Commentary by Al Ries


New Campaign Demonstrates Why Good Ads Are Not About Creativity

By Published on .

Coca-Cola's launch of its new "real" campaign represents a watershed moment in advertising history.

The owner of the world's most valuable brand has turned its

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back on everything near and dear to the hearts of the creative community and returned to its roots.

"It's the real thing," a theme indelibly embedded in the minds of cola drinkers since it was first used in 1969, is the obvious inspiration for the new campaign.

We applaud Coke's decision. This is what advertising is all about. To reinforce and reaffirm ideas that already exist in the mind.

Not about 'creativity'
Advertising is not about "creativity." That is, advertising is not good at communicating the "new and different." Advertising lacks the credibility to insert a new idea into a mind. Especially an idea that conflicts with one that is already up there. (If you want to put a new idea into a mind, turn to PR.)

The Coca-Cola Co. spent millions on an ad campaign called "Always." Yet go into a bar or restaurant and ask for an "Always" and see the bewildered look on the face of the waiter or waitress. But ask for a bottle of the "Real Thing" and see the look of recognition you'll get.

Forget about creativity. Forget about creating something new and different. The only role for advertising is to act as a cheerleader for people who already have positive thoughts about your brand. This is exactly what the new Coke campaign will be doing.

Return to heritage
"Real" returns the brand to its heritage. Coca-Cola is widely

Penelope Cruz stars in one of Coke's new "Real Thing" spots.
known as the first, the original cola. Everything else is an imitation.

This is a powerful, motivating reason to prefer Coca-Cola. How can Pepsi-Cola or Royal Crown be better than the real thing?

Interestingly enough, early Coke advertising urged consumers to "Demand the genuine" and "Accept no substitute." The company also created a distinctive bottle to assure people that they were actually getting a real Coca-Cola. Coke's advertising should continue in this same vein.

What advertising does best is to protect and enhance the position that a brand has already achieved. And no brand has been blessed like Coca-Cola. When you own the "real thing," why would you run advertising programs like these:

  • Polar bears prefer Coca-Cola.
  • Enjoy.
  • Life tastes good.
  • All the world loves a Coke.

But is Coke dominant?
You can't argue with success, you

might be thinking. Coca-Cola is the world's most valuable brand, worth an estimated $70 billion

But is Coca-Cola the dominant brand it appears to be?

  • Marlboro leads Newport by 397%
  • Kodak leads Fuji by 269%
  • Budweiser leads Miller by 156%
  • McDonald's leads Burger King by 133%
  • Visa leads MasterCard by 96%

But Coca-Cola, the world's most valuable brand, leads Pepsi-Cola by only 47%.

Coke can and ought to do better than that. And its "real" campaign is a real step in the right direction.

Al Ries is the author or co-author of 11 books on marketing, the most recent of which is The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR. He and his daughter Laura run the Atlanta-based marketing strategy firm Ries & Ries.

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