Coke Goes for a Good Old Cup of Joe

As CMO, Tripodi Will Go Back to Basics, Focus on In-Store Efforts

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NEW YORK ( -- After years of veering among different high-profile marketing executives, each of whom proselytized about a different high-minded marketing concept, Coca-Cola Co. has gone back to fundamentals.
Joe Tripodi, Coca-Cola's new chief marketing and commercial officer
Joe Tripodi, Coca-Cola's new chief marketing and commercial officer Credit: Tim Klein

In naming Joseph V. Tripodi its chief marketing and commercial officer, Coke has gone for a nuts-and-bolts guy -- and unified all advertising and marketing under him. Mr. Tripodi is expected to espouse sales drivers over image campaigns. He's a friendly, relatively ego-free guy who'll likely be a friend to the bottlers. And if he does become a champion of any one channel, it'll be old-reliable, point-of-sale.

In that respect, Mr. Tripodi, who resigned this week as senior VP-CMO for Allstate Insurance to take the Coke job, is decidedly different from the other people who have played the role of lead singer for Coke's marketing band in recent years.

Former Chief Operating Officer Steve Heyer raised eyebrows by talking about Coke's cans as a media opportunity and struck larger-than-life poses as Coke ran ads featuring a burping Penelope Cruz. Former Exec VP Mary Minnick focused on innovation -- with good reason and reasonable results -- trying to boost Coke's product portfolio by aiming at customers' "need states." Former Chief Creative Officer Esther Lee took delight in creating a complex, collaborative system of external agencies and in-house systems and processes that spawned some great work but a good deal of confusion and agency griping.

Mr. Tripodi, on the other hand, recently criticized marketers who seek to dazzle without goosing sales or building recall. "We have been seduced by the clever and the cute, the image without the substance," he said in a recent speech at an Association of National Advertisers event. "We are more concerned with production value than consumer value."

Playing to that mind-set, Coke has given him oversight of not only traditional advertising but also point-of-purchase marketing and in-store sales -- the first time the beverage giant has placed all of those marketing disciplines under a single executive's supervision. In the past Coke made one manager responsible for advertising and another for the other disciplines. One agency executive who works with Coke said having all disciplines report to the same person likely would make advertising far more accountable for results.

In the shopping aisle
Mr. Tripodi's hire also speaks to the fact that Coke has identified point of sale as an area where it can push growth, said spokesman Kelly Brooks. At a time when reaching consumers through traditional media has become tougher, talking to them at the store or a restaurant, when they are deciding which product to buy, is critical. Point-of-purchase promotion "will become increasingly important, whether you are shopping" or out at a club, said Michael Bellas of Beverage Marketing Corp., a beverage-industry consultant.

Mr. Tripodi, who will report to Muhtar Kent, Coca-Cola's president-chief operating officer, may be arriving at the right time. Until recently the beverage giant, which spent $741 million in U.S. measured media in 2006, was perceived as ailing on the marketing front, with weak ads, too many changes in agency and strategy, and a product portfolio too narrow for today's fragmented beverage aisle.

But Coke has gained plaudits with "Coke Side of Life" work from independent Wieden & Kennedy and was seen as beating Pepsi in this year's Super Bowl. The company also finally appears to have abandoned the notion that its famous flagship drink and ancillary sodas require the lion's share of attention. Reflecting consumers' demand for different and more-healthful fare, Coca-Cola has worked to reduce its dependence on fizzy brown sugar. It purchased Energy Brands, best known for its Glaceau Vitaminwater, as well as Fuze Beverage, a maker of juices and teas. Coke also has launched Coca-Cola Zero, a zero-calorie version of the original, and Diet Coke Plus, which includes essential nutrients.

Straightforward pitches
Mr. Tripodi is known for clearly defined messages, which ought to serve him well as he seeks to boost Coke's presence at retail. His three-plus years at Allstate will be remembered for his efforts to carve out a memorable definition of the company for potential customers. When Allstate was stumbling amid deep-pocketed challenges from upstarts such as Geico and Progressive, Mr. Tripodi helped stabilize the business by greenlighting a major boost in marketing spending that's paid dividends since.

His hallmark has been Allstate's "Our Stand" campaign starring actor Dennis Haysbert, best known for his role as the president on Fox's "24." The message in those ads was clear: Allstate is reliable in many troubling situations. The spots stood in distinct contrast to the humor of the now-ubiquitous ducks, geckos and cavemen that have become synonymous with insurance advertising. A May study by Phoenix Marketing International found that Allstate's TV ads were the top performers among property and casualty insurers.

Mr. Tripodi gained experience with beverages as CMO for Seagram Spirits & Wine Group from 1999 to 2002. He also worked as CMO for Bank of New York and exec VP-global marketing, products and services for MasterCard, where he helped build the "Priceless" campaign. In 2003, he told Advertising Age he didn't need experience in the specific industry he was working in to succeed; he just needed marketing experience. He said at the time: "As marketers, we say 'a widget is a widget is a widget.'"
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