Sustainability and a Smile

Advertising_age_jpegOriginally posted Feb. 25, 2008
by Michael Bush, AdvertisingAge

Coca-Cola Joins Green-Marketing Crush, Tries to Redefine the Term in $10 Million Push

Big Red says it’s going green, hitching its wagon to the sustainability
marketing train already hopped on by General Electric Co., Toyota, IBM
and others.

But Coke’s campaign broadens the definition beyond environmentalism,
centering on the concept of "sustainable well-being." The first two
executions, for example, don’t focus at all on environmentalism and
instead paint the soft-drink giant as a corporate good guy concerned
with meeting consumer needs and supporting worthy local education and
sports programs.

"We’re thinking of well-being from a mental, physical,
community and environmental perspective that encompasses every part of
our North American business," a Coca-Cola spokeswoman said. "We’re
using this to talk to all of our stakeholders and show our desire to be
a better partner to all of them."

Big push
While sustainability work is in no way new for Coke,
the fact that it plans to start making noise about it via a major
marketing effort — estimated at up to $10 million — is a huge shift
for the company.

In fact, the project didn’t start out that way. When work
began on the effort a year ago, it was envisioned as a
health-and-wellness push. That changed when Hendrik Steckhan was
brought in as president-general manager of the sparkling-beverages
division. He decided that framing the initiative from a
health-and-wellness perspective would put Coke on the defensive.

Instead of talking about what the company stood against, he
wanted to focus on what it supported. And consumer research showed that
Coke drinkers wanted the company to start talking about its support of
its customers’ communities, the spokeswoman said. "Our own consumers
were saying, ‘Where are you in this [sustainability] space?’" she said.
"Consumers let us know that by not talking about this, we were letting
others define us as an uncaring company aligned with the pressures
consumers are living with."

The campaign breaks this week with a three-page print spread
aimed at opinion leaders and influencers such as academics, dietitians
and pediatricians. It will appear in publications such as The New York
Times, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. The ad uses a number of
Coke products to highlight the theme of how it has evolved and will
continue to evolve with the needs of its customers.

New aluminum bottle
The first page of the ad displays an
old-school Coke bottle and reads: "If you’ve ever had a Coke, you may
be surprised at how many ways there are to enjoy one." The next two
pages show five Coke products including the 100-calorie can, Diet Coke,
Coke Zero, Diet Coke Plus and a new red, aluminum bottle. The ad tells
consumers Coke will continue to address their tastes and needs through
new products and offerings, and directs them to a website,, for information on its "latest innovations."

There will be two later print executions not yet finalized and a TV
spot, titled "Mailbox," that will air this Thursday on "American Idol."
A second commercial, called "Football 1951 vs. 2008," is scheduled to
make its debut during the 2008 Summer Olympics.

The TV spots, which are more consumer-focused (alpha moms are
a particular target), highlight Coke’s support of things such as
education, through its Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation, and community
sports programs. A voice-over in "Mailbox" intones: "If you had a Coke
in the last 20 years, you’ve had a hand in giving college scholarships
and support to thousands of our nation’s most promising students."

Creative was handled by Publicis Groupe’s Leo Burnett; Chandler Chicco Agency is managing public relations.

‘Real efforts’ needed
The question now is whether consumers will buy in to Coke’s proposition. Paul Nastu, publisher of Environmental Leader,
a green-themed news site aimed at corporate leaders, said any company
launching a sustainability effort has "to back up the words, images and
messaging it uses with real efforts."

Coke is looking to do just that: prove it’s not doling out empty
promises. The company spokeswoman said examples include its recycling
efforts — Coke has promised to recycle 100% of its aluminum cans sold
in the U.S. and is lending financial support to the construction of the
world’s largest bottle-to-bottle recycling plant in Spartanburg, S.C.
— and development of more-healthful product offerings.

"To show we are truly committed, we’re going to need real 
proof points," she said. "And with respect to the environment and products, we have something we can point to."

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