When I read about the new ad campaign for Coca-Cola, I smiled. I smiled because the campaign, consisting of some 30 different commercials, was variously lauded as "creative" and criticized as "unfocused."
Few who have looked up from their newspapers to watch polar bears ski-jump and luge down icy mountains will dispute the sheer creative energy of at least two of the new commercials. The issue of "focus" is quite another matter. The new Coke campaign rates among the most focused I've seen.
Understanding why may require a primer on what I like to call "the new math of brand identity."
The old math held that each element of a marketing communications program added up to success if each activity accomplished a stated objective (i.e., generated another dollar, secured another customer). If that program consisted of four elements-image advertising, direct mail, a promotion, a public relations campaign-the sum total of the effort would numerically be expressed as 4. This is the standard by which so-called "integrated marketing," in which the "focus" is on making every marketing activity look alike, currently is measured.
If, however, a brand mar-keter remains true to the consistent application of certain basic elements within each communication, between communications, and across all channels of communication, the net result of the effort will increase exponentially.
The sum total of the effort is not a 4 but a 4.2 or 4.6.
The extra .2 or .6 may be sales, new customers or profits. But the incremental gain also represents something even more valuable. Such gains go straight to the bottom line of the brand's equity. It matters not whether all communications are visually similar, provided that all communications convey the positive attributes of the brand. In the case of Coca-Cola, those core values are quality, taste and refreshment, which come through loud and clear throughout "Always Coca-Cola. "Creativity" and "focus," far from fighting each other, work together in perfect harmony.
Given the fragmentation of media, lifestyle and channels of distribution, the "new math of brand identity" should today be a required course for brand marketers. Like most marketers, Coke is targeting multiple consumer segments, who are reached via a spectrum of media and buy soft drinks in a range of purchasing environments. In this fractured marketplace, it's a safe bet that some of Coke's intended consumers belong to more than one market segment, will see Coke's communications via more than one setting.
Not even a marketer with the brand equity of Coca-Cola can afford to send mixed signals to today's multi-dimensional consumers.
Even as it rushes headlong into the future of building brand identity-and ultimately equity-Coke pays homage to the past with its use of the familiar, curvaceous Coke bottle and old-fashion red disk throughout its brand communications. As the mastermind of the new Coke campaign, Sergio Zyman, put it, "It's the best known package in the world, with the possible exception of the egg.
For many years, the focus of brand identity fixated solely on the creation of visual identifiers. The concept was to create a distinct symbol that would be a proprietary, visual representation of a company. The difference today, which Coke obviously understands, is that such symbols are no longer strategic but tactical. Symbols have ceased to serve as the foundation of the brand-building effort, but rather the structure by which that company conveys its personality.
Old "truths" die hard. So some will continue to look at the Coke campaign and call it unfocused, fractionated and lacking in the characteristics of sound brand-building that we all know and love. The rest of us will charge up our calculators, as we pause and refresh ourselves with the new math of brand identity.
Mr. Burke is president of Burke & Partners, a brand identity company in Paramus, N.J.