Sustainability and a Smile

Coca-Cola Joins Green-Marketing Crush, Tries to Redefine the Term in $10 Million Push

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NEW YORK ( -- Big Red says it's going green, hitching its wagon to the sustainability marketing train already hopped on by General Electric Co., Toyota, IBM and others.

Illustration: Marc Simon
But Coke's campaign broadens the definition beyond environmentalism, centering on the concept of "sustainable well-being." The first two executions, for example, don't focus at all on environmentalism and instead paint the soft-drink giant as a corporate good guy concerned with meeting consumer needs and supporting worthy local education and sports programs.

"We're thinking of well-being from a mental, physical, community and environmental perspective that encompasses every part of our North American business," a Coca-Cola spokeswoman said. "We're using this to talk to all of our stakeholders and show our desire to be a better partner to all of them."

Big push
While sustainability work is in no way new for Coke, the fact that it plans to start making noise about it via a major marketing effort -- estimated at up to $10 million -- is a huge shift for the company.

In fact, the project didn't start out that way. When work began on the effort a year ago, it was envisioned as a health-and-wellness push. That changed when Hendrik Steckhan was brought in as president-general manager of the sparkling-beverages division. He decided that framing the initiative from a health-and-wellness perspective would put Coke on the defensive.

Instead of talking about what the company stood against, he wanted to focus on what it supported. And consumer research showed that Coke drinkers wanted the company to start talking about its support of its customers' communities, the spokeswoman said. "Our own consumers were saying, 'Where are you in this [sustainability] space?'" she said. "Consumers let us know that by not talking about this, we were letting others define us as an uncaring company aligned with the pressures consumers are living with."

The campaign breaks this week with a three-page print spread aimed at opinion leaders and influencers such as academics, dietitians and pediatricians. It will appear in publications such as The New York Times, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. The ad uses a number of Coke products to highlight the theme of how it has evolved and will continue to evolve with the needs of its customers.

New aluminum bottle
The first page of the ad displays an old-school Coke bottle and reads: "If you've ever had a Coke, you may be surprised at how many ways there are to enjoy one." The next two pages show five Coke products including the 100-calorie can, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Diet Coke Plus and a new red, aluminum bottle. The ad tells consumers Coke will continue to address their tastes and needs through new products and offerings, and directs them to a website,, for information on its "latest innovations."

There will be two later print executions not yet finalized and a TV spot, titled "Mailbox," that will air this Thursday on "American Idol." A second commercial, called "Football 1951 vs. 2008," is scheduled to make its debut during the 2008 Summer Olympics.

The TV spots, which are more consumer-focused (alpha moms are a particular target), highlight Coke's support of things such as education, through its Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation, and community sports programs. A voice-over in "Mailbox" intones: "If you had a Coke in the last 20 years, you've had a hand in giving college scholarships and support to thousands of our nation's most promising students."

Creative was handled by Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett; Chandler Chicco Agency is managing public relations.

'Real efforts' needed
The question now is whether consumers will buy in to Coke's proposition. Paul Nastu, publisher of Environmental Leader, a green-themed news site aimed at corporate leaders, said any company launching a sustainability effort has "to back up the words, images and messaging it uses with real efforts."
Campaign breaking this week includes ads in The New York Times, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal.
Campaign breaking this week includes ads in The New York Times, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal.

Coke is looking to do just that: prove it's not doling out empty promises. The company spokeswoman said examples include its recycling efforts -- Coke has promised to recycle 100% of its aluminum cans sold in the U.S. and is lending financial support to the construction of the world's largest bottle-to-bottle recycling plant in Spartanburg, S.C. -- and development of more-healthful product offerings.

"To show we are truly committed, we're going to need real proof points," she said. "And with respect to the environment and products, we have something we can point to."
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