I haven’t always been an enthusiastic consumer of Coca-Cola advertising. But the Diet Coke spots are getting steadily better.
The "effervescent" campaign devised by Foote, Cone & Belding, New York. Kate Beckinsale (right) appeared in a spot called Tingle. Adrian Brody starred in a spot called Bounce. There were a couple of other spots in the series: a girl roller skating in what looks like Santa Monica and a guy dancing in his Manhattan apartment. (You can see the Roller Skater spot here.) I believe this campaign was launched in 2004, a year in which the Coca-Cola Company (TCCC) spend $10 million on Diet Coke advertising.
Not everyone shares my enthusiasm.
Despite anticipation for the new Coke commercials, at least one analyst says advertising for carbonated soft drinks in the United States, good or bad, doesn’t have a huge impact on the business. "If you look at what is really going to drive the business, it is noncarbonated [drinks] and innovation," said John Faucher at JP Morgan. "It is not a new ad campaign for the core Coca-Cola brand." (from Wilbert, below)
Golly, what are the chances that this guy has a clue about the relationship between advertising and branding? I have the utmost respect for analysts. They practice an empirical and intellectual engagement with the world that puts most social scientists (and, I think it’s fair to say, almost all anthropologists) to shame.
But I also know how analysts are trained and I know that there are only one or two MBA programs that can talk about the role of advertising in an penetrating way, let alone begin to assess whether a particular campaign might or might not add value to a brand. Chances are John Faucher has not graduated from one of these. (His remark tells us so.)
Happily, people inside TCCC are not so hampered.
“The strategy for the global Coke campaign is to make choosing Coke a purposeful act,” said Mary Minnick, the head of marketing strategy and innovation. “We don’t just want to be entertaining or be different, we want to be more relevant. We want to build a relationship with consumers, not hold a mirror up to them.” (from Hein and Sampey, below)
This is an interesting model that marketers may with to conjure with. In the meantime, we may admire the recent Diet Coke ad ("Haircut") that seems to me to capture and perhaps illuminate Minnick’s philosophy.
A young woman enters a very old fashioned barbershop. She emerges triumphant. The risk has paid off. She went into the shop a great beauty. She emerges a great beauty who has claimed her beauty with an act of daring and imagination.
(Let me be perfectly clear. The Diet Coke ad in question is from FCB. The global campaign to which Ms. Minnick’s refers is the work of Weiden and Kennedy. I am merely supposing that what Minnick says of the global campaign gives us a glimpse of the ideas now animating ALL the advertising we will see from TCCC for the forseeable future. This may be rash. It may be wrong. Consider it my demonstration that you don’t have to be an analyst to put your foot in it.)
With this "light it up" spot, TCCC has laid claim to some of the more interesting cultural experiments at work in our world. It lays claim to self ownership, self construction, self transformation, blurred boundaries, the playfulness of self presentation.
All of these were for virtually the whole of the 20th century a "no fly" zone for the Coca-Cola Company. With its fastidious reluctance to treat these themes, PepsiCo has enjoyed a free run of the most dynamic and vital parts of contemporary culture. More exactly, they belonged in the 1990s to Snapple and all the little brands that were prepared to conduct themselves as if they had actually noticed what was happening in popular culture.
TCCC revved the creative engines. It reached deep for new inspiration. It thought on several occasions way outside the box. But as long as it was unprepared to treat a theme like the one in "light it up" there was no way it could really light it up. The brand remained the handsome, military officer who was not likely to add any thing to the ball. Presentable, but a little unforthcoming in matters of conversation, humor, drama, and of course dancing. Really, he just stands there, looking noble.
I may have made to much of Ms. Minnick’s remarks, but let’s hope not. Let us hope TCCC is preparing to rise to the challenge of contemporary culture. (And why should it not. After all, it made a good deal of it.)
Hein, Kenneth, with Kathy Sampey. 2006. Pouring It On: Coke Unveils New Tagline, Products, Philosophy. Brandweek. December 08, 2005. here.
Sampey, Kathleen. 2004. FCB: ‘It’s a Diet Coke Thing’. Adweek. May 05, 2004.
Wilbert, Caroline. 2005. New Coke Ads for 2006. The Atlanta Journal Constitution. December 23, 2005.
Here, thanks to Barbara Lippert, the names of the creative team responsible for "Haircut."
Foote Cone & Belding, New York
Mark Warfield, Todd Eisner