Not Entirely Classic Coke

For its biggest ad blitz in years, Coca-Cola Co. chose a strategy that allows it do something it rarely does: take small but significant creative risks, client executives said.

While the use of “real” and its storytelling approach are signature aspects of the world’s most famous brand, the strategy was updated to reflect consumers’ current perceptions of “real,” said Coke North America CMO Chris Lowe.

One spot refers to a lack of underwear and another shows a woman’s hand suggestively moving toward a man’s derriere. The work is subtly sexual to appeal to youth “without offending Southern Baptists,” one source said.

Lowe acknowledged the new work is, if not risqué, at least what Coke considers risky. He cited Penelope Cruz’s burp as an example: “Five or ten years ago, we wouldn’t have had a woman belching in one of our commercials.”

WPP Group’s Berlin Cameron/ Red Cell created the strat egy and all the current print and TV executions, except for an NCAA spot from Interpublic Group’s Momentum.

One yet-to-be-seen ad the soda marketer was wary of shows teenage girls driving around looking for a party while drinking Coke. Executives feared the depiction suggested the girls were adding booze to the soda, sources said.

“Well, maybe, but that’s what kids do,” a source said. “It’s a ‘real’ possibility.” Coke did buy the spot, which will likely break this month.

A Coke rep denied that was ever a debate but declined further comment on work not part of last week’s preview.

Lowe added the new work bears no relationship to a 2000 Coke spot from the “Enjoy” campaign in which a wheelchair-bound grandma goes berserk. That was an attempt at slapstick humor rather than storytelling and “was not Coke in tone,” he said.

Sources said the Classic media buy is estimated to be upwards of $260 million in North America, nearly triple what Coke spent on its flagship brand in 2002, per CMR, and about $100 million more support than Classic received in 2001.

International markets will execute against the “real” strategy, but the tagline may not translate globally, said North America chief cre ative officer Esther Lee. In Spanish-speaking coun tries, the tag will be “de verdad,” she said, which means “in truth.”

“Real” is the first major campaign for Classic since 2001’s “Life tastes good,” and the first under the stewardship of Steve Heyer, who joined Coke two years ago and last month became its president and COO.