September 10, 2013

Coca-Cola Exec: If You Don't Have Room to Fail with Marketing, You Have 'No Right' to Grow

As explained by Vice President of Global Advertising Strategy and Creative Excellence Jonathan Mildenhall of the Coca-Cola company, there is really only one way to start each and every presentation—and that is to show the iconic video of Steve Jobs glorifying the “crazy ones,” or the ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world.

Because, it really is these “crazy ones” who can change the world. It’s these geniuses, and their steadfast commitment to innovation, who make the world a better place.

Such is the very sentiment that drives the creative team at Coca-Cola, a company that has undoubtedly emerged as a major titan in the marketing realm. In fact, Coca-Cola prides itself as being the world’s most creative content creator—constantly pushing the fold of the marketing envelope.

Point and case… one of the most iconic images to ever be shared by the soda provider was an ad that was largely circulated the year after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was Coca-Cola’s first-ever image depicting black and white people together in an advertisement, on a segregated-dubbed bench, nonetheless. The ad was a shining symbol of racial inclusivity, touching on the importance of pushing boundaries.

“I use it to remind myself and all of the other content markers at Coca-Cola to be as brave as our forefathers,” Mildenhall said during today’s keynote at Content Marketing World, taking place in Cleveland, Ohio, this week. “So today, I am going to show you why brave and challenging content makes Coca-Cola a beloved brand.”

“I really do believe that all of us—every single man, woman and child on this planet—is much more creative than the output of our daily lives would suggest,” he added.

During a standing-room only session today, Mildenhall went through some of Coca-Cola’s most compelling campaigns and use cases. Among them was an ad spearheaded earlier this year that spread social consciousness about the 60-year war between India and Pakistan. For the drink company, its marketing efforts are all about building social purpose and making the world a better place.

The “Bringing India and Pakistan” together campaign documents the installation of Coke machines in these two countries and how their presence took critical steps toward breaking down walls. As seen in the video, India and Pakistan citizens were able to connect in real time with those in the other country through digital signage on the vending machines. The machines encourage vendors to make a friend from the other country, dance together, draw together and trace one another’s fingers. 


“For Coca-Cola, our powerful position in the world gives us the opportunity and responsibility to demonstrate how our brand is committed to making the world a better place,” Mildenhall said, eliciting a round of applause from the audience.

Mildenhall spent most of the keynote touching upon the 10 chapters of the “Coca-Cola 2020” marketing plan, which refers to the company’s vision to refresh the world, inspire moments of optimism, create value and make a difference.

As part of the campaign, Coca-Cola is focused on moving from creative excellence to content excellence; adopting a story telling strategy in addition to a content creation strategy; and developing liquid content, or figuring out how to use tension and conflict constructively to fuel creativity, among other initiatives.

One critical focus of the campaign is applying the 70-20-10 rule when it comes to liquid content.

As explained by Mildenhall, the 70-20-10 model is a “simple investment model” that outlines how to approach your content strategy. For example, 70 percent of your content should be your “bread-and-butter content,” he explains, or the expected, safe content that “pays the rent.” Your next 20 percent of content should be the content that innovates well. And the final 10 percent should be your brand new ideas, your high-risk content, if you will.

“Remember that this content could be tomorrow’s 20 or 70 percent,” Mildenhall said. “And we need to celebrate both failure and success.”

After various compelling use cases, commercials and visual demonstrations, Mildenhall left the thousand-plus participants with one key reminder: “Companies who don’t have room to fail, don’t have the right to grow.”

Edited by Allison Boccamazzo

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