Video: In conversation with Jonathan Mildenhall, Coca-Cola

Jonathan Mildenhall, vice president, global advertising strategy and creative excellence, Coca-Cola Company, talks about creative radicals, the evolution of storytelling and his expectations from Coca-Cola in India

We met the Coca-Cola Company's Jonathan Mildenhall on the sidelines of Goafest 2012 and here are the excerpts from the interaction that followed. 

CI: You prefer creative radicals in place of creative traditionals. Could you elaborate the idea?

JM: The question about creative traditionals and creative radicals is of increasing importance because we are going through such fundamental transformation in every aspect of our Coca-Cola company business that the rulebook has to be completely torn up and there are certain markets where I feel there is an over focus on traditional media and traditional story telling. So like the 30 second TVC, I don’t believe that ideas of tomorrow are going to start from a 30 second TVC. I do believe that ideas of tomorrow will still need a 30 second TVC but that 30 second TVC is going to be a gateway into a much more enjoyable, engaging, and rewarding consumer conversation.

CI: How are agencies responding to Coca-Cola’s expectation of creative radicalism?

JM: Now there are certain creatives in advertising agencies that feel very nervous about not presenting a 30 second TV script when they are having a creative conversation with Coca-Cola. That increasingly frustrates me. I consider the idea, and see how big can the idea be and if I like the bigness then the TVC script can happen later. Certain agencies feel much more comfortable with that broader creative picture first and others feel slightly less confident. I want more agencies to feel comfortable with the broader picture and not get held up on just the 30 second television commercials.

CI: Has an agency pitched an absolute non-TV campaign idea to Coca- Cola?

JM: I am really very proud to say this, Sao Paulo have already presented the FIFA 24 team World Cup Coca-Cola campaign to us. That is going up to the entire food chain in the Coca-Cola Company and all around the system. The entire system is so excited about it, my boss and my boss’s boss absolutely love it and we are yet to see a TVC script. It’s all this big activation ideas.

CI: While managing global advertising duties, how do you decide the global v/s local ratio in a marketing strategy?

JM: It gets increasingly easier, the more you actually be in the job the better you get to understand how to serve the major markets. What we try and do in an organisation is we take these provocations for like an Indian market, a Brazilian market, a North American market, and we try and not boil it down but boil it up to a big universal truth. So the Indian consumer, the Brazilian consumer, the South African consumer, the Nigerian consumer, they can all see themselves in this big truth. So, if coke is about spreading more happiness in the world each and every day, Powerade is about being driver of human progress. So we get these big themes that the whole world can see itself in and then we start to work on a particular creative content that the local market has to help us fill. So I always try and go for 70% global scale and 30% local relevance.

CI: How do you plan to take forward the Indian operations?

JM: What I am trying to do here in India now is to take Wasim’s thinking and his execution and start to export that out of India to other different markets. And then I am truly doing my job because not only am I giving global thought leadership but I am also kind of lubricating the system and sharing great ideas in and out of different countries.

CI: Where are the challenges in evolving the process of story-telling?

JM: The evolution of story-telling is so important to us because of the consumer voice. Anybody with a phone now believes they are a photographer, anybody who has internet access and can upload video thinks they are a director and that is good for us because that potentially means that I have got billions of marketing directors all around the world who want to talk about Coca-Cola company stories. So the challenge for us is first to inspire more consumer story telling. Second and the more complicated task is to curate the best of story-telling. So you might see something that a 16 year-old is doing in South Africa and that is brilliant but what I want is that a 16 year old in America should see that 16 year old’s work who is in South Africa. So the challenge is how do I curate the best of user generated content and how do I celebrate it and by holding it as a beacon that will hopefully inspire more 16 year olds around the world, so that they upload their photos and videos about stories and experiences with Coca-Cola and its brands.

CI: How do you perceive Coca-Cola’s creative journey in India? What do you expect next?

JM: I’ve had a journey with Coca-Cola India. When I came here three and a half years ago, I said that Coca-Cola in India needs to be better, so we started telling biggest stories. There was invisible Coca-Cola, the first one on the bus. I liked the story and the romance between the two but I didn’t like the execution. It needed to be better. And then we did shadows and I loved the story and I really liked the execution. So I said this is good global standard. And then I was delighted to see the Diwali ad. Diwali was a big, majestic TVC. I was also upset with Diwali because it was a big, majestic anthemic TVC. I need a bigger conversation, I need bigger experiences, I need bigger activation around that kind of glossy TVC. So that is the next area of evolution for Coca- Cola in India. It’s like we now know how to tell big stories and stories are good but I need those stories to provoke proper conversation and proper experiences.

CI: Which country is doing exceedingly good creative work for brand Coca-Cola?

JM: I have favourite countries where creative ambition and the collaboration within the system and within the agency world is really inspirational and I think the work that is coming out from Brazil and has been coming out from Brazil for the last couple of years is leading for us as an organisation and we can all learn from the goodness that is coming out from Brazil. We can all learn from the goodness that is coming out from Brazil and we all want the growth that is coming out from Brazil. So we have got creativity and commercial success working hand in hand in Brazil.

CI: Do you have any message for the Indian creatives handling Coca-Cola?

JM: To all you creatives out there, I really do want you to help push Coca-Cola to do brilliant things here in India. So that I can start taking your great work out to different markets and hope to start exporting some of the goodness that comes out of this market.

Campaign India

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