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Coca-Cola has an ambitious plan to double its number of customers in the next few years

Global chief marketing officer Manuel Arroyo outlines the OpenX partnership with advertising holding company WPP, and how it will drive new brand growth.

Coca-Cola has an ambitious plan to double its number of customers in the next few years

Just today alone, 1.9 billion Coca-Cola products will be sold around the world. Now, chief marketing officer Manuel “Manolo” Arroyo is aiming to double its number of consumers very quickly.

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“We’re in the process of deploying QR codes in every package available for all of our brands in the next three years,” Arroyo tells Fast Company. “QR codes are arguably the most unexploited and under-leveraged media vehicle that exists out there. Even if you only get a 3% redemption, imagine the return on 1.9 billion per day, what we can do in terms of first-, second-, and third-party data moving forward. One [strategy] at a global scale, and it’s going to take us to very different places.”

The key phrase there is one strategy. Coca-Cola operates in more than 200 countries around the world, and has traditionally—like many global corporations—operated with a complex network of marketing and advertising partners throughout its worldwide business. But last November, Arroyo partnered with advertising-holding company WPP to create a unique partnership that includes a bespoke internal team dedicated to Coca-Cola globally called OpenX. The CMO sees this as a key tool in achieving his overall goals for the flagship Coke brand, and the company in general.

“First, it’s to make that brand an incredible icon and brand, young and relevant again,” says Arroyo. “But also tap into a tremendous growth potential. We should be able to double this brand [consumer base] very soon if we do things right, and if we do it very differently than how we’ve done it in the past 20 years. I think we have a very clear idea of what it takes to get there.”

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A significant part of that idea is for OpenX to help his company be more consistent and efficient in its marketing and advertising, on a global scale. Coke spent more than $4 billion on global advertising in 2019. It saw its spending drop by 35% in 2020 but has since gone back to pre-pandemic levels.

“Even though we have reshaped our portfolio into something more focused, we still have more than 200 brands across the world, and we come from an incredibly fragmented way of marketing,” says Arroyo. “Instead of having one-off campaigns that change every quarter, [we want to have] ongoing, continuous platforms. We know we’re doing Christmas for the next five years, so we don’t need five different briefs for Christmas. We just need one platform, and then update it and shape it based on the [consumer] data.”

In February, the company launched its “Coca-Cola Creations” campaign for Coke, which included a “space-flavored” cola, that’s all part of an overall global marketing platform the company calls “Real Magic.” And in May, it rolled out a new global campaign for Sprite (the first created wholly by OpenX) called “Heat Happens.”

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The idea of a bespoke ad-holding company team for a massive client isn’t new. Omnicom Group created the We Are Unlimited team in 2016, at the time to service McDonald’s (folded in 2019), as well as Team X last year for Mercedes-Benz. WPP itself has tried these models before, in 2006 with Team One for Ford, and Team Energy for BP.

The basic idea is that a global advertising-holding company, with its many agencies and specialties, combines its capabilities into a single, custom-made entity for a major client. It’s an idea that hit trend status a few years ago, only to have some brands swing back to a more traditional multiple-agency model. (In the U.S., for example, both Ford and McDonald’s have picked indie agency Wieden + Kennedy for major ad work.) Prior to OpenX, Coca-Cola worked with about 4,000 different agency partners around the world. Arroyo and Laurent Ezekiel, OpenX CEO and WPP chief marketing and growth officer, insist things will be different this time.

The key is a single contact point, as well as a single P&L, giving Coke a simple partnership format, and preventing WPP’s various stakeholders from competing internally for parts of the business—two things that have often muddled these types of partnerships in the past.

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Last year, Domino’s chief marketing officer Art D’Elia lauded the simplicity of an independent agency partner over the complexity of a holding company, telling AdAge, “I really feel that the independent agency model gives us more flexibility and less distractions.”

Another significant development in the OpenX model is that it not only allows, but insists, that if an outside competing agency can help, Open X is obligated to collaborate. It’s all in the name of finding the best possible work for Coke, and removing as many barriers for finding it.

“In a partnership like this with WPP, they’re putting skin in the game on our metric—growing our consumer base—and that will define success for The Coca-Cola Company in terms of marketing,” says Arroyo. “And they’re ready to be compensated or penalized, based on mutual achievement there. So Laurent’s achievement will be the same as what I report to my CEO.”

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Ezekiel says this partnership has the potential to influence work beyond a single brand and agency. “I tell my team that we’re in the position to architect the future here,” says Ezekiel. “Genuinely writing a new page in marketing history.”

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity.

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