Coke's Jonathan Mildenhall on the brand's global foundations

Jonathan Mildenhall, Coke's vice-president of global advertising strategy and creative excellence, on the foundations that underlie the brand's success.

What a great email to receive – Marketing magazine asking me whether I would put down in words what it took for us to snag the 2013 Cannes Lions Creative Marketer of the Year accolade. I only wish the request had come in three months earlier, because it would have forced me to prepare a much more compelling summary for my boss as part of my end-of -year review.

Here is what it took for The Coca-Cola Company to knock it out of the park, as we did last year. First, we have a clear company vision. We all know where we are going and how we are going to get there. We also have Muhtar Kent, our chairman and CEO, who demands that all Coke employees, and our partners, remain ‘constructively discontent’. This basically means let’s be good-natured people, but let’s also make the current status quo the absolute enemy. This gives a marketer like me incredible licence to embrace constant creative innovation.

Second, we invested, both in terms of time and production dollars, in developing our own global manifesto for marketing communications. This body of work was developed in-house and is called ‘Content 2020’. You can search for it on YouTube. We put it out there knowing that agencies all over the world would see our ambition, embrace it and then use it against us should we ever be tempted to fall back into a traditional and conservative marketing mindset. And boy, do the more creative agencies exploit this.

Many people have asked us why are we being so public about our agenda. Surely we are worried about giving away too many top-shelf secrets? Absolutely not. We make it public so that we can engage in conversations with interested parties, so we can take on board feedback, so we can iterate with new ideas, so we can be sure of a global creative standard, and, importantly, so we can attract new partnerships.

Since going public we have shared our learning with companies such as P&G, Shell and Walmart, with each company givingus something in return. We have also shared it with the faculties of Stanford University and my alma maters, Manchester Metropolitan University and Harvard Business School. The shared value that ‘going public’ has created has been nothing short of sensational. As a result, we continue to iterate and evolve the thinking as we learn from people who are much brighter than we are.

Third, we have made a very public commitment to inspiring the world’s finest creative minds to want to work on our brands. Our success is largely depend­ent on the top thinkers in the creative industries seeing The Coca-Cola Company as an opportunity to do some of the best work of their careers, an opportunity we are committed to having them realise. Together.

The fourth big driver of any ­marketing organisation’s success is establishing ‘system-wide’ creative principles that all our work must live by. We have nine of them. Each one has led to work that helped win more Cannes Lions – 31 in fact – in more categories, on more brands and from more countries than ever before in our history. We could not be more proud of this body of work and our agency ­partners.

So what are these principles?

1. Creativity that is surprising yet familiar. We believe in work that is blindingly obvious – "Coke Hands" has become our most-­awarded print ad in history. It brought home a Grand Prix.

2. Creativity that provokes authentic brand experiences. Let’s not just ‘say’, let’s ‘do’. Real brand experiences are worth their marketing weight in Cannes Lions Gold - Sprite Shower.

3. Creativity that earns our brands a disproportionate share of popular culture. A measure of popular culture is conversation. Where we ­invest, we want to dominate the conversation - Polar Bowl.

4. Creativity that is so contagious we lose control of where it spreads. If consumers place our content on their social networks, we know we are doing something right - Security Cameras.

5. Creativity that innovates around the 70% mass-marketing base. We believe in TV; it’s not going away. But let’s re-­imagine how consumers will engage with the content we place on TV. Our interactive TV gaming app ‘Chok! Chok! Chok!’ from Hong Kong is a brilliant example of this.

6. Creativity where technology is seamlessly integrated into the idea. Brand experiences must have scale. For us that means putting an increasing focus on creative excellence in mobile. The London Olympics saw the best mobile campaign that we have done to date - Move To The Beat

7. Creativity that is inspired by our past but projects us into our future. Our brands are what they are today because of the great work that our forefathers and mothers did. Let’s leverage that work where we can, but do so in a way that builds on their bravery and innovation - HillTop 'Re:Brief'

8. Creativity that is conceived by fans, curated by us and executed beautifully. Harnessing the creative potential of our fans is fertile territory. But consumer-generated stories don’t have to suffer in execution. On ‘Coke Zero’, a community of consumers created a dance, the choreographer of that dance had a strong story, we cast the lead from the community, we found the music ­inside the community. Coke Zero’s open-sourced content snared two Cannes Lions - A Step From Zero

9. Creativity that redefines our own ­‘Liquid and Linked’ marketing agenda. The "Share A Coke" campaign from Australia has become the most-awarded of 2012. It broke so many of our own norms. It was bold, brave work and caught the imagination of people worldwide. As a result, we are rolling it out to more than a dozen markets this year. Beautiful ‘Liquid and Linked’ marketing in motion.

When it comes to my own contribution to our creative success, honestly, I put it down to my belief in the power of our brands and in the power of marketing. With the right people believing in the right brands, I really do think that anything is possible – and that marketing at The Coca-Cola Company must be a beacon for excellence in everything we do.

Thank you for giving me your time – let’s continue the conversation on Twitter


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