What is Coca-Cola’s strategy on co-creation?
We’re going through a significant evolution, and it’s largely driven by social media versus digital alone. At this point, content (whether it’s a piece of film, print or what have you) is only as powerful as its ability to be spread. The language we’re using is “liquid”, which is basically about its ability to move through mediums, be reacted to, reinterpreted and then become new content and a new experience. We’re looking more and more at designing marketing to operate in that way.
Sometimes in a typical formal organisational relationship between an agency and a marketer, you aren’t going to be able to generate that because there are a lot of mandatories and restrictions, and that can sometimes compromise the quality of the output.
What was the idea behind the eYeka contest?
There were a couple of things actually. The basic driver was that we follow the principle of 70:20:10. 70 percent of the things that you do work, and work right now (typical examples of that would be television and out of home, point of sale and so on). Then, there is another 20 percent that, if you think about resources like time, and budget, we could think of innovating off that 70 percent, what can we do with TV, out of home, point of sale, channel activation or digital. The 10 percent is unproven or uncharted territory.
The eYeka contest was to push ourselves and our people to be more innovative. When you’re in an organisation as big as we are, there is a chance of becoming conservative, of losing touch with the kinds of media and the ways in which consumers are digesting information. We’re supposed to lead that as well, and we aren’t as much as we should be. The idea was actually inspired by Google, because we made a visit there many years ago, and that’s the way they work.
We were launching a positioning for Coke, on “Energising refreshment”, and we were having a lot of trouble cracking it with our agencies. This route had a couple of benefits to it: one, it was a way to tie up people with the brand; and two, it helped give a certain perspective on what that proposition meant for Coca-Cola in the eyes of the consumer.
What is amazing about certain brands is that they have an opportunity at evolution; Coke has an amazing history, with artists like Andy Warhol associating with it and the brand becoming a part of popular culture. I’ll be honest with you, there was a hope on my side that people would reinterpret the brand in a really creative way depending on the culture they were in, wherever that was. The ambition was to create an online gallery, and then potentially an offline gallery.
Will the winning entry become a video or TVC?
I was amazed and blown away by the quality of all of the work. The idea eventually, because we’re going to submit the winner to Cannes 2012, is to run the winner on air. A couple of markets are interested already in using them, not just in Asia but also in Latin America. We’re definitely going to be running them.
What were your learnings from the eYeka contest about co-creation?
One of the things we did smartly on this one was that we made it global, because different markets are at different levels of creative development. That was important for a couple of reasons: people’s access to materials and technology is often very dependent on where they are. Once the work was posted on the eYeka site, the dialogue around it amongst the creative community became more kinetic, and created a higher standard, which attracted more people.
The other learning was that if you offer people a good enough reward, it shows that you’re serious and care about their submissions, and that motivates people to take out their time and put resources into it.
The third thing is to help spread the word as much as possible because that creates the buzz and inspiration to attract even more talent, and people also become naturally more competitive with each other.
It’s also good to keep the brief as simple as possible, perhaps a single sentence or proposition that captures it. If you overload the brief with mandatories, you won’t get any really inspirational work.
The one thing we did offline was that we invited art schools to participate. That’s a good thing as well, because those students are a part of a larger community of influencers.
How soon would you run another co-creation initiative?
Let’s see how this works out, but I’m looking at making this an active part of the way we breathe. For all of our big projects, we will make it a part of the brief. Now the way in which we reach out to the creative community will vary. We have a product called Ilohas in Japan which is all about environmentalism, so the idea behind the brand and product is very different and it would require a different set of materials and ideas, that would revolve around sustainability; more about creating a movement versus creating a piece of film, for example. So the needs of our brands are different, and the ways in which we engage people to co-create with us would be different.
Our Facebook page is run by two fans. We made a deliberate decision not to run our own Facebook page, but to just be a member of that community. I think that took a lot of bravery, because Facebook is an important arena, and a lot can be said when you’re there. We recognise that it’s a social space and it wouldn’t be credible for us to have our own page. I think you’ll see more and more of that kind of thing.
Could you tell us a bit more about your thought of “creative collective”, that you mentioned at the Spikes session?
The basic thought is that there is a group of individuals who work together from anywhere in the world, and create a vision for the brand and how it relates to the larger cultural context. That idea came out of a discussion on whether consumers could replace agencies, and how the client-agency relationship has been evolving. If you look at Coke and the other big companies, that relationship has evolved from being aligned with a network globally, to a semi-decentralised model and working with the best possible agency available in the market. With shopper, digital and experiential, agencies are providing the services, but they not all of them are experts in that function. Where we are now, there is recognition that an agency is only as strong as its people. What we find is that we have a fabulous relationship with an agency and we’re producing great work, and then one or two pivotal people leave and it becomes a problem. Nowadays, in the best possible spirit, we tell agencies is that we’re investing not in the agency, but in these people, and your job as an agency is to make sure they’re happy. So, if you think about that, and it is increasingly the case today, working with individuals and forming these “creative collectives” that interact with companies is a very real possibility. Of course, were it to come true, what would be the role of the agency, whether they would be responsible for strategy or the model changes completely, those are the answers I don’t have.
By “a real possibility”, is it something you’re actually thinking of setting up for the ASEAN markets?
No, not yet.
There are a lot of “community” things on the Singapore Twitter page – a football club, a call for entries for Zero Dance, a collectors’ gathering. Is creating communities an important part of Coke’s strategy now?
Yes, it’s a big commitment to create communities and to build them. It doesn’t work in the shallow boundaries of a campaign. Once you create a community or engage a dialogue, you can’t walk away from it, without burning bridges. We know the importance of harnessing social media, and we’re trying to do it in a way that we can deliver and not disappoint anyone, and that depends on not just marketing, but how we are organised as well.
(An edited version of this interview appeared in the print edition of Campaign India's Spikes Asia 2011 Report)