Coke’s marketing boss on Christmas, brand culls and what makes a good marketer
In an exclusive interview, Coca-Cola UK marketing boss talks about the challenges of 2020 and why the soft drink maker has had to be “braver” than ever before.
Coca-Cola’s association with Christmas is well known, with the ‘Holidays Are Coming’ ads the start of the festive season for many. But as it celebrates 100 years of festive advertising, the company wants to throw “everything at it”.
It’s why, alongside its classic ad, the brand is running ‘The Letter’, an ambitious ad that aims to inspire consumers to be truly present with each other.
“We wanted to do something special in 2020 so we threw everything at it. That is not only an Oscar-winning director, the effort was huge in terms of the production and in making the ad completely virtually,” Coca-Cola’s marketing director for Great Britain and Ireland, Kris Robbens, tells Marketing Week.
He is “proud they pulled it off” and will be measuring success through consumer response.
He explains: “We are looking at how engaged consumers are with our campaign. We want to be there for everybody. We are reaching over 95% of UK people and want to make sure it resonates with everybody.”
Due to Covid-19, Coca-Cola had to cancel its annual truck tour but is providing consumers with the opportunity to create their own virtual selfie with the truck. Robbens says that despite the circumstances he feels a “responsibility” to make sure Coca-Cola keeps Christmas activity as normal as possible.
“We are the brand that is associated with Christmas and we want to live up to that. We have a responsibility to make everybody’s Christmas special,” he adds.
Looking forward to 2021
2020 has been a difficult year for many and it has been one of change at Coca-Cola in its marketing, with a reorganisation of innovation. In July, CEO James Quincy explained the brand was cutting ‘zombie brands’ in order to make way for stronger growth. This is a shift for the company from having a range of different brands that appeal to overlapping segments of consumers and occasions, to a more streamlined approach.
Robbens says “it’s a little too early to tell” what that means for the UK but he is in the process of reviewing the portfolio.
He explains: “It’s all about sustainable long-term growth. It’s really about the brands that we know will resonate with consumers and looking at how they [fit into] a portfolio of drinks that will meet as many people in as many moments as possible.”
This doesn’t mean Coke is halting innovation and Robbens is most excited about the launch of an entirely new brand this year in Topo Chico, a hard seltzer that marks Coca-Cola’s first foray into the alcohol market.
“As a company this is the first skilled effort into alcohol, which is exciting for us all and I am really happy GB [Great Britain] is one of the first markets that will happen,” he says.
He adds: “We are going to tap into a lot more consumers and drinking moments so it is hugely exciting, but we are hugely conscious we have to do it in a responsible way.”
Whether it’s a launch into a new market or the culling of brands, Robben has been kept busy this year amid the coronavirus pandemic. But it is the welfare of his team that he sees as a pivotal part of his role, particularly with remote working.
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He explains: “I love being in the office with my team around me and knowing what’s going on. I find it hard now because I can’t sense how they are doing because I am not there. [So I struggle] not having seen my team since March making sure they are alright.”
To try to protect the wellbeing of his employees, he has evolved meeting routines to be more flexible and spends time deciphering the barriers and drivers of what keeps people happy and engaged in their jobs.
While Covid may have changed many things, Robbens still believes the key to being a good marketer is a “good combination of art and science”. While he sees marketing as a growth driver, he thinks marketers still need to keep in mind their audience: consumers.
He explains: “As a marketer you are there to grow a business so you need to understand your business and numbers and consumers. A lot of that is fact-based and making sure campaigns are effective and [bring in] ROI, that’s the science bit.
“A good marketer combines that with art because there is only so much you can see in numbers and it’s still about consumers, and consumers have emotions and feelings.”
This combination of art and science is a balance he feels the Coke team have struck this year. He is most proud of the “brave” marketing that Coca-Cola has done in 2020, citing its ‘Open Like Never Before’ campaign that focused on supporting local businesses.
“We’ve done a lot more brave marketing in the last year than we’ve done before,” he says.