Q&A: Mildenhall On Coke's 'Liquid' Marketing


The Coca-Cola Company in recent years has focused on reinventing the marketing of its iconic brand by embracing digital tools, from social media to new mobile platforms, to connect with consumers. Changing its traditional way of thinking -- letting fans and people play a more direct role in shaping the brand has also been key. Helping to lead that effort for the company is Jonathan Mildenhall vice president, global advertising strategy and content excellence at Coca-Cola. We sat down with Mildenhall Monday at the Interactive Advertising Bureau's MIXX conference to discuss how the company is using digital media to crowdsource creativity and increase engagement.

Q: Can you explain Coca-Cola's "Liquid and Linked" marketing approach?

A: There was time when the Coca-Cola Company was very closed and we wouldn't declare anything until it had been tested and researched and proven. What happens when an organization is like that is it becomes very inward looking. And in today's massive sea of change, we've got to be outward looking and share as much thought leadership as we've got, even though some of it is wet cement and some of it is going to be irrelevant tomorrow. So we're hoping the Coca-Cola is seen to be more transparent than it has in the past.



Q: How does that play out in terms of expanding the scope of ad creativity?

A: When it comes to the creative agenda, we're going to double the size of the Coca-Cola company in the next 10 years from 1.5 billion servings a day to 3 billion. The only way we can do that is if we're engaging consumers with fresh content every day. We talk about how no one has the smarts on creative ideas and in fact consumer generated stories outnumber the Coca-Cola generated stories on most of our brands. On Coke Red, it's about five to one. The other thing is the distribution of technology. That means consumers can share their stories and engage with the Coca-Cola Company when consumers demand as opposed to when the Coca-Cola Company does. That means we need to move from one-way storytelling to dynamic storytelling. It really means the systematic distribution of elements of content that come from a really, really clear brand idea. Then we will inspire the right kind of participation and curate the best quality content that consumers create.

Q: What's your role in that process?

A: My job function is developing the communication strategy and then making sure the story arc from that strategy goes into every relevant media and tells as cohesive a story over time. But I absolutely do want consumers all over the world to amplify that story through their own lens through their own network of social communities.

Q: What's an example of dynamic storytelling?

A: If you look at the FIFA 2010 World Cup campaign, we created this partnership with a Somali rapper called K'naan, who recorded the Coca-Cola soundtrack. Our brief was that we want to get the world singing the Coca-Cola five notes [theme used in ads], so he created this soundtrack, and we then put that soundtrack on our ads. And historically that's where an advertiser may have finished. But then we worked with Universal Music so that song ["Flag Wavin'"] became a viable commercial entity in its own right. We were No. 1 in 18 markets over the course of the World Cup. In order to make it relevant, we asked K'naan to duet with leading vocalists in different markets. Then what we saw was Japanese or Spanish kids doing their own versions of our advertising using the local soundtrack. Now we're taking all of that goodness and we're curating it.

Q: How do measure the effectiveness of dynamic campaigns like that?

A: The Coca-Cola Company has two measures: one is "brand love," and one is "brand value." I think we're one of the few multinationals that declares brand love. And we've got a quantitative system that helps-going from not knowing the brand, to accepting the brand, to liking the brand, to loving the brand. We know if we move up or down on that pyramid, it affects the second measure, which is brand value. The great thing about social and digital is that there are fine-tuned measurements so you can truly measure both sides of that equation.

Q: What is the role for agencies in this more "distributed" ad model?

A: Traditional agencies are brilliant at coming up with long-term sustaining creative ideas. They come up with entertainment platforms. The digital agencies know how to come up with short-term buzz, get everybody talking about a brand overnight, but then not necessarily managing those ideas in the long term. So we really have to focus on the integration of the traditional agencies and the digital agencies, the technology companies to make sure our ideas live the longest span possible and appeal to the widest numbers.

Q: Is Coca-Cola using agencies now as much as it has in the past?

A: We're using the same number of traditional agencies, increasing our number of digital agencies, but importantly, also developing direct relationships with technology companies. There are occasions when we'll go directly to Microsoft or Facebook or Apple or a content creator. But we need the traditional agencies to help govern the long-term narrative of the brand idea.

Q: When it comes to mobile, is text-messaging still the foundation for the company's marketing on handheld devices?

A: We want to create deep and immersive experiences for our consumers, and the mobile phone is a fantastic way to do it. Text-messaging is the leveler if you like. All of our ideas have to work at that level. However, we need to reconcile that with the creative ambition of making these experiences really deep and immersive. So on the one hand, I'm not going to inspire the world's most brilliant creative minds if I get them to start on the text message. But on the other hand, I'm not going to buy great content, great stories for our brands if it doesn't work on SMS. So in managing the foundation, but then actually building a really cool experience that young kids in particular are going to want to pass on, is key for us. With the explosion of smartphones in the developing world, it's just a matter of time before I'll be able to have deep, rich 10-minute conversations if my content is good enough, with teenage consumers all over India, all over China. And then the potential of branded storytelling is almost limitless.

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