BEIJING--Coca-Cola Co. is promoting its global sponsorship of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, as well as the company's overall brand image in its fastest-growing market, with the introduction of a new composite logo and packaging that will be used internationally.
The Olympic marketing push is taking place against a backdrop of changes in internal management, marketing and agency alignment that has some of Coke's partners worried and confused.
Marshall now leads Asia
In addition to the upcoming departure of Ilan Sobel, Shanghai-based VP & general manager, strategic marketing and innovation for China, reported in Advertising Age earlier this month, the Atlanta-based company has restructured operations in Asia to create a Pacific Group, which includes Greater China as well as Japan, South Korea, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
Advertising for these countries will now be managed by Darren Marshall, group marketing director, Pacific Group. He is also leading the hunt to replace Mr. Sobel, who will return to his native South Africa for personal reasons. Previously, Mr. Marshall was group marketing director for East and South Asia & the Pacific Rim, a role that did not include mainland China, Japan or Korea. Mr. Marshall, who will remain based in Hong Kong, has worked in Asia since moving to Kuala Lumpur in 1998 as Coca-Cola’s country marketing manager for Malaysia.
Red Lounge is Sobel's legacy
The new logo and bottle are Mr. Sobel's last act after two years in China, but his real legacy may be Red Lounge, an independent marketing unit established in the last few weeks in Shanghai. Mr. Sobel won't say how many staff work at Red Lounge, but it includes Coke's marketing department in China as well as Coke account teams from its various agencies, including McCann Erickson, Leo Burnett and Wwwins Consulting, the digital division of Aegis Group. A new office has been set up, and agency execs are using new e-mail addresses ending in "@redlounge.com.cn" and individual cellphone numbers rather than a switchboard.
Red Lounge was established by Coke "to unify its agencies with different specializations for better marketing support, such as advertising, media planning, interactive, below-the-line and outdoor media, to ensure we get the best integration and efficiency," Mr. Sobel said. The unit's name is a reference to interactive hangouts set up in U.S. shopping malls called Red Lounges, designed to give the Coke brand a hipper image among young consumers, a concept that is spreading around the world.
But the establishment of Red Lounge may end up leaving one of its founding partners, McCann Erickson, out in the cold, as sources at several agencies believe Coke will move that agency's creative business in China to Leo Burnett. McCann Erickson and Leo Burnett declined to comment officially, but senior McCann executives in China insisted the account is not in play and Mr. Sobel denied the rumors.
"Red Lounge works with all our holding companies, Interpublic [Group of Cos.], Aegis and Publicis [Groupe]," he said. He added, however, that Coke will shortly be finalizing all the agencies' roles.
Bottle design aimed at kids
Separately, the new Coke bottle and logo, the largest effort so far connected to the 2008 games, will roll out internationally. This is the first time Coke is introducing a global initiative in China, site of the next Olympics and Coke’s fourth-largest market.
Unveiled in mid-January in Beijing with representatives from the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG), the logo is adorned with Chinese design elements like clouds and kites to support the theme “Showing China to the world,” and is anchored by the main logos for Coke and the Olympic Games.
Clouds symbolize good luck in Chinese culture. A pair of kites, an ancient Chinese invention that has become an international pastime, represent the spirit of Chinese people and the teamwork necessary to hold a successful Olympic Games. The logo was designed to be easily adapted locally, such as replacing the auspicious clouds with Chinese characters symbolizing different provinces in the mainland.
A longtime Olympic sponsor, Coca-Cola traditionally creates a special logo highlighting characteristics of the culture and art from cities that host the event, said Paul Etchells, Shanghai-based president of Coke’s beverage unit in China, “to spread the spirit and inspiration of the Olympic Games.”
The new bottle keeps Coke's signature curves and red color, but is slimmer and taller. It also has a fluorescent glow, a streamlined ribbon and easy-to-grip “cool spots” that glisten in the sun, all designed to appeal to young consumers, said Mr. Sobel.
Limited editions of the bottle feature the new composite logo for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, with space for various promotional designs such as the five Olympic rings. The bottle’s launch coincides with another effort aimed at young Chinese, an online game
The new bottle, logo and game "are critical things laid down by Coke that will be carried out globally for the next 18 months,” said Greg Paull, founder and principal of R3, an independent marketing consultancy which tracks brand and star performance connected to the 2008 Olympic Games.