Coke cites IPG but Berlin is real thing

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In the marketing world, is it better to be the mistress or the wife? In the case of Coca-Cola Co. and its agencies, being the mistress certainly looks to have paid off.

Though Coca-Cola insists it remains wed to Interpublic Group of Cos., global creative consultant on Coca-Cola Classic, it was the soft drink giant's dalliance with WPP Group's Berlin Cameron/Red Cell, New York, that yielded the brand's $250 million "Coca-Cola ... Real" campaign.

Berlin Cameron, an agency with total 2001 billings just shy of what Coca-Cola is expected to spend this year in the U.S. on Classic, handled nearly all the strategy, creative and production for the "Real" campaign. McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, the brand's "lead agency" at Interpublic, presented scores of ideas but only got buy-in on one-a 30-second NCAA commercial via its sports promotions arm, Momentum. The first round of Berlin's "Real" will have many more spots than most Classic campaigns.

Yet, Coca-Cola only grudgingly acknowledges that "Real," which it deems more than just an ad campaign but a multi-year marketing platform that will encompass music, promotions, sports tie-ins, new packaging and graphics, would not have been possible without the New York boutique.

In June, Steven J. Heyer, now Coca-Cola's president, said Berlin was merely developing "insights into the youth market that we think may be relevant to advertising for Classic." He said the agency would simply share its insights with Interpublic, "which is and will remain the agency of record for brand Coke."

shared credit

Last week, Chris Lowe, the soft drink giant's chief marketing officer for North America, would not grant that Berlin likely would steer the second round of creative for what could be the brand's biggest-ever North American initiative. He instead stressed the collaborative effort, despite the fact that Interpublic-a Coke partner since World War II-had little "Real" influence. Interpublic, in fact, shared credit last week when Coca-Cola unveiled its "Real" campaign to the press.

Berlin Cameron "obviously played a key role, but it was a very collegial environment," Mr. Lowe said, noting that Berlin Cameron offered a "different perspective."

A spokeswoman for McCann referred calls to Coca-Cola. Interpublic was named global consultant on the $900 million worldwide brand in December 2000.

Landing the flagship Coke assignment is an enormous coup for Berlin Cameron. Though most of the 70-person shop's creatives touched the campaign at one point, a core team of about a dozen-led by CEO Ewen Cameron and Creative Director Jason Peterson-set about producing almost 20 spots.

smaller is better

"The myth is that only big agencies can handle big clients, but I think if you're focused on the key of what we do, which is provide ideas on consumer insights, a relatively small number of people can do that efficiently," Mr. Cameron said.

Berlin's save almost didn't happen. The shop nearly was off the Coke roster in an October 2001 agency realignment. At the time, the soft drink behemoth tried to shift accounts from independent agencies like Berlin to Interpublic as compensation for the loss of some $350 million in business from Coke rival PepsiCo.

Berlin-which launched Dasani and handled Mello Yello and Nestea-was on the verge of seeing its accounts go to Interpublic shops until brand managers in Atlanta and others ran interference. That bullet dodged, independent Berlin realized that to fortify its relationship with Coke, it needed to become part of a global group. At the end of 2001, it sold to WPP.

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