Coca-Cola has hired advertising and marketing services group Interpublic (IPG) to develop a global ad and communications strategy for its flagship brand, in a deal worth dollars 1bn.
The move, part of Coke's ongoing advertising and marketing rethink under chief executive Doug Daft, is designed to establish a consistent overall message for the brand across the 200 countries it sells in. But while this approach may be similar to that of countless other global brands, it comes at the same time as Coke is preparing to tailor its marketing campaigns to local markets.
As such, the move will prompt speculation that the soft drinks giant is ultimately shying away from taking a fully localised approach to marketing. So, how will the two strategies sit together?
Coke says Interpublic will act as a creative consultant, generating ideas at a global level which can then be translated by local marketers as part of Coke's 'Think local, act local' strategy.
IPG, which includes the McCann Erickson WorldGroup, The Lowe Group, DraftWorldwide, Initiative Media Worldwide, Octagon Sports Marketing and the Allied Communications Group, will form a 'marketing communications advisory council' with Coke marketers.
From next year this council will work across all media, including online, sponsorship and in-store, to determine how best to communicate the brand in local markets.
It will not create any advertising work for Coca-Cola, and nor, claims Coke, will it affect Coke's local strategies. Local Coke marketing teams will decide how these communication blueprints should be executed in their marketplace.
Andrew Coker, communications director for Coca-Cola GB, said: 'It in no way inhibits local strategies. Each country can still appoint local agencies to implement the brand message devised by Interpublic. This is not a return to the control days of Atlanta.'
Instead, Coke claims the initiative is designed to deter brand inconsistency and provide local agencies with a single brand message on which to base their communications. Stephen C. Jones, chief marketing officer, The Coca-Cola Company, says: 'Interpublic will enable our marketers around the world to take the core messages about brand Coca-Cola and ensure their relevance to consumers at the local level.'
Since Doug Daft took the helm as chairman and chief executive officer of the world's biggest brand at the start of the year, the message from Coke's Atlanta HQ has been 'Go local'. After 1999, with its series of scandals, including the mass withdrawal of contaminated product in France and Belgium, and a racial discrimination case in Atlanta, Coke was keen to leave behind its cold image of a global corporation.
But with 200 countries and 125 languages to deal with, the job of keeping a consistent brand message, while Atlanta loosens its hold, has been a tough one for Coke, especially as it shakes up its local ad arrangements.
Over the past few weeks in the UK, Mother has stolen the pounds 4.2m Dr Pepper account from Y&R, while Soul, which created the ads for Coke Auction, was last week handed the pounds 5.5m Fanta business, taking the account from Leagas Delaney. Wieden & Kennedy held on to the pounds 7m Diet Coke account, and Mother to its pounds 1.5m Lilt business. A result is pending on the UK agency for Coca-Cola, though Publicis will be the lead agency across Europe. Coker refused to comment on the pitch.
In the UK, Coke has devised a number of promotions that have communicated with the consumer on a local level. The most significant was summer's online Coke Auction promotion, where consumers could accumulate credits by collecting tokens and ring pulls, and bid online for products or experiences.
The supporting ad push by Soul was gritty, British and devoid of Coke's splashing bottle logo and American jingles.
Despite Coke's claims that IPG's work will not interfere with its localisation strategy, some observers this week found it strange that the company has been promising a local approach, but is now establishing a global think-tank. One source said: 'Coke does need to find a better global focus for its brand, but I don't know how you can act locally if you're still thinking globally.'
When the first work from its newly appointed UK agencies starts to roll out next year, the industry will be watching to see how far Coke really is able to think and act locally, particularly when its Coca-Cola brand message is being originated on a global basis.
Coca-cola''s UK shake-up
Brand Won by Lost by
Dr Pepper Mother Y&R
Fanta Soul Leagas Delaney
Diet Coke Wieden & Kennedy -
Lilt Mother -
Coca-Cola Result pending - Publicis lead agency in Europe