Coca-Cola global CMO: AI will completely reshape marketing

Some 90% of Coke’s experiments with AI are focused on driving topline growth and effectiveness, says global CMO Manolo Arroyo.

Coca-ColaAI is set to transform the future of the marketing profession, according to Coca-Cola global CMO Manolo Arroyo, who sees such tech as a route to driving growth rather than efficiency.

Speaking today (17 June) at the Cannes Lions Festival for Creativity, Arroyo explained 90% of the company’s AI work is focused on topline growth and effectiveness.

“We are by no means perfect, but we see tremendous potential in the future and I have no doubt [AI] will completely reshape the profession of marketing as we know it,” he said.

While in 2019, 90% of Coke’s media investment was in traditional channels, by early 2023 the drinks giant had started working with OpenAI. A small team were asked to “jump in quickly” and explore potential use cases, encouraged to learn and “fail very fast”.

Such is the belief in this new technology Arroyo explained upskilling on martech and next generation AI is his major learning objective for the year.

We had one of the most spectacular failures ever in history with New Coke and I think that had a toll on our culture for some time.

Manolo Arroyo, Coca-Cola

Arguing marketers often “lose sight” of their ability to innovate, he encourages his team to innovate everything “that touches the brand”, looking for perspectives from young talent with “no filters” on the past.

Coke’s global CMO pointed to the launch of the ‘Real Magic’ brand platform in 2021. The idea was generated internally by a team of “very young” creatives called The Mavericks, who after a couple of rounds with different agencies decided they wanted to do something different.

Arroyo was joined on the panel by Mondelez senior vice-president of global brands Mie-Leng Wong, who explained her business is at the beginning of its experimentation with AI. She cited the success of Cadbury India, which used Generative AI to create more than 300,000 personalised ads for corner shop owners across the country featuring Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan.

“It was massive successful. What we’ve learnt is Gen AI is going to democratise creativity,” she explained.

Reflecting on the role for creativity, Arroyo argued it is all about leadership and this mentality comes from the top.

“At Coke we had one of the most spectacular failures ever in history with New Coke and I think that had a toll on our culture for some time. Our current CEO James Quincey came into the company and completely reset expectations,” he explained.

For Arroyo, this means bringing diversity of thought to the table and proactively inviting people into discussions who have a contrary point of view, even if this might not always feel comfortable.

Coca-Cola: The future is ‘AI meets human ingenuity’

Fellow panellist, Canva CMO Zach Kitschke, reflected on his creative journey having started at the graphic design platform – now 5,000 staff strong – as just the fifth employee. He ascended to CMO five years ago, tasked with building the Canva brand in a bid to reach more people globally.

He stated out by having conversations with several brand agencies and was presented with a proposal costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“This process they laid out was they would come in, do some interviews, have a few workshops, they’d go away for two months, squirrel away and come back with our brand,” Kitschke recalls.

“This was something we felt a little uneasy about. Canva’s culture is incredibly collaborative, that’s a core driver of our success in many ways. We agonised and decided let’s give it a go ourselves.”

He described how sitting down with the founders and wider teams, and really thinking about the future of the company, unlocked the definition of the Canva brand.

Enterprise leaders

As the team has grown from five to 5,000, Kitschke reflected on the value of sitting down with every new starter who joins the marketing division. He described this as an interesting time when a person has a “foot in both camps”.

“This is a moment in time when you’re not fully swept up in everything we’re doing and you have this perspective. It’s such a valuable moment to get that feedback, those ideas about things that have worked elsewhere,” said Kitschke.

As part of the Canva University programme, every new starter goes through a design school teaching them the core aspects of visual communication. They are also asked to prepare a presentation to introduce themselves to their wider team a couple of weeks in, which can mean speaking in front of several hundred people.

In terms of skills, Kitschke discussed the value in finding people who can flex and learn, using the analogy of hiring jazz musicians – people with a core skillset as well as the ability to improvise and evolve.

Reflecting on the evolving role of the CMO, Kitschke sees his role as primarily helping the company achieve its goals.

“As a company we focus on aligning around our values to set crazy big goals and make them happen. So, what’s that big goal? The magic happens when it’s the founders, me, our product team, operations and we’re all motivated by a crazy big goal and I see my role as using the levers within marketing to bring that to life,” he explained.

If marketers are “enterprise leaders” then they are also engines for growth, setting direction for the rest of the business, said Wong.

“Marketing is more than this frivolous role that sometimes in the past was the case,” she added. “If you connect with the value and relevance your brands bring to consumers you have a really magical mix.”

This opinion was shared by Arroyo, who argued companies are looking for marketers to be “enterprise first leaders”, who put the objectives of the corporation ahead of their own specific function.

“You wear two hats, continually, always, every single day,” he concluded.