WILL OVITZ DEAL LEAD TO COCA-DISNEY?

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I hate to rain on anybody's parade, but Coca-Cola Co. should be careful about the ad arrangement it's made with Walt Disney Co.

Under the best of circumstances, and with the best intentions, corporate relationships that start off lovingly often end up with the two parties at each other's throats.

Coca-Cola and Disney have more important fish to fry than an ad deal between the two. For instance, how do you think PepsiCo will feel about advertising its considerable wares on ABC-TV (when the Disney-ABC deal goes through) if Disney is involved in Coke Classic ads?

It's one thing for Coke and Disney to have some co-branding contracts together, such as Coke being served in Disney parks. But if I were one of Coke's rivals I'd think long and hard about supporting in any way a company that is lending its chief operating officer, Michael Ovitz, to help take market share away from you.

More importantly, what happens when the lovefest between Coca-Cola and the Disney team begins to cool, as it inevitably will? Disney could take great umbrage at Coca-Cola not appreciating the work it was turning out for its flagship brand. And when things fall apart, Mr. Ovitz's boss Michael Eisner will not be pleased about all the time his second in command was spending on the Coke account, especially since Disney gets no financial remuneration in the arrangement.

My big question in all this: What's in it for Disney? Why is Disney allowing its new president to devote so much of his time to creating polar bear ads at a time the company is about to acquire Cap Cities/ABC?

Don't tell me that Mr. Eisner is already running out of things for Mr. Ovitz to do. I would have thought that what with the problems of Euro Disney and building a brand new town outside of Orlando, Mr. Ovitz would have his hands full.

As our story said: "Disney appears to have nothing much to gain from its stake in the company, except keeping Mr. Ovitz's business relationships" intact with the three creative people on the Coke account and Sergio Zyman, marketing chieftain at Coca-Cola. Surely, Coca-Cola is not doing the deal so the company would have access to Disney's TV production facilities.

All of the above is conjecture. But what cannot be denied is that, in an unprecedented act, the chief operating officer is assuming a major advertising assignment for another company.

That, of course, solidifies Coca-Cola's many co-branded relationships with Disney, and-who knows-written into the deal might be a broadening of them. Maybe Disney will change the name of its hockey team from the Mighty Ducks to the Coke Polar Bears. Or polar bear dolls could be sold at Disney World and Disneyland. Why not a Saturday morning TV show based on the lovable polar bear characters?

But to my Machiavellian mind, one thing is certain: The ties that bind Coca-Cola to Disney are sure to strengthen. Whether the relationship becomes a full-blown Coca-Disney remains to be seen.

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