Can a New Global Campaign Help Coca-Cola Sell More Soda?

Experts: brand may have to consider inherent challenges of its product

Coca-Cola is said to be looking for a new global campaign, having asked 10 roster agencies to pitch ideas that would resonate worldwide.

That's no easy task. Honing in on a universally meaningful and globally engaging message that transcends cultural and political boundaries while, at the same time, striking a personal chord with consumers is a conundrum of sorts. And, according to analysts, it might not even help buoy the brand.

That Coke is looking to revamp its marketing now makes sense. The company installed a new chief marketing officer earlier this year and, given the lackluster response to its Super Bowl spot as well as the demise of its campaign to combat hate online, its "Open Happiness" campaign may have run its course.

"Coke has a massive scale to reach into every community and therefore has an opportunity and responsibility to use and leverage that scale positively," said Sebastian Buck, co-founder and strategic lead at Enso Collaborative in Santa Monica, Calif.

As Coke develops its next big global campaign, it has an opportunity to define—or redefine—the brand. If it continues the happiness theme, analysts said the soda maker should tap into what makes customers happy. 

But it's never been harder for brands to be compelling, credible and authentic than it is today, said Jason Schlossberg, CCO of Kwittken. Since the Internet and social media make it easy to fact-check brands' messaging, "consumers' bullshit meters are extremely sensitive and fine-tuned." 

And it seems the brand is counting on marketing to boost revenue significantly; Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent told the Wall Street Journal that new marketing is key to his plan to sell more soda. But growth could be a challenge considering soda consumption has declined for the last decade

"The elephant in the room is, do they actually have a product problem?" said Thomas Ordahl, chief strategy officer for Landor. "People's tastes are changing, their views on health and sugar are changing…. This is a macro trend that's happening. A lot of the big, huge global food brands are challenged. It's definitely a shifting reality, and that's a product thing as much as a marketing thing." 

So how should Coke address this reality if its plan is simply to sell more soda?

One possibility, according to Buck, would be for Coke to position the brand's messaging around not "over-consuming" its products. By engaging consumers in an authentic discussion about the realities of consuming too much sugar and high fructose corn syrup, Buck said Coke may regain trust and have a stronger brand. 

Schlossberg, agreed. "It's easy for Coca-Cola to be compelling, to lean into the issues of importance to its consumers, but if those issues are in any way contrary to, or disconnected from the brand, then consumers will reject the campaign," he said. "To completely ignore the issue of obesity—or the scarcity of water, for that matter—is simply tone deaf."