Since debuting "Open Happiness" seven years ago, Coca-Cola has used the lofty, ideals-based campaign to promote everything from anti-bullying to peaceful co-existence among Indians and Pakistanis. But to new global Chief Marketing Officer Marcos de Quinto, the campaign became just a little bit too preachy. And it failed to hammer home more simple pleasures, like enjoying an ice-cold Coke on a hot day.
So in the first big move under his watch, Coke is closing down "Open Happiness." A new global campaign called "Taste the Feeling" will put the product at the center of every ad as Coke seeks to win over more drinkers in the struggling soda category. And in a major strategic shift, Coke will adopt a "one-brand" approach that will unite multiple varieties like Diet Coke and Coke Zero in a single campaign, rather than running disparate spots.
Coca-Cola executives are expected to annouce the campaign today in Paris as ads begin rolling out across the more than 200 countries where Coke is sold.
Before leaving for Europe, Mr. de Quinto previewed the strategy to Ad Age in an interview at Coke's Atlanta headquarters last week. It marked his first U.S. media interview since taking the marketing helm a year ago, following 14 years leading Coca-Cola's Iberia business unit, which covers Spain and Portugal.
The de Quinto era begins
While he has been working in the background for months, today's campaign launch marks the beginning of the de Quinto marketing era at Coke. It comes in the wake of the departure of high-profile North American marketing executive Wendy Clark, who also held a global role during her tenure. Along with former global CMO Joe Tripodi, Ms. Clark oversaw "Open Happiness," which debuted in 2009 and often took on big societal issues, like last year's "Make it Happy" Super Bowl ad that focused on online bullying.
In the interview, Mr. de Quinto spoke passionately about taking Coke in a new, more humble direction. Ads will use the kind of emotional storytelling long-associated with Coke. But they will depict everyday moments, like a first date, and put Coke bottles front and center. The new campaign is "going back to the core values of Coca Cola," he said. "We have been just talking about the brand, but talking very little about the product."
Coke had "started to talk in a preachy way to people. And Coca-Cola has always been a simple pleasure," he added. "The bigness of Coca-Cola resides in this humbleness, in its simplicity." But the "more that we tried … to preach to the people, the smaller we made it."
Mr. de Quinto was joined in the interview by another exec who will be key to Coke's new direction -- Rodolfo Echeverria, a longtime Coke employee who last January was named global VP for creative, connections and digital. Prior to that promotion, Mr. Echeverria served as VP-marketing in Latin America. Coke no longer wants to be about "fixing happiness" with "high-level" ideas, Mr. Echeverria said. Rather, the new campaign is "very much about living in the intimacy and simplicity of … moments." He referenced a classic tagline -- "Have a Coke and a Smile" -- as a symbol of the brand's new direction.
Watching the waves
Setting an enormous brand like Coke on a new marketing course is a massive undertaking and comes as the brand battles category headwinds, most notably declining soda consumption amid growing health concerns. While Coke remains the top soda brand in the U.S., it eked out just 0.1% volume growth in 2014, while Diet Coke volume fell 6.6%, according to the latest full-year data available from Beverage Digest. For the third quarter of 2015, the company reported 1% global growth in the Coca-Cola trademark, including 1% growth for brand Coke, 8% growth for Coke Zero and an 8% drop for Diet Coke.
Last March, soon after Mr. de Quinto had taken the reins, Coke invited 10 of its roster agencies to pitch ideas for a global campaign, signaling change was coming. The four shops taking a lead role on "Taste the Feeling" are: Ogilvy New York, Sra. Rushmore of Madrid, Santo of Buenos Aires and Mercado-McCann of Argentina.
Roster shop The Cyranos-McCann of Barcelona made one of the 10 TV spots. And Ogilvy created one TV ad that includes a cover of the Queen and David Bowie song "Under Pressure" that showcases Coke as a way to release everyday tensions faced by teens. Ogilvy also is behind a digital activation that allows users to insert three-second GIFs from a Coke microsite into social media to express feelings like refreshed, energized and bubbly.
A 'brand for everybody'
Marketing will play a critical role as Coke strives to emphasize dollar sales growth over volume growth. Or as executives have put it, selling "Cokes" instead of "Coke." The financial strategy involves selling smaller package sizes that might contain less liquid but are more profitable on a per-unit basis. While the company acknowledges individual Coke drinkers might drink less, it is seeking to broaden its total base of consumers.
"Marketing that supports the brand to allow [price increases] will be the goal," said Ali Dibadj, who covers the company for Sanford C. Bernstein, in an email interview. "To me, quantifying the value of branding should be around revenue growth, not just volume."
The "one brand" strategy will be critical in this endeavor. As Coke seeks to unify the brand under one marketing personality, it will position Diet Coke and Coke Zero as customized choices for drinkers who at times want no-sugar versions. That means a shift to one brand voice and an end to separate campaigns for Diet Coke, Coke Zero and Coca-Cola Life.
In the interview, Mr. de Quinto explained the one-brand approach visually. He used cans of Coke, Diet Coke and Coke Zero, as well as one of the brand's mascots, a small stuffed polar bear, to represent the Coke consumer. He placed the bear next to a can of Coke and then put cans of Diet Coke and Coke Zero several feet away.
Loyal consumers, he said, "always have loved the brand Coca-Cola." But "there are moments when this consumer wants to reduce their sugar intake." In those cases, Coke was forcing people to buy into a completely separate identify, he explained, referring to the distant Diet Coke and Coke Zero cans. Diet Coke has been associated with Taylor Swift and fashion designers, while Coke Zero has aligned itself with Nascar and college basketball, for example.
"Implicitly we were saying that Coca-Cola is no longer for everybody," Mr. de Quinto said. And through that scattered sub-brand strategy, "we were damaging the pure core of what the Coca Cola brand is -- that it's a brand for everybody." He then pulled all three cans close together. The customization approach means that Coke will no longer have sub-brands, only "variants." As such, ads in the new campaign include shots of all the different Coke versions.
Diet Coke ads will continue in U.S. -- for now
In the U.S., where Diet Coke has carved out an especially unique identity, the one-brand approach will be phased in slowly. Diet Coke and Coke Zero are expected to get separate campaigns for the foreseeable future as North American executives study how best to implement the one-brand approach. "We will continue to run advertising that promotes a specific variant benefit or feature where it makes sense," a U.S. spokeswoman for Coke said.
Still, the broader "Taste the Feeling" campaign will begin running immediately in the U.S. and is expected to underpin Coke's upcoming Super Bowl ad.
Coke foreshadowed the one-brand approach last year when it made significant packaging design changes in several European markets.
The most radical change occurred in Mr. de Quinto's former home market of Spain where a new can design features the color red on the top half of cans, with different colors on the bottom representing varieties such as Coke Zero and Coca-Cola Light. (Diet Coke is marketed as Coca-Cola Light in every market except the U.S., U.K., Australia and Canada.) Coke will continue to study the packaging alternatives before making a global decision, executives said.
The new campaign and one-brand approach reflects the style of Mr. de Quinto, who has seen Coke from many global angles having served in marketing and non-marketing roles in multiple regions.
People who know him describe him as a hands-on, straight-talking leader who is passionate about selling Coke -- the liquid. "Marcos believes in the product above all. He wants agencies to help sell Coca-Cola the product and not only its brand and assets," said one agency executive. "Marcos knows what he wants," this person added, and he "likes to get involved in the brief and the approval of creative work."
Mr. de Quinto, who is the son of a businessman and actress, describes himself as "a marketing guy," but also a "businessman" who has been "living the brand" for many years.
He joined Coca-Cola in 1982 in the marketing department in Spain, later working in distribution and merchandising. In the early 1990s, Mr. de Quinto was division marketing manager for Coca-Cola Southeast and West Asia and later became a marketing director in Germany. He led the company's Iberian operations for 14 years before moving to Atlanta in January 2015 when he took the global CMO role.
In his final days in Spain, Mr. de Quinto collected a top Spanish ad award on behalf of Coca-Cola for a campaign called "Benditos Bares" or "Blessed Bars," that was an ode to the cozy Spanish bars that sell Coke.
"Open Happiness," won plenty of awards, too, including helping Coke win Ad Age Marketer of the Year in 2011 and Cannes Creative Marketer of the Year in 2013. Mr. de Quinto said that Open Happiness "played a role." But he favors what he described as a more balanced approach that keeps the brand's optimistic attitude while weaving in more product messaging.
"When we start over-intellectualizing ... we started unconsciously creating distance with the people," Mr. de Quinto said. "We are lagging certain things," he added. "People who today are 14 or 16 have not heard about most of the product benefits." Coke is "something that tastes really good."
He also doesn't place a lot of stock in winning creative awards. "To do something that just generates love for the sake of generating love, that doesn't translate into more consumers," he said. And "if it doesn't translate into that, you are not doing the job."