Get real, Coke-it's not the shop

By Published on .

Coca-Cola Co.'s shift of its $150 million North American advertising for its flagship brand is glaring evidence that the true cola war is within its own organization.

In the move last week, Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., took over for Berlin Cameron & Partners. But the question is whether even Wieden's creative firepower can turn around a brand stuck in a revolving door of management and changes in marketing direction. Indeed, after years of trying to find an enduring creative campaign for Big Red, the marketer is no further along than it was when it yanked the business from McCann Erickson and hired Berlin two years ago.

"Coke changes agencies every two years to unremarkable ends," said one executive close to the marketer. "Maybe they should be looking inside."

An agency consultant faults "a lack of direction and confidence coming from Coca-Cola and not problems with the agencies," adding, "If you reach out to all those resources and consistently aren't finding what you're looking for, is that the agency's problem or the client's problem?"

Certainly, Coke's shifting executive suite, its vacillation between global and local marketing strategies and debate over a centralized vs. decentralized marketing organization has kept the brand off balance.

In just five years, there have been three chairmen-CEOs (Doug Ivestor, Doug Daft and Neville Isdell); two presidents (Jack Stahl and Steve Heyer); three North American presidents (Don Knauss, Steve Heyer and Jeff Dunn); four global CMOs (Charlie Frenette, Stephen Jones, Dan Palumbo and Chuck Fruit) and three North American marketing heads (John Hackett, Javier Benito and Chris Lowe) not to mention countless brand directors.

Coca-Cola declined to comment.

The dueling agendas between Coca-Cola's global and local executive suites is underscored by the fact that even though Berlin Cameron was dismissed from the business in North America, its network parent, Red Cell United, is still competing with Wieden for a huge global assignment for Coca-Cola.

The global face-off comes later this month in front of Mr. Isdell and Mary Minnick, Coke's president of marketing, strategy and innovation.

The agency consultant, however, said that Coca-Cola can go back to the hilltop to reclaim the special appeal it enjoyed during its heyday, but it's not giving agencies the proper instruction to do so .

"Either [Coke's] ideas are not connecting with consumers and they need to rethink them, or they're not doing a good job of articulating" what is so special about the brand to agencies, said the consultant.

You won't get the answer to that from Berlin or Wieden, which both declined to comment.

Long time coming

Wieden has been in Coke's sites for some time. Its "Eat Football, Sleep Football, Drink Coca-Cola" created by its Amsterdam office in 1996 is hailed by Coke insiders and outsiders as the some of the best work done for the brand in recent history, and it is now being reprised in Europe, Latin America and Asia through the 2006 World Cup. And the agency, which has long performed marketing magic for Nike, had already been tapped by Coke in April to handle sponsorship duties for the 2006 Turin, Italy, and 2008 Beijing Olympics.

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