Lighting it up at the Coca-Cola Company


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

Creative director
Gary Resch

Art director
Mark Warfield, Todd Eisner

Greg Wikoff

Agency producer
Kelly Fagan

Robert Logevall

8 thoughts on “Lighting it up at the Coca-Cola Company

  1. Graham Hill


    And what if John Faucher is right; that in the saturated and over-carbonated soft drinks market in the USA that it really is non-carbonated drinks and innovation that will drive Coke’s future success rather than more incremental advertising?

    Your simple dismissal of Faucher without presenting any evidence to counter his argument is not up to the fact-based standards I would expect of you.

    I challenge you to prove your point and disprove Faucher’s with more substantial evidence.

    Graham Hill
    Independent Marketing Consultant

  2. Graham

    Thanks for the spirited comment. Challenge excepted. My argument is simple. In and of itself, Coke is sweet, bubbling water with caffeine. That’s all. That is stands for all the things it stands for (America, fun, refreshment, Christmas, etc.) is due to advertising. Which is to say some of the very substantial value of the brand comes from advertising. For Faucher airly to dismiss the value of advertising is to this extent sensationally wrong. Bad advertising, certainly, can have no effect. (Unless it’s as bad as the Burger King superbowl ads in which case it might have a negative effect.) But great advertising can create meaning for the brand and value for the shareholder.) Hope that gets at it. Thanks for your challenge. Much appreciated! Best, Grant

  3. Tom Guarriello

    The music is an interesting wrinkle in the “Light It Up” ad. The song is “Goody Two Shoes” (playfully distancing the adventursome protagonist from that most uncool of monikers) sung by Adam Ant, early 80s gender-bricoleur.

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  5. Alena Amott

    What is the name of the song that plays during the new “Haircut” commercial. It is not the Goody Two Shoes Song, it is some girl singing about love or something.

  6. Greg Chesterton

    I’m a card-carrying analyst. If you’re wondering if the sparkle campaign ads value to the brand, let me say this. The girl in the diet coke commercial is enough to make me buy a case of diet coke, buy some roller skates, buy a convertible, and buy a house in Malibu.

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