The man who proved that he could get up to two dozen agencies to dance on the head of a pin is set to step aside as chief marketing officer at Coca-Cola in May.
Sergio Zyman, who at one time had 24 shops and Creative Artists Agency pitching ideas and creating ads for Coke Classic, was viewed as an arch-villain by Madison Avenue. Besides pitting some of the best agencies in the country against each another in an endless pitch to get Coke work on the air–and relegating them to the sidelines in the beverage wars by putting them in conflict with other soft- drink competitors–he had the audacity to tell agencies that the client is the keeper of the brand.
Agencies can be his vendors. Deluded by thinking they could get the Coke account, agencies got into bed willingly, no matter how crowded it became.
From a client perspective, who can argue with Zyman’s philosophy? When he took over Coke’s marketing in 1993 and McCann-Erickson Worldwide was the main brand steward on Coke Classic (CAA was starting to encroach at the time), the company’s shares were priced at around $20. As of March 26, after a split in 1996, the stock traded at more than $76.
Back in 1993, Coke’s share of the U.S. soft-drink market was 40.7 percent. Today, it remains No. 1 with 43.9 percent. Though many other factors in addition to marketing may have conspired to influence those gains, Zyman delivered.
We can all quibble about the quality of the work. We can get sentimental about the violation of the agency/client relationship. “The worst part of it is that the results would indicate that he did a damn good job,” says John Doig, a partner at New York-based Doig Elliott Schur.
Back in the early ’90s, there were clients that pioneered working with multiple agencies. They were often troubled brands ridiculed by the agency world. Back then, nomadic Burger King fit the mold. But not Coke. Coke was an icon. Ironically, it was that very status that enabled Zyman to adopt his approach to creative work in the first place.
Perhaps more than any ad campaign or commercial, Zyman’s tenure at Coke will be remembered for how it redefined the status of agencies vis-ˆ-vis clients. In essence, agencies went from partner to servant. “Clients caught the Sergio bug,” Doig says.
American Express once tried to use both Ogilvy & Mather and Young & Rubicam on its green card account before settling back in with Ogilvy. Recently, Nike added Goodby, Silverstein
& Partners to its agency fold to keep Wieden & Kennedy company. Reebok also comes to mind.
Coke’s performance gives credibility to the premise that monogamy–and even limited polygamy–between agencies and clients is dead. More is not just merrier; it’s probably more profitable for the client, too. Zyman did not kill it alone. Agencies helped as well.
As the American Association of Advertising Agencies gathers in Scottsdale, Ariz., this week for its annual meeting, it may be worth remembering that the real threat to the business isn’t clients and search consultants. It’s what the ad industry will submit itself to for the sake of winning
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