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coke and bottle logo

I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company” were the words Bill Backer scribbled on a napkin during an unscheduled stop in Ireland one morning. Those words eventually gave birth to one of the world’s most memorable TV commercials: Hilltop. In today’s NYT, Mr. Backer recounted the basic idea “to see Coke not as it was originally designed to be – a liquid refresher – but as a tiny bit of commonality between all peoples (angry travelers in an airport), a universally liked formula that would help keep them company for a few minutes.”

An equally powerful Coke commercial, remembered simply as “Mean Joe Greene,” sees an injured, tired, defeated and grumpy football player consoled by a little kid with a Coke. It does not play Mr. Backer’s “company” card. He doesn’t need company, he’s limping to the locker room.

The fact is, both of these spots have plots. Both use different strategies. What they share, whether solving the world’s ills or an individual’s is the need to refresh. The current iteration of Coke advertising, by Wieden+Kennedy, is the “happiness” campaign. It’s some really great work. But happiness is an outcome of refreshment. Coca-Cola is not pot. It’s not Xanax.

Coke ad strategies have changed over time according to its ad agents. According to its taglines. But the brand strategy remains the same: refreshment. There is no escaping it. Don’t reinvent it, embrace it.





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I have often wondered how difficult it must be to go work in a country with a different culture and language and do brand planning. I worked with a smart 20-something planner at JWT-NY who picked up and moved to Shanghai. Daring. I follow a really smart Brit planner who works at Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai. He’s killing it. How do they communicate? How do they feel? How to they see patterns and interpolate?

In an ideation session last week with some brand planning colleagues, all of whom had done customer interviews for a specific B2B client, we established some guard rails, talked about buying logic, purchase station, recited stories and delved into emotion. It wasn’t until this morning, however, that I realized what was missing. Language. We were speaking in marketing-ese. I was with smart people with great marko-babble radar, but we were missing the cues that come from natural business language. In B2B it’s important to know the language that cues the target to really listen. That gives them permission to listen. That is what was missing. That’s what must happen next. Peace.  

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Heineken Light is launching a new ad campaign. All the stories will be about new spokesman Neil Patrick Harris, Wieden+Kennedy and the advertising poking fun at the fact that one can’t drink beer on a TV commercial. Mr. Harris drinks and slurps off camera.

According to Heineken USA CMO Nuno Teles “Everything in marketing should start with a consumer insight.” The one he identified to Stuart Elliott of the NY Times was that “40% of 21-27 year old consumers desire a light beer with a full taste.” Some quick research suggests there are 25 million 18-24 year olds in the US, so let’s say there are about the same number of 21-27 year olds. Forty percent of that number is 10M. In a country of 300M, that leaves a lot of beer on the table. But I agree that taste for a premium light makes sense. The fact that Barney from “How I met your mother” craves Heineken Light on a TV commercial, though, doesn’t quite set the “taste” hook for me. I’m not sure if he says anything about the new Cascade Hops, but I surely hope so.

Behavioral brand planners will ask how do we get consumers to change beer brands? The answer is, get them to try it and like it. Also, give them a reason to expect to like it. Not sure drinking what Barney drinks is that reason. Peace!

P.S. Wieden knows what they are doing and they know advertising, so let’s wait until the barrel counts start coming in. This is just my expectation of success.


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Sales of the Coca-Cola Company dropped 3.6% this quarter. It seems the tide has turned.  The global sugar water growth that offset the diminished appetite for Coke in the U.S. has brought Coke’s growth back to earth. Pepsi saw this sales ding years ago. Coke has been getting into the healthier-for-you businesses for a while now but it looks as if they must really redouble their efforts. Healthier-for-you is the future.    

Big data will help Coke figure out where lost sales are going. Big data, used by CMS (Center for Medicare Services), will also show where unhealthy eating and drinking habits are happening. And by sharing this information with doctors and insurance companies it will pave the way for incentives for consumers to eat better. Much the way insurance costs go up for smokers. Gonna happen.

When you are Coke and your sales are off 3.6%, you need to “refresh” your thinking. (I smell a cold-pressed juice purchase in the near future.)

Pepsi is holding its own by dialing up salty snacks. What’s the opposite of healthier-for-you?

Now is the time. There should be and will be a marketing investment shake up in Atlanta. And “happiness,” the Wieden+Kennedy campaign?  Not likely to make it in its current form — not in this climate.


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In the advertising and marketing business thousands of briefs are written every day. 98% of them are tactical.  I was visiting an acquaintance at Wieden and Kennedy and he had to go off to write a couple of ESPN briefs for women’s tennis, or some such.  Sounded like a cool job. Briefs are what planners do. Planners also fill the holes in their day with insight decks.  I’ve done quite a few. 

The other 2% of briefs written are brand briefs the briefs under which all insight deck and tactics briefs will magnetically hover. These are the most important. Frankly, with a great brand brief, many of the other briefs need not be written at all. With one good idea (claim) and three planks (proof of claim), the organizing principle is set and the creative teams prepared.

Sure, specific tactics with unique goals may require a new lens through which to look at a program. A tighter target segment. A new product feature. Yet the organizing principle that is the brand plan is the default marching order. The reality is, many, many companies don’t have a brand brief, just digital folders with scads of the tactical variety. It’s sad and inefficient.

Tactical briefs are for now. Brand briefs are for when. Or better put, for ever. Campaigns and agencies come and go, a powerful brand idea is indelible.  Peace on Monday!

PS.  I am not suggesting here that W+K does not do brand briefs. The shop is too good not to.



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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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Stuart Elliott did a great and interesting article in The New York Times today on Nike. He points out the difficulty they’re having staying more relevant in the footwear category. The oft-quoted Allan Adamson of Landor, a NY brand consultancy, suggested “The bigger the brand, the harder it is to stay trendy and current. It’s hard to be cutting edge when you are established.”  And Davide Grasso, VP for global brand management at Nike added “As we continue to grow in size, it’s important we stay connected. If you take away the toys and the noise, it’s all about having a relationship.”

What both of the gentlemen are not talking about is the brand itself.  Mr. Adamson wants Nike to stay trendy. A tight brand plan would have the company create what is trendy. And Mr. Grasso talks about the consumer relationship. Every pizza parlor, dentist and global marketer cares about the relationship.  This is a tactic.

Red Bull’s sponsorship of Felix Baumgartner parachuting from space is lauded for its 33.5 million YouTube views.  Not many talk about the brand strategy of exhilaration – the demonstration of exhilaration – that will live long after click counts.

Nike is a not a string of marketing tactics and ads delivered by Wieden +Kennedy; it’s a brand continuing to carve out a place in consumers’ minds. And closets.  Every brand needs a brand plan (one claim, three support planks). Without a plan we deliver and are interviewed about tactics. Yawn. Peace.  

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There is a Target spot running on the Olympics showing high school seniors opening up their college acceptance letters. It is riveting. Had I to do it all over again, I would have studied harder so as to live that letter opening moment.

I don’t remember the casting or any individual kid in the spot; I do remember the excitement and raw jubilation in each performance.  Back to school ads hit August first or thereabout and typically are a bummer.  Muscle memory for back to school is the antithesis of that for the words “snow day.”   

One of the best back to school ads I have seen was from Staples, I believe, and showed the over the top excitement of a mother packing her shopping cart with supplies, dancing and grinning through the store knowing the little treasures were going back to school. Funny yes.  Engaging yes. It did not hold a candle to the Target spot; a spot so pregnant with possibility, aspiration and energy it almost made me smile out loud (SOL). The target spot was about a celebration that should tie parents and kids to the Target brand. Even subliminally.

This is an ad, yet it has the power and depth to be a brand idea. Great work Target. You learned a lot from Wieden+Kennedy. Good on you. Peace!

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Do you have a favorite sneaker brand?  What is it and why. 

I love Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars, though I have to look to see how you spell Taylor. Black, high tops.  I like the style, the weight, the cost and for me they are a roots product.  As for my basketball sneakers, frankly Scarlett I don’t give a damn.  Probably more often than not I buy Nike, but that is more a function of what’s at the store.  I want to pay $50-100, I want them to last and not smell after a few months (good luck with that) but my allegiances are not strong.

I watch a lot of sports.  You’d think the advertising would have made an impression on me.  I recognize the Michal Jordan logo and like Michael Jordan. That said, I  have no interest in buying his shoes over any other.  That’s like 50 billion dollars of advertising later.  Why am I not a Nike or Jordan fan?  You tell me.  I suppose it is because they have not built anything meaningful in to the design, and patented it, that I care to invest in.  They have a great creative shop in Wieden+Kennedy. The ad craft is wonderful (I still love Mars Blackman) however there is nothing as a consumer I can tell you from a product standpoint that differentiates the sneaker beside the logo. (Not like nfinity with its “designed for women” cheerleading sneaker, for instance.)

Do you have a favorite sneaker?  If so, please tell me why. Peace!

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