Coke took money away from the gyms?  Or created a product that took consumer budget from the gas budget?

Rational consumers only have so much money to spend.  Figuring out how to get them to spend it with you is a planners MO. New money?  Or old money? That is a big planning  question.

Peace be upon you this Friday!     

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Coca-Cola, one of the world’s great marketers, is in a category under attack.  I love the brand but don’t love what it does to consumers who misuse the product. That is, drink it in excess while living a sedentary lifestyle.  Those who make sure the calories that go in are negated by the calories burned are those with healthy body sizes.

Coke ran a print ad today suggesting 4 ways to mitigate its high sugar, high calorie sodas. 1. Offer low calorie beverages. 2. Provide proper nutritional labeling, 3. Help people get moving and excercise, and 4. Don’t advertising to kids.

The traditional Coke bran plan  — Wieden+Kennedy and current brand management aside — has always been about refreshment. (Happiness is the new idea is happiness.)  Refreshment is best served in video and print when it’s hot out.  Active sports people used to be ownable, not so much anymore; thanks to Nike and Under Armour and hundreds of other marketers. Frolicking on beaches and at picnics, were good refreshment images. Bright sunny days.

Coke can use its advertising today in a more positive way if it focuses on refreshment — showing scenarios of active people exerting themselves. That should be a fundamental brand plank. Enough flowers pooping more flowers and musical whimsy choreographing beetles. Coke refreshes. It is best when refreshing people who are fit, who crave refreshment and exert themselves. Or who at least aspire to exert themselves.

Coke is growing outside the US because in developing countries people don’t overeat. They walk and do manual labor. Come on man!  Let’s get back to why people need Coke, not sell it based upon what shareholders need. Peace!

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One of my pet peeves is category experience. In the marketing and advertising businesses, it’s everything. Recently, I lost a consulting opportunity because of not having enough financial experience. It was true. Hiring lore suggests: When you come to a position with your head filled with numbers, trends and category milestones, you are a quick study. This approach creates comfortable hiring. (An aside: Do you know how many people take credit for MasterCard’s “Priceless” campaign?)

Personally, I am most energized when in a new category — being scared, facing a blank piece of paper. Tabula rasa. No preconceptions. Childlike discovery moments all around. Surrounded by fresh language, sights and sounds.  Like being in a new country.

One of today’s marketing heavyweights, Joe Tripodi, is a category surfer. That’s why he is so strong.  His career trail meanders: IBM, MasterCard, Mobil Oil, Bank of NY, Seagrams Wine and Spirits, All-State, and currently the CMO of Coca-Cola. Whoever hired Mr. Tipodi recognized that his light shines in the area of marketing not technology or banking.

Good brand and account planners achieve because they see things through fresh eyes. Great hiring agents approach hiring similarly.  Be great when hiring. Peace.  


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We love symmetry in our lives. We love it on our design. In our music. Symmetry is balance. Order. Brand planners like order and symmetry yet they also know a strategy must not be replicable. It must be unique. Others can lay claim to the “refreshment” strategy, but when Coca-Cola says it, it has unique meaning. Why? Because nothing refreshes like a Coca-Cola. It’s doesn’t own the word, it owns the idea. That’s due to the coca bean and a special highly guarded recipe. 

Many brand ideas are replicable as are many products (there just aren’t that many Coke’s out there), so the notion of creating an organizing principles in the form of “one idea supported by 3 brand planks” allows for that differentiation. It also allows a brand flexibility and the ability to cover new ground. Sameness is not symmetry. Geico is beginning to realize that. 

Campaigns come and go, a powerful branding idea is indelible. And supported by symmetry and smart brand planks, a brand plan can last many lifetimes. Peace.

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Ideas are hard to trust. Tangible things like design, ads, copy, promotion, and user experience are easier to trust.  You can see them, ask your friends about them, test them.  “I love that logo. That ad brought in 100 new customers.  My email campaign had a 1.25% click through rate.”

But ideas? You can’t scientifically parse and evaluate an idea.  Brand strategies are ideas. Volvo makes you safer.  Coca Cola refeshes. Cottonelle is softer.  These brand strategies, like all good ones, are indelible.  I’ve written a great deal about ROS or return on strategy.  So far, ROS is just an idea.  Though one can calculate ROI ( return on investment/tactic), return on strategy is much harder to calculate.  Why? Because ROS tries to understand the value of an idea. When I sell “rebooting the phone business” to a VOIP client along with 3 organizing principles to support the claim, I’m selling an idea. This idea might be measured in year over year sales, but on paper, how it is dimensionalized and quantified is not easy. (I still have work to do.)

Because ideas are easy to understand but harder to trust, branding has lost ground in today’s marketing world.  I joke that digital has created tactics-palooza and it’s true.  The best brands are idea-driven. Tight ideas and tight supports. Ideas create new products. Ideas motivate armies. Ideas make you happy or sad.

Ideas are hard to sell but the top tier CMOs get them. And live them.  What’s your brand’s idea? Peace.

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Officious is a wonderful word and one too infrequently used in strategic planning.  An adjective, it is defined as: objectionably aggressive in offering one’s unrequested and unwanted services, help, or advice; meddlesome: an officious person.  Strategies that lead to this type of brand claim are a blight.  Conversely, strategies so soft and huggable consumers cozy up to a tangent in order to get the brand claim, are also a blight. Some might call that borrowed interest.

What does Coke do better than any other soft drink?  Refresh. People want to be refreshed, so offering up examples of how and when Coke refreshes in not officious. Telling them Coke is more refreshing (world’s most, more people refresh, more refreshing than…) is.  As Coke and Wieden and Kennedy would have you believe today, Coke makes you Happy. That’s borrowed or tangential. It makes for nice advertising and playful Coke machines, but is an indirect sell. When Coke gets back to its core refreshment value and shows us how it refreshes, proves how it refreshes, the advertising will sell more.

The line between officiousness and borrowed, tangential value in not a fine line, ii’s a chasm.  So what do so many brand strategies jump to one or the other? It’s dysfunction, is what it is. Peace!


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Someone posted a question yesterday on a forum asking if investing in social responsibility programs benefited brands.   The answer is yes. And in some cases no. It’s never a bad idea to do good. But doing good to mask or overshadow the bad a company does is not right.  I sit here typing in a tee shirt with the BP dandelion logo atop the line “We’re bringing oil to American shores.” BP is a joke. And long will be.


Dasani just announced a plastic bottle that is 30% plant based.  That’s 30% responsible and 30% good as it relates to biodegradability, but what we don’t know is if the process chews up more energy or emits more carbon.

Brand Meaning

As a brand advocate, I would answer the social responsibility question this way:  If the program is “brand meaningful” — if it makes a deposit in the brand bank — then it’s worth doing and celebrating. And supporting with paid media. If the program is not brand meaningful, say about child slavery, do it quietly and don’t feed the conversation. Just be proud to do Good’s work.


Brand Mask

The Pepsi Refresh project does good.  It impacts a lot of people who get access to funds.  But Pepsi could do a lot more to clean up itself environmentally and health-wise. Pepsi can do more good with a bigger purpose, footprint and impact than offering cheerleaders new uniforms or putting new bleachers on a little league field.  Is Pepsi Refresh masking? I prefer the Coca-Cola approach to social responsibility. They can do much more, but they don’t wear a mask. And they don’t try to build a sugar water movement around it. Peace!

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