Coke's Got Many Digital Pushes, but One Goal: Brand Experience

Soda Maker's Interactive Chief on How to Deliver Compelling Ideas to Wide Range of Global Markets

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NEW YORK ( -- Coca-Cola Co.'s new chief marketing officer, Joe Tripodi, will have a new global interactive chief to turn to when he starts. While her title is new, Carol Kruse knows her way around the beverage giant, having managed Coke's online advertising, customer-relationship marketing, and online and gaming marketing over the past six years.
Carol Kruse, global interactive chief at Coca-Cola Co.
Carol Kruse, global interactive chief at Coca-Cola Co.

Ms. Kruse talked to Ad Age about the mission of global interactive marketing at Coke.

Ad Age: It seems more companies are attacking digital marketing on a worldwide scale? What's the vision for the role of global interactive marketing?

Carol Kruse: At Coke, markets are responsible for their own marketing plans and spending. The role of global interactive marketing has four or five real components. The first and most important is delivering a compelling brand experience online. Take a major marketing platform like "Happiness Factory" or the Beijing Olympics next year or European soccer 2008, [or] the global expansion of Coke Zero or Sprite mobile: We pull together marketing experiences that we make available to the markets around the world.

The second role is creating the central technology infrastructure to support all of our markets, from web hosting to a global consumer database to a global mobile-marketing platform, content and campaign management, pin code engines. Third is providing the database and tools to develop CRM or one-to-one marketing plans. We do centralized measurement and metrics, either provide those tools or help countries understand what they should do about measurement. We also do lots of training and education. ... And finally, innovations -- looking at new areas like digital vending machines, RFID and virtual environments.

Ad Age: We're seeing a big shift in attention and budgets toward interactive. Is there a danger that there's not enough talent and inventory to handle those dollars?

Ms. Kruse: We know there's a shortage of interactive marketing talent. We're fortunate that we ... can leverage experts [from] around the globe. The folks in Korea who have done a ton around gaming can provide some expertise to the folks in the United States. We're looking around globally to see where we can leverage talent. In emerging technology areas, one country can be a year or three ahead of another. And we can use those experts to train the trainers or the other interactive folks or lead programs out of a region.

As you can imagine, we have great examples of mobile marketing in Asia and Europe and we want to make sure that the U.S. or Latin America are benefiting from the experience in other regions. In the U.S. we have a real leadership position in online advertising and we want to make sure other countries around the world benefit from that. That's the benefit of being a global company. To leverage what has worked in one country to other regions.

Ad Age: You bring up mobile marketing and Coke is certainly launching an ambitious mobile play with the Sprite brand and its mobile community and content play.

Ms. Kruse: The genesis of the Sprite Yard is an understanding of where our consumers are spending their time. We're understanding that a mobile device is extremely important to a teen or young adult and can be an effective way to market to consumers but on their terms. We need to be careful we wrap our brand around an experience the consumer is already doing. Youth are already using mobile phones to communicate to each other, to build community, to text, to send photos. We're just trying to enhance that and bring the Sprite brand into it. Obviously in the U.S. it certainly isn't as advanced as Asia and Europe. We launched the program in the U.S. and in China, to markets in very different stages of mobile-marketing development. In the next 15 months we'll roll it out into at least eight different countries.

Ad Age: New Chief Marketing Officer Joe Tripoldi is expected to focus more on in-store, point-of-purchase-type programs. It seems that interactive and mobile may have a role to play there.

Ms. Kruse: He hasn't even started yet, so it's all surmising where he may spend his time. But I do think interactive has a very important role to play both in-store and point of purchase. One example is interactive vending. We have almost 2 million vending machines in the U.S. alone and looking at how digital can impact the vending experience is very important. We have several test markets in Asia, Europe and the U.S. around interactive vending already. It can look like everything from adding a small LCD screen to a vending machine so that at the point of purchase you can send that consumer a message. We have tests around letting consumer purchase other content from a vending machine. And then in Asia for years you've been able to buy a Coke using your mobile phone as a form of payment.

Ad Age: MyCokeRewards was your baby. Where's that at right now?

Ms. Kruse: We've expanded the program to include [not just Coke trademark brands but] most of our U.S. brands. ... The program has 7 million members and is growing rapidly. We've added not only the ability to enter codes and receive rewards as promotions but deliver brand experiences. Now, if you go to we have a lot of brand experiences, you can learn about the Sublymonal project, Sprite's summer campaign; or see the new "Happiness Factory" commercial; or learn about Dasani and the "Sports Illustrated Swimsuit" partnership we did this spring. We're bringing our marketing programs right there on MyCokeRewards. It's expanding beyond a loyalty and rewards program into an overall consumer-marketing communications platform. ... The website is built to really deliver a more custom and relevant experience. Over time as we understand what you're interested in, your passions, your behaviors, the brand as a website has the ability to deliver a different experience for you than for me.
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