Coke Picks IPG to Focus Brand

Coca-Cola has asked the Interpublic Group of Cos. to develop a consistent brand message for Coke Classic across all communications platforms, which agencies must follow in every local market.

IPG’s McCann-Erickson Worldwide is on the Coke Classic roster, as is dRush, the urban-marketing subsidiary of newly acquired Deutsch. IPG shop Lowe Lintas & Partners handles duties on Coke’s Sprite brand.

In a statement released Friday after the stock markets had closed, Coke said IPG would act as “creative consultant and idea generator at the global level.” The directive was given by chief marketing officer Stephen Jones.

IPG officials did not return calls seeking comment.

“What’s happening is that IPG has been asked to look at a brand architecture or brand story,” said one official at a non-IPG Coke roster shop. “The move does not necessarily mean it’ll change their agency roster or relationships.”

The announcement came after New York’s Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. released an analyst’s report Friday pointing to an impending IPG alliance and criticizing Coke’s recent ads. Bernstein singled out last summer’s “Graduation” spot, which shows high school girls in a catfight after one forgets to bring a celebratory Coke. The report called the spot, one of four in an “Enjoy” campaign from Cliff Freeman and Partners, “disappointing.”

But sources at non-IPG roster agencies said while Coke officials hadn’t officially informed shops of an IPG alliance, they knew a brand-strategy plan was being mapped out.

Leo Burnett contributed to the “Enjoy” campaign. Bernstein singled out Burnett’s “holiday trucks” ad last year and the “polar bears” work from now disbanded Coke shop Edge Creative as presenting an “inconsistent message” to consumers.

Rob Baskin, a Coke representative, said that executives in Coke’s 26 divisions worldwide would decide which agencies to use in their markets to develop a local brand message consistent with IPG’s direction.

“Some may be IPG agencies, some may not,” Baskin said. He declined to comment on the Bernstein report.