If only Coke could bottle its optimism

When I journeyed to Coca-Cola HQ in Atlanta, Georgia, to meet the people charged with growing the world’s most famous brand (see cover story), I expected three days of self-congratulating fanfare, celebrations and bunting. It was, after all, the eve of Coca-Cola’s 125th birthday. I also expected to have to negotiate my way through a slick media operation with heavy-handed PRs ensuring genuine journalist access was kept to a minimum.

The reality was very different. Executives from all levels within every department were keen to talk. There is a very clear sense of positivity and optimism at Coke, which is just as well as it aims to double its revenue to $200bn by 2020. That optimism is present in the latest gizmo to be developed by the company, the Freestyle machine (we’ve called it Coke’s answer to the iPad). It’s there in the bottle Coca-Cola is working on that will be 100% made from recycled plant material. And it is there for all to see in our mini-profile of Wendy Clark, senior vice-president for integrated marketing. She describes her focus on getting shareable content not just to Coca-Cola’s 26 million Facebook fans but to the 585 million other people on Facebook that Coke’s Facebook fans are connected to. Optimism indeed.

Freestyle drinks dispenser
Freestyle drinks dispenser

But twinned with that positivity, everywhere I looked, was a healthy humility a paranoia running throughout the command centre of the Coca-Cola Company. It comes from a determination never to forget the things that made Coke the icon it is. In every exchange I had with executives from every level and across multiple departments, I could feel a sense of caution and fear/ the fear that the company’s culture could revert back to an arrogance that, according to CEO and chairman Muhtar Kent, nearly brought Coca-Cola to its knees in recent times.

Senior vice-president for public affairs Clyde Tuggle for example, asserts that “Coke’s success was built on great PR moments”. But he also remembers a story (he visibly cringes when he tells it to me) of former Coke CEO Douglas Ivester looking to design a vending machine to operate in hot countries that would charge more as temperatures increased.

Nobody from Coca-Cola hid during my stay in Atlanta. No executive refused to answer a question. I’ve covered Coke for years and this wasn’t always the company’s way. Mistakes have been made and the scars are still visible. But Coca-Cola now feels aligned from the inside and though its growth targets are outlandishly ambitious, this is one company you would bet on succeeding.

Latest from Marketing Week

NOT REGISTERED? IT'S FREE, QUICK AND EASY!

Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now

THE BEST CONTENT

Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.

THE BIGGEST ISSUES

From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.

PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3711 or email subscriptions@marketingweek.com

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here