Eighteen months ago, Charles Frenette stepped into one of the most powerful positions in global marketing--chief marketing officer of Coca-Cola Co. Since then, he has kept a low profile as he worked to assess how to position the slow-growing flagship brand for growth. That work took him to more than 25 countries, into the homes of countless consumers and included work with anthropologists and sociologists.
Last week, Mr. Frenette, 47, granted his first interviews with reporters since taking the post, and shared how he has translated his findings into marketing plans. Those include new advertising for 2000, a packaging overhaul to play up the brand's contour-bottle icon and new marching orders for his unusually long roster of agencies around the world: The word "Enjoy" will be played up in graphics and "Always" will go.
In talking with Advertising Age Reporter Louise Kramer, Mr. Frenette declined to detail the new advertising and theme for the brand, which receives more than $115 million in U.S. ad support. Although he won't confirm it, the campaign will include ads from McCann-Erickson Worldwide, ousted from creative tasks when the marketer went Hollywood in 1992. Here are excerpts from the interview:
Advertising Age: What is the basic premise of the Coca-Cola Classic overhaul?
Mr. Frenette: We've got to reconnect with consumers every day--that is our fundamental marketing challenge. While there are 6 billion people out there in the world, we can't treat them as a homogeneous set. Even though globalization is knocking down borders and allowing for the free flow of goods and services, and money is moving around rapidly, people still have an identity based on myth and mystery and superstition and folklore.
We saw that people are almost universally looking for comfort, connection, achievement, vitality. But when you dig deep and understand the nuances around how that manifests itself, it is significantly different.
AA: How does this translate into marketing?
Mr. Frenette: We have a strategy of reconnection. Coca-Cola adds a little magic to moments. We don't make the moments; consumers make them. We simply add to the delight of the moment.
AA: How do you define the strategy?
Mr. Frenette: The brief we gave to the agencies was one sentence: "Only the unique sensory experience of a nice, cold Coca-Cola brings a magical delight to the real moments of my life."
Our communication will be reflective of those real moments. We heard people around the world saying they are best friends today with their moms and their dads and their brothers and their sisters, and how important family was. That speaks to the character of Coca-Cola, about being real and genuine and authentic.
We won't be dealing with superficial things of who is the star of the week, what is the fad, or what people are wearing. We will be relevant and depict real life.
AA: What role did agencies play in this project?
Mr. Frenette: We have been working on a communications platform for Coca-Cola that is worldwide in scope. Many of our agencies have participated in that collaborative effort, but the actual strategy itself is the responsibility of Coca-Cola Co. We gave the common brief off a common strategy to all of the agencies that work on Coca-Cola. Not just our advertising agencies, but our promotions agencies and experiential-marketing agencies.
This will influence how we deal with sports activities, our community activities, all the way to the way our fleet looks and the uniforms our salespeople wear.
AA: How is this approach different?
Mr. Frenette: I'm not sure we are moving away from anything, very frankly. I'm able to leverage off a really strong organization that was assembled over the last five years.
AA: Will any agencies be knocked off the roster?
Mr. Frenette: We have a wonderful roster of highly creative and dedicated agencies. I don't see any changes.
What we've said to them is it's not about a shootout; it's not about winners and losers. We simply are expecting the best work for the client and the brand, and we're going to reward them based on the creativity and quality of the work.
AA: What is the reward?
Mr. Frenette: We've got a compensation system that we have in agreements with these agencies that is clearly stated. Sergio [Zyman, Mr. Frenette's predecessor] actually put it in place.
AA: Will the role of agencies change?
Mr. Frenette: Anybody who works on Coca-Cola will work off an architecture and strategy that has been published by us. We have briefed them in great detail. We've been successful at getting it very simple, so it's easy to understand and creatives really get it. You can actually see the energy from them as a result of the way the strategy has been put together.
AA: Doesn't the brief risk stifling creativity?
Mr. Frenette: It doesn't. There has been many a great advertising executive who says, give me the benefit of a tightly focused brief that allows creativity to be unleashed. I would say what we are looking to be is the best client that any agency can have. We are looking for the best output they can produce and we want to avail ourselves to the best creative talent available. We believe this brand deserves that.
AA: Can you get that from your existing roster?
Mr. Frenette: Yes. But I'm not limiting it. We have a significant number of agencies, many of which have specific assignments. With Cliff Freeman, the agency on Fanta, it wouldn't be unreasonable for us to go to them for a Coke assignment if there was something perhaps they could help us with. It would be off the same strategy and brief.
We have many agencies we use on a project basis where they could bring a fresh perspective, a new set of eyes, that would help us capitalize on an opportunity.
AA: Will Coca-Cola spots air globally?
Mr. Frenette: This is a local business and our job is to create communication that is locally relevant. The advertising that is created in individual countries is relevant in other parts of the world. There is no one agency with a lock on what goes on the air in any particular country.
AA: How important is traditional advertising to the marketing mix?
Mr. Frenette: Advertising is just one component of our communication. If we need to reconnect every day, a billion times a day, we have to use all elements of the marketing mix. One could argue that it's probably 25% of the communication mix for us. Sponsorship, experiential marketing, grass-roots activities, what we do inside the store to create theater for the brand, those are things you will see evolving as we go forward.
Copyright October 1999, Crain Communications Inc.