Never-ending share battles to support first truly global brand generate array of memorable ads

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It's just fizzy brown sugar water. But in one of the most masterful marketing efforts of the 20th century, Coca-Cola Co. managed to transform its soda into a brand that promises to make the world a better place.

The global beverage giant has done this by creating, and then nurturing, an array of brand symbols and slogans it continues to reinforce with feel-good advertising backed by the heaviest media spending in the beverage business.

The contoured bottle, the secret formula, the word "Always," the red color red and white script lettering have all become part of the $18.8 billion company's legend. So has the power of Coca-Cola Classic, the flagship brand at the top of the company's list of 160 other beverages. Classic's power was reinforced by the firestorm of publicity when the marketer tried -- and failed miserably -- to replace Coca-Cola with a new formula in 1985.


"Coca-Cola adds a little magic to moments," says Charles Frenette, the company's chief marketing officer. "We believe we have something special in the secret formula and the sensory experience that the formula produces for people, the way it awakens the senses and brings them alive."

TV commercials relate the tale of one of the most impressive consumer advertising stories.

Need reminding? How about the 1971 spot called "Hilltop" where attractive young people from around the world belted out an anthem that turned a soda ad into a plea for world peace. It began: "I'd like to buy the world a home and furnish it with love." And yes, they happened to be holding signature glass bottles of Coca-Cola. The tune in the 60-second spot became a hit single, and the commercial ran for six years.

Then there's the 1980 commercial featuring "Mean Joe" Greene, the Pittsburgh Steelers lineman, in a moment of defeat. His salve as he hobbles into the locker room: a Coca-Cola offered by a little boy. Mr. Greene slugs down the Coke, and rewards the kid with his soiled game jersey, a wonderful prize for an adoring young fan.

Both these spots were from McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, the agency most closely linked with Coke until a 1992 breakup that stunned the advertising business. The marketer turned its back on Madison Avenue and awarded its plum account to a Hollywood talent agency, Creative Artists Agency. A spinoff, Edge Creative, Santa Monica, Calif., still creates Coca-Cola Classic ads, and gave the brand another fuzzy icon, polar bears.


What many call the world's best known brand has been built by fiercely devoted executives and a network of bottlers who carry out the marketing plans in the field. The brand has been further bolstered by long-term contracts with the nation's largest restaurant chains.

Coca-Cola has management legends like the late Roberto Goizueta, credited with the company's rapid expansion abroad, and the former mercurial marketing chief, Sergio Zyman. He divided the company's huge advertising war chest among an unusual two-dozen ad agencies in a search for the best work he could find from around the world.

Coca-Cola's marketing story starts a new chapter in 2000 after recent troubles with sagging stock prices and product quality control in Belgium and elsewhere.

The company plans to launch new advertising, packaging, and local merchandising programs for Coca-Cola Classic.

It will also have a new chief CEO, 30-year company veteran Douglas Daft, who built his experience primarily in international markets. Mr. Daft takes on the chairman-CEO title in April, replacing M. Douglas Ivester, who resigned Dec. 6 after an unexpectedly tough year.


"Coca-Cola is now at the threshold of a new, exciting and promising era," Mr. Ivester told employees in announcing his decision to step down. It will be up to Mr. Daft to fight the cola wars now.

With a strong competitor in archrival Pepsi-Cola Co., and a new consumer thirst for products like bottled water and iced tea, the battle for market share will no doubt continue to be fierce.

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