Follows A-B, McD's: Coke uses rivalry to goose creative

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Count Coca-Cola Co. with marketers like McDonald's Corp. and Anheuser-Busch that are using project-driven agency shootouts to develop better creative.

The Atlanta beverage giant last week expanded the responsibility of Chief Creative Officer Esther Lee. She will captain development of what it's calling a "new advertising and brand-communication model that allows our system to better leverage fewer, bigger creative ideas that work across more geographies," said Chief Global Marketing Officer Chuck Fruit in a Jan. 5 internal memo. Previously, Ms. Lee's main charge was advertising development for North America; a successor for that post will be named.

In reality, the model isn't so new. While Ms. Lee will focus exclusively on global creative projects with the goal of reducing the number of ads for global universal concepts, the result is that agencies will compete in jump balls to create these universal campaigns. That process is already unofficially under way at Coke; the company has been reviewing three such efforts for the Coke icon, as well as soccer and holiday. And the jump ball process is already a staple for McDonald's and A-B.

Ms. Lee will lead a team of 25 to 30 along with VP-Coca-Cola Franchise Marc Mathieu, whose own role was created to manage the worldwide brand. About half the team is based in Atlanta and the rest are in various countries. While the team doesn't have any profit and loss accountability, the unit is funded out of the company's $1.4 billion marketing coffers.

`collaborative'

"The new model can be described in one word and that is collaboration," said a spokesman. "The whole collaborative aspect that this has created with a global team breaks down barriers of what is corporate vs. what is field [marketing]," he added.

Coca-Cola also announced the resignation of Javier Benito as president of U.S. retail and chief marketing officer for Coca-Cola North America. His job was split into two roles, with Melody Justice named president of the U.S. retail division and John Hackett as senior VP-Coca-Cola North America marketing. The unit also announced it would launch Coca-Cola with Lime during the first quarter. WPP Group's Berlin Cameron/Red Cell, New York, has been awarded that assignment, although Coke wouldn't confirm that.

In the past, Coca-Cola had a centralized marketing function under which creative was developed in the U.S. and shipped around the world. Under the "think local, act local" model created by former Chairman-CEO Doug Daft, creative was developed locally for each country.

More than a year ago, Coke began consolidating its regions into a series of hubs. Today, Coke uses local marketing support for each regional hub, but has added a global team to oversee work that can easily travel across borders with as few executions as possible.

Advertising industry watchers have lamented the flight of global marketers like Coke from a single agency partner to a cadre of boutique creative shops and project assignments.

"The ability to generate world class creative from agency networks has become difficult," said John Swan, an associate professor of marketing at St. John's University. "Creative ideation is an investment and since [big] agencies don't run that model themselves, Coke is forcing that investment."

David Beals, president of agency consultant Jones Lundin Beals, Chicago, is surprised more marketers haven't done the same. "At the end of the day, great ideas come from small groups rather than one egg in the basket."

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