Back in 2011, The Coca-Cola Company set out its marketing plans in a widely-viewed series of videos called Content 2020. In them, the company made clear that social purpose was an essential component of its storytelling plans. That’s a message Coca-Cola is eager to spread. Two of the beverage company’s top executives highlighted the brand’s decades-long history of marketing with a social purpose during a well-received presentation on the second day of the 60th International Festival of Creativity—the Cannes Lions.
“The powerful position of The Coca-Cola Company offers us both the opportunity and the responsibility to create significant change in the world,” said Jonathan Mildenhall, Coca-Cola’s Vice President, Global Advertising Strategy and Content Excellence. “The principles of social purpose must be applied to our own daily lives, activities and operations.”
Ivan Pollard, Vice-President, Global Connections, also noted that “we believe that doing good work that promotes more goodness is simply doing good business.”
To create a model for making “Work that Matters,” the two executives looked back at the long history of social purpose in The Coca-Cola Company’s marketing. That rich past offered up these nine lessons that Mildenhall and Pollard outlined for any brand interested in making a difference in the world:
According to Mildenhall and Pollard, The Coca-Cola Company has been doing advertising work that promotes social good since 1955. Campaigns from that era, like the famous “Bench” and “Hilltop” ads, may look innocent now but were considered provocative in their day. They brought people together from what seemed to be impenetrable borders.
The iconic “Hey, Kid, Catch” ad from 1979 forced viewers to examine their own prejudices by putting a large African-American male, Mean Joe Greene—who had a reputation for being the toughest guy on the football field—next to a young, white boy. It reminded viewers that there is good in everyone.
Look to read the pulse of popular culture and have the nerve to comment on it in a relevant way. That was part of the charm of the famous “Diet Coke Break” ads, which, when first aired in the mid-1990’s, challenged the entrenched roles of men and women. For the first time in advertising a male subject was objectified.
During the anguished debate over violence in video games in the late 1990s, Coca-Cola took the crime lord from a game environment and made him a powerful force for good. The Coca-Cola Company, Pollard said, “likes to help you say, ‘Yes,’ in the face of ‘No.’”
Coca-Cola has started to turn the storytelling over to real people doing actual work that matters in the world. The goal? To highlight the company’s core values while supporting local community programs and agendas. Mildenhall said it elegantly: “Brands must behave well inside the communities they serve and engage in actions that genuinely improve that community’s well-being.”
There are times when bad news outweighs the good. Mildenhall and Pollard said the company decided during the recent financial crisis to shine a light on optimism and happiness. Coca-Cola looked all over the world for reasons to believe, allowing the brand to be a source of hope.
Not all socially conscious advertising requires a heavy theme or tone. You can take a much lighter look and still be effective.
No matter the size or the category, every brand should address a social issue in a way that is relevant. For an example, Mildenhall and Pollard pointed to what Fanta has done with promoting the virtues of play.
“What unites the human race,” Pollard said, “is far stronger that what divides us. But, the cultural tensions that divide us have not gone away.” All over the world opportunities remain for brands to promote greater inclusion, diversity, and equality.
For 60 years, The Coca-Cola Company has promoted, as Pollard put it, “creativity that makes a difference. The need to do that is as great as ever.” Mildenhall and Pollard called on the creative community, many of whom were to be found in the audience, to join in making a difference. The advertising industry has profound influence over the culture we all share. “Think,” Pollard implored, “how to use that influence to make the world a better place – with all the work that all of your do for whomever you do it.”
Jeremy Katz, Worldwide Editorial Director of Ogilvy & Mather, is the editor of “Content and Pervasive Creativity: Advertising in the Post-Digital Age.”