Coke Seeks Genuine Celebrities

NEW YORK — The strategy for Coke Classic’s 2003 ad campaign is based on “authenticity” and “being real,” a concept that will be illustrated by a mix of celebrities and regular people acting “down to earth” in a series of spots, sources said last week.

“It’s about real life, real friends, real family, real experiences,” said one executive.

Interpublic Group’s McCann-Erickson is the agency for Coke Classic, but taking the lead on this effort is WPP Group’s Berlin Cameron/Red Cell. Both agencies declined comment and referred calls to the client.

Sources said a key element of the campaign is to feature “celebrities being genuine.” No stars have been approached yet, but some of the bigtime Hollywood names that have been suggested to Coke include Gwyneth Paltrow and Jack Nicholson. Several sources noted that one of the ways a celebrity could appear “down to earth” is by belching after drinking a Coke.

The connection between Coke and “real” goes back decades. The Atlanta-based company first used the line, “It’s the real thing” in 1940, and it has shown up periodically in every decade since then, according to a company representative.

One executive noted that while the 2003 “real” campaign harkens back to the “real thing” concept, this campaign extends that idea by making the drinkers and the experience — not just the soft drink — “real.”

“Coke wants to be back in that space of being ‘real,’ ” another source added. “They own that territory and can best occupy that space.”

“The real thing” became a full-fledged campaign in 1969 and again in the famous “Hilltop” spot in 1971. In 1990 and again in 1994, it appeared in the form, “Can’t beat the real thing.”

The new campaign would replace the refreshment theme of current Coke spots from McCann. Those commercials focus exclusively on the product with popping bottle-tops and rhymes but no tagline. McCann’s earlier effort, the “Life tastes good” campaign, ran from April to September 2001.

Coke declined comment.