Coca-Cola dismisses talk of a ‘managed decline’ as it launches summer campaign

Coca-Cola’s new GB marketing director says her objective is to “accelerate growth” despite challenges including the sugar tax, failure of Coke Life and changing consumer habits.

Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola is launching its annual summer campaign at a critical time for the brand. It has just axed Coke Life after sales plummeted, the sugar tax is coming into force next year and 70% of its global sales by volume is still sparkling drinks at a time when people are drinking less soda. It is clear the brand has a big job ahead if it wants to keep up with changing consumer trends.

The new campaign is an evolution of its hugely-popular and successful 2014 ‘Share a Coke’ campaign, which saw Coca-Cola put thousands of names across 100 million packs. This year, however, the soft drinks giant is taking a different approach by including holiday destinations instead and offering consumers the chance to win their “dream holiday”.

The idea is that shoppers will trawl through the bottles looking for their dream holiday destination, then go online and enter a draw to win that trip of a lifetime.

The woman in charge of overseeing this campaign, and the GB marketing business, is Aedamar Howlett, who has been in her role as marketing director for the UK and Ireland for just over six months. She has worked in various roles at Coca-Cola for years (with a short break in the middle) and says she relishes the opportunity this new role offers.

Marketing Week caught up with her at the launch event for the new campaign yesterday (10 May) evening, to find out how she is driving sales in local markets, her views on Coke’s new chief growth officer (CGO) and whether her job is really to “manage decline”.

How have you found your new role since taking over from Bobby Brittain?

I started working at Coca-Cola a long time ago, so I know the company really well. I left for about four years to do my own thing, and I got to work on some amazing projects and great businesses like Heineken and Kellogg’s. When the opportunity came to go back to Coke [in 2014], I jumped on it. The journey we’re on in terms of change is starting, that’s the bit that really motivated me.

I came back into the Irish business just under two years ago, and I jumped at the chance to take on the marketing director role [in GB]. This is an important market, so to be able to influence that change and the speed of it is really exciting.

What would you like the new campaign to achieve?

One of the things we’ll look at is whether it has driven revenue and transactions. We are also continuing our journey on driving Coke Zero Sugar and Diet Coke’s growth. We see Diet Coke and Zero Sugar growing faster, and Zero Sugar has also demonstrated that it’s driving cola category growth. It has grown 78% this year. We will also look at brand health measures. We still see a really big opportunity for us to grow revenue but also to grow brand love around the Coca-Cola trade mark, and really drive that connection with consumers.

Do people still associate the brand with ‘classic’ Coke and therefore sugar, and can you ever shake that off?

It’s definitely changing. Zero Sugar has really shown us that. It’s such an amazing success story. It’s given us greater confidence than we anticipated about how we’re going to change our business and how we can shape choice in our sparkling business, but also how we can change our portfolio and do things differently.

As a marketer that’s really exciting, as it means we’ll be flexing lots of different marketing muscles as we continue to market sparkling brands, but then as we launch new brands and expand our portfolio in other areas we’ll be taking a different approach.

The business recently discontinued Coke Life – how does this set the brand up for the future? Is there any scope for a new Coke variant?

We’re always reviewing across each of our brands what variants and brands we have. That’s one of the things you’ll see from us, and you’ll have seen our new CEO James Quincey talk about it.

In terms of how our portfolio is going to expand, we’ll see that within the Coca-Cola trademark. Within Zero Sugar, we have launched Zero Sugar Vanilla, Zero Sugar Cherry is on its way – all of that work will continue to happen. Innovation is more than just new brands, it’s across the whole portfolio.

Coca-Cola has a global marketing strategy. In terms of your role, how much autonomy do you have?

Part of that, I suppose, relates to the changes happening in the business. We have established a chief growth officer. We think it’s an exciting opportunity and sends a really big signal about what our growth agenda is and how ambitious it is. It also means the combining of three functions together, including marketing, strategy and insight and commercial.

For business units in local markets that means growth comes from us. We are driving those transactions and revenue. Those changes mean that the growth agenda comes down to the markets to drive that growth. As a marketing director in a local market, I’m really exited about it.

Does the new CGO role not mean marketing is getting less prominence within the business?

Marketing is still at the heart of what we do. What the role is really doing, is combining the power of our marketing with strategy and insight, and commercial combined together, to make it a stronger force. From that perspective it’s a really positive thing. It also reflects the breadth of our marketing function and our ambition to expand the portfolio. These are all good things. We will be taking a more portfolio balanced approach.

Our columnist Mark Ritson sees Coca-Cola’s main job as managing an inevitable sales decline. Would you agree with this?

I can only speak for GB, and our business is in growth. We’re demonstrating that by doing the right things across each of our functions with marketing at the heart of it we are driving growth. My objective isn’t to manage a sales decline, it’s to accelerate the growth of our business.

Digital marketing has had a tough time recently, with brands pulling advertising from YouTube. What are your thoughts on the scandal?

We were working with Google even before it became a news story. One of the key drivers of how we market is to market responsibly, so we’re always checking all of our media investments. Through that we were working with Google to improve some of our brand safety guardrails around some of those media investments, particularly YouTube, and we’re continuing to work with them to do that.

What are your plans for 2017?

The number one priority is to continue to grow the business, and to deliver this exciting summer campaign. There’s lots more to come in 2017. We’ve just relaunched Fanta, lots of innovation work happening on Smart water, and we’re kicking off the planning process for 2018. A lot of work is being set into place for 2017 and 2018 to deliver that 2020 vision around being a total beverage company. It’s an exciting time, certainly for me, to be leading marketing in GB and Ireland. There’s so much opportunity for growth in this market, so it’s about making that happen.

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