Editorial: Coke tries anew for the big idea

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In late 2000, Coca-Cola Co. acted on a flawed idea: Anoint Interpublic Group of Cos. as global "creative consultant and idea generator" on flagship Coca-Cola Classic. It didn't work. This month, Coca-Cola President-Chief Operating Officer Steven J. Heyer had a big idea: Pronounce a new model for marketing-and put out the call for everyone to pitch early and often. It's a smart move.

We were skeptical about Coca-Cola's 2000 setup, and in this space called it "more a sign of indecision than of bold and confident marketing." Interpublic, the parent of longtime Coca-Cola shop McCann-Erickson Worldwide, faced obstacles: While Interpublic President-CEO John J. Dooner Jr. vowed to harness resources from across the Interpublic holding company, implementation of those ideas would be up to many non-Interpublic shops around the world.

Nevertheless, Interpublic bears heavy responsibility for what's happened since. Its Coke client was searching for ... something. Interpublic's team had its chance to find the talent and ideas to rock Coca-Cola. It didn't happen, and Mr. Heyer (who arrived in 2001) invited WPP Group's Berlin Cameron/Red Cell to handle North American creative for Coke Classic.

Plainly, Coke's president has a vision. At Ad Age's Madison + Vine conference this month, he described how Coca-Cola Co. and its partners- agencies, media and entertainment companies-must collaborate in new ways in a fragmented, changed world. "Each of us needs to think outside that box ... Broaden the definition of our roles," said Mr. Heyer, concluding: "We just put a big sign in the window: Partners wanted."

It's up to Mr. Heyer to turn this casting call into a strategy, but it's up to Interpublic, WPP and others to contribute on the broader stage Coke is building for its partners. In 2000, we urged Coke to "be the leader, execute deals and act boldly as a marketer." More power to them.

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