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Four years after going to a multiagency strategy and eschewing a traditional agency relationship, Coca-Cola Co. Senior VP-Chief Marketing Officer Sergio Zyman still finds himself called upon to defend the decision.

"It's gone extraordinarily well," he said last week as he introduced new advertising for Coca-Cola Classic. "You can't operate with [any one agency] network with half of their offices around the world weak."

The marketer claims the "Always Coca-Cola" theme and strategy have performed well, noting that worldwide volume for the flagship soft drink was up 21%, or 1.4 billion unit cases, in the last three years.


The "Always" campaign, Mr. Zyman said, will run "until it stops working. If it stopped working tomorrow, we'd kill it. We're not in the advertising business, we're in the soft-drink business."

Coca-Cola raised eyebrows in 1993 when it parted on creative with McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, in favor of work from Hollywood's Creative Artists Agency. Since that development, CAA has edged out of the business but a descendent called Edge Advertising, Los Angeles, majority-owned by Coca-Cola, still handles the brand.

One of the ads in Coca-Cola's new pool of 16 for its flagship was created by Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, the first time the agency has done work for the brand.

Mr. Zyman declined to reveal spending on the Classic campaign, saying that funding would vary by market but that the goal was to spend as heavily as possible.

"Our objective is to be on the air every day," Mr. Zyman said. "The idea is to reduce the production budget [to put] the most you can into media."

In the U.S., Coca-Cola put $132 million behind Classic last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting, as it spent heavily to support its Olympics tie-ins.

In its relationship with Edge, Mr. Zyman explained that "we decide what [the marketing strategy] will be and write briefs .*.*. [Edge] comes back with a lot of work and we decide what we want to run. We shoot it for one-third of what [other] agencies will shoot it for."

Although Mr. Zyman noted that there are few big-name directors used, "Howards End" director James Ivory did do one new spot.

Some of the new global spots break this week and next. Like prior executions using the 4-year-old theme, the commercials show consumers interacting with the brand and Classic's contour bottle icon.


In various spots, chefs at a Paris cooking school use Coca-Cola in their recipes; a school band cools off with Coca-Cola; sumo wrestlers drink it for lunch; and window mannequins are undisturbed by Keystone Kops-style antics on the street but rush forward when someone walks by with Coca-Cola.

Other ads feature an unseen man on the run, who is ecstatic at the sight of a Coke vending machine; and a man who creates a Coke bottle sculpture out of an iceberg. The Ivory-directed spot takes off on Shakespeare, showing King Lear asking his daughters to pledge their love; the child winning his affection and throne gives him Coca-Cola.

Mr. Zyman said the Burnett spot was created for a promotion. It shows a camera panning down neon signs outside a motel: "No TV," "No pool" and "No air conditioning" appear, then "Ice cold Coca-Cola" and, last, "No vacancy."

Coca-Cola still works with 32 agencies around the world, mostly for its other brands. Domestic agencies include Goldberg Moser O'Neill, San Francisco; and Fallon McElligott Berlin, Cliff Freeman & Partners and Lowe & Partners/SMS, all New York.

"All of our agencies are on fees, plus bonuses," Mr. Zyman said, adding that the payment system allows them "not to worry if we cut our [advertising] budget."

"We give probably the best return on investment they get," he said.


Mr. Zyman said Coca-Cola has made other moves to strengthen marketing as well, hiring 3,000 marketing people in three years ranging from divisional marketing managers to regional and media managers.

Last year, Coke switched from informal reviews of its marketing budget and plans to a monthly review.

All the moves have been part of a sea change in Coke's attitude toward marketing.

Until a few years ago, "marketing was advertising," at Coca-Cola, Mr. Zyman said. But now "advertising is only a small part of it."

"We believe very strongly that the old way of marketing is dead. We know everything we do and say communicates," Mr. Zyman said.


The major communication this season will be "Coca-Cola Incredible Summer," a promotion starting next month.

The effort, Mr. Zyman boasted, "will obliterate every other promotion in the marketplace," a reference in part to Pepsi-Cola Co.'s popular, ongoing "Pepsi Stuff" campaign.

The promotion offers consumers debit cards in Coca-Cola packages worth up to $100.

The inclusion of the Burnett spot in the "Always" lineup is a boost for the Chicago agency, which handles the company's Minute Maid, Surge and Fruitopia brands.

"Surge is doing very well, but it has a long way to go," said Mr. Zyman, who didn't give Fruitopia a ringing endorsement. "We never felt [the New Age] category was" dynamic. "We felt if the category is going to go, we have to participate . . . But if it grows, it's going to be very slow."

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