Why Coca-Cola has paused most paid marketing during the pandemic
Coca-Cola Co.—which has put most of its marketing on pause across the globe—will only gradually bring back spending as countries begin emerging from coronavirus lockdowns.
The drinks giant today released two new ads that will initially target markets in Asia Pacific, Latin America and Spain. But the paid media support behind the ads will be minimal at first, avoiding the big TV buys that Coke is known for in normal times. “It’s going to be mostly owned media, digital, for the most part, across the board,” Coca-Cola global Chief Marketing Officer Manuel Arroyo said in an interview, referring to Coke’s social channels.
The approach comes as Coke battles sales headwinds caused by the pandemic. Volume plummeted 25 percent since the beginning of April, the company reported last week, driven by steep declines in away-from-home channels, such as stadiums and other venues that have gone dark.
The new ads are remakes of old Coke spots, redone for the coronavirus era. One spot, called “Reasons to Believe in the Human Race,” will hit Asia Pacific starting today and comes from Dentsu-owned shop Merdeka LHS. It contrasts negative thoughts with positive ones. “For every act of selfishness, there are thousands of selfless ones,” the ad declares, contrasting a scene of a woman buying up all the toilet paper in the store with another shot of a woman receiving medical treatment. It is an updated version of a spot from 2011 that contrasted tanks with teddy bears, along with other juxtapositions.
Arroyo, who oversees Coke’s Asia Pacific group in addition to the CMO duties, described the remade ad as a “hymn to humanity,” adding that it gets across the idea that, for every problem, “there is always a hand, a spirit, a heart that is going to help you to go and navigate through that.”
The optimistic tone has long been a part of Coke’s marketing DNA, dating back to such efforts as “Open Happiness.”
But as the coronavirus has ravaged the world, the drinks giant has been careful about using advertising spend to tout the company or its brands. Brand Coke has not run a national TV spot in the U.S. since late March, according to ad-tracking service iSpot.tv. This contrasts with countless other bands that have rushed coronavirus-themed ads to market, including some that have touted philanthropic efforts or consumer discounts.
Coca-Cola’s biggest marketing move in the U.S. was to run coronavirus-themed ads on a Times Square billboard, including one that ran in late March plugging a social distancing message. However, because Coke owns the billboard, it does not represent new spending. The company has significantly scaled back its U.S. digital advertising but never went completely dark, according to a spokeswoman.
Arroyo said that globally the company has focused on philanthropy during what he described as “phase one” of the outbreak, which refers to a period still ongoing in many countries, including the U.S., characterized by uncertainty, fear and even panic in some places. During this phase, “we’ve been intentionally quiet,” he says. “What is important is to do—not to say.” The company and its foundation have pledged $100 million to support COVID-19 relief efforts globally. Some of the money came from what otherwise would have been spent running ads, according to Arroyo.
While other marketers have touted their philanthropy as part of paid ads, Coke did not want to go that route, for fear of a consumer backlash. “We are Coca-Cola, you cannot imagine how many people jump when we go with a message like that—they say, ‘well, you better be quiet down and donate the cost of advertising.’ ”
The company will let leaders in local markets decide when the time is right to advertise again. “We want to be respectful to that fact that the phases are different—there are some countries at the beginning of the crisis.”
Another new ad debuting this week will target Latin America and Spain. The Spanish-language spot, from Mercado McCann in Argentina, is called “Para Todos.” It is a remake of an Argentinian ad from 2002 that includes scenes of a litany of Coke packaging. The new version uses similar visuals, along with language that references the pandemic, such as “For those who recovered. For those who are no longer with us,” ending with, “We will get through this. For everyone.” Below, the Spanish-language version, followed one in English.