Coca-Cola has decided to embrace “purpose,” however it will steer clear of politics. According to The Drum, the company seeks to position the drink as one that unites people in what it sees as an “increasingly divided and hostile world.” And interestingly, the “purpose” campaign is confined to Western Europe – where the focus is on the brand’s perceived power to unite people.
Apparently, the brand’s “own research and social listening has identified that advertising based around ’empathy’ will be key to driving its newly crystallised purpose.”
Walter Susini, vice-president of marketing for Coca-Cola EMEA says: “Our brand is about bringing people together. We’ve been doing it for 134 years, it’s not a new, genius idea but we’re going to focus on what we do best, which is unite and uplift.”
The “unite and uplift” theme was tested this past Christmas with an ad about Santa Claus.
Is Empathy the same as Purpose?
Coca-Cola has a long history and it has taken decidedly political stands in the past. For example, back in 1964, the city of Atlanta was having a tough time selling tickets to a multi-racial banquet honoring Nobel Prize Winner Martin Luther King. The story goes something like this.
CEO J. Paul Austin threatened to remove Coca Cola’s headquarters from the city:
“It is embarrassing for Coca-Cola to be located in a city that refuses to honor its Nobel Prize winner. We are an international business. The Coca-Cola Company does not need Atlanta. You all have to decide whether Atlanta needs the Coca-Cola Company.”
In two hours, every banquet ticket was sold.
Over the years, Coke has supported marriage equality, LGBT rights, and recycling, with the message: “Don’t buy Coca-Cola if you’re not going to help us recycle!” It also gave us the legendary hilltop ad:
These are all fine sentiments for a brand to express, but are they enough?
What if Coke was a Brand Activist?
Let’s look at what Coke could do if it decided to become a Brand Activist.
It would examine the impact of its activities on its customers and the world, and work to improve, even eliminate, the negative impacts:
An examination of Coke’s brand conscience might begin by asking a few questions:
- How do we improve our performance regarding childhood obesity?
- How do we reverse our image as the world’s biggest plastic polluter?
- How do we innovate our policies to engage local communities and prevent water crises?
- How can we lead the fight against the climate crisis?
- How can we save the polar bear?
Most importantly, we feel, Coke can demonstrate brand leadership by spearheading these challenges and creating a purpose-platform that extends far beyond the walls of its company. They could, if they so choose, build the world’s largest ecosystem for change.
This is not about politics. It is about the future.
The world’s counting on you, Coke.
Philip Kotler is the “father of modern marketing.” He is the S.C. Johnson & Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He was voted the first Leader in Marketing Thought by the American Marketing Association and named The Founder of Modern Marketing Management in the Handbook of Management Thinking. Professor Kotler holds major awards including the American Marketing Association’s (AMA) Distinguished Marketing Educator Award and Distinguished Educator Award from The Academy of Marketing Science. The Sales and Marketing Executives International (SMEI) named him Marketer of the Year and the American Marketing Association described him as “the most influential marketer of all time.” He is in the Thinkers50 Hall of Fame, and is featured as a “guru” in the Economist. He is the author Confronting Capitalism: Real Solutions for a Troubled Economic System, 2015; and Democracy in Decline: Rebuilding its Future, 2016.
Christian Sarkar is the editor of THE MARKETING JOURNAL, an entrepreneur, marketing consultant, and activist. He is the founder of Ecosystematic, an ecosystem visualization tool. See also the $300 House project and FixCapitalism.com. He is the co-author (with Philip Kotler) of Brand Activism: From Purpose to Action.