After All These Years, Coke Is Still It

One of the great things about a brand like Coke is that it is always seeking to reinvent itself and, in the process, generates a lot of what we used to call ink. In fact, with former honcho Neville Isdell publishing a new book --Inside Coca-Cola: A CEO’s Life Story of Building the World’s Most Popular Brand -– it still is generating what we used to call ink, as well as a good share of bytes on the Bloomberg Businessweek website.

Let’s start with a well-informed scoop from the Wall Street Journal’s Suzanne Vranica, however. Coke evidently will be partnering with the World Wildlife Foundation and is producing a can in the shape of polar bears this holiday season as part of a marketing campaign aimed at protecting the species and their habitat. Polar bears first appeared in Coke ads in 1922, albeit in France. Coke has created a gallery of spots since the first TV ad appeared in 1993.



The new can will be mostly white, Vranica reports. Coke refuses to comment but a spokeswoman for a San Francisco firm confirms that it designed a can for Coke and a new website,, “hints at the marketing push,” Vranica writes. The site suggests Nov. 1 will be the launch date for the campaign.

Rose Baker reported in the UK’s Marketing Week on Friday that content will be king for the brand going forward but that it “no longer relies on traditional ad agencies for creative ideas, instead taking a collaborative approach to storytelling and content creation.” That’s according to Jonathan Mildenhall, vp of global advertising strategy and excellence, who spoke at the Guardian Changing Advertising Summit.

The company intends to create more than 120 pieces of content as part of its London 2012 Olympic sponsorship activity, compared with three TV spots and six outdoor ad executions for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, writes Baker. “Crowd-sourcing” will be part of the process of “doubling” business in 10 years.

Meanwhile, what can you say about a guy who takes his business life so seriously that he sees the divine in his mission? Writes ex-CEO Isdell in the first installment of his book, which was written with David Beasley: “I believe that, when the Good Lord created the world, he created Coke as No. 1 and Pepsi -- referred to in our offices only as 'the Imitator' -- as No. 2.”

(Do we really believe that his minions referred to the P product as “the Imitator” with a straight face? Well, as this newspaper ad from 1919 illustrates, the company has long been obsessed with imitations. “Demand the genuine by full name --” it implores, “nicknames encourage substitution.” Pepsi was invented in 1898 by New Bern, N.C., pharmacist Caleb Bradham, a dozen years after pharmacist John Pemberton started selling his fountain soda in Atlanta.)

Isdell, in fact, is nothing if not an earnest brand warrior. Recalling his days heading up Coke operations in the Philippines, he writes: “I would sometimes smash a Pepsi bottle against the wall of a bottling plant to rev up the troops. In one town, the local bottling manager arranged for us to ride to one of the rallies on a tank. Appealing to the country’s militaristic fascination, we created a sales team called “Tiger Force,” and played the song ‘Eye of the Tiger’ from the film ‘Rocky III.’  To this day, when I hear it, I am energized. I feel all over again the thrill of the fight. This was business war.”

In today’s except, Isdell talks about the culture shocks he encountered in Germany and Russia en route to the chairman and CEO suite in Atlanta. “I am a firm believer that capitalism is the most potent form of foreign assistance. It can also be personally rewarding,” he concludes.

In an interview on the CBS “Early Show,” Isdell tells co-anchor Erica Hill that even after he ascended to the top, "they didn't tell me the secret formula. And I didn't even ask, because I know the system, and I know how closely it's held."

Finally, although its “happiness machine” campaign has been around awhile, this report of college students at LSU getting jazzed by a Coke machine that literally “hands out” freebies still satisfies (and helps the weary.) 

“Laughing, cheering and excited phone calls of ‘You've got to see this!’ on Monday surrounded a newly delivered Coca-Cola vending machine across from McDonald's on the first floor of the Student Union,” writes The Daily Reveille’s Haylie Navarre. “Students who lined up to purchase a Coke product were rewarded with a complimentary surprise.”

Among the goodies dispensed were packs of Ramen noodles, a ceramic piggy bank, a box of doughnuts, water balloons with bottles of Dasani and a 5-foot-tall scarecrow.

Not to mention a smile or two.

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