Coca-Cola ends ad spend hiatus with campaign calling for a ‘better normal’

After pausing all advertising in April due to the coronavius crisis, Coca-Cola is back with a new campaign advocating for a better life post-pandemic and a package of marketing support for the hospitality sector.

Coke is setting out a “declaration of intent” with its first major campaign since pausing all UK advertising in April due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The multimillion-pound ‘Open Like Never Before’ campaign features a manifesto poem penned by London-based spoken word performer George ‘The Poet’ Mpanga. Developed by 72andSunny Amsterdam, the creative anticipates a time of social and cultural change post-pandemic, encouraging people to appreciate what they previously took for granted and explore new opportunities.

Appearing in the UK and wider European markets from 1 August, the campaign features an ad fronted by George The Poet that will run across TV, video-on-demand (VoD) and out-of-home. The outdoor campaign will use verses from the poem, which consumers can then scan to hear the piece in full.

Coca-Cola’s senior vice-president of marketing in EMEA, Walter Susini, describes the campaign as a “very simple idea” that, rather than relying on the notion of the world entering a ‘new normal’, champions optimism and the search for a “better normal”.

“Being open is fundamentally a point about attitude and the importance of empathy today more than ever. The film is about the big philosophy of hope, inspiration and optimism we all hope will resonate with people everywhere,” Susini explained, speaking on a press briefing this morning (30 July).

“The campaign is made by different pieces, including the aim to support and celebrate the retail partners, small businesses and everybody that is working in the Coca-Cola system. Open Like Never Before is not just a campaign, it’s an extension of our purpose, because fundamentally our goal is to refresh the world and make a difference across community and society. Together we believe we can emerge stronger from this moment.”

We believed it was important for us to come off air and redirect our resources to our most critical priorities.

Walter Susini, Coca-Cola

The campaign will include a “sustained programme” of grassroots activities designed to support small businesses, with a specific focus on hotels, cafes and restaurants hardest hit by the Covid-19 lockdown.

Launching next month, the hospitality venue support programme will see Coca-Cola donate “multimillion pounds” worth of media budget and advertising space to hundreds of its existing commercial customers to help get them back on their feet.

Through the ad creator platform, Coke will help these small businesses develop ads for digital, social and outdoor to promote their restaurant, bar or shop, using the creative message of the Open Like Never Before campaign.

“One big part of the campaign is how we make a difference. We are creating positive action. We will use very local material, outdoor and print to really celebrate the local shop, the local restaurant,” Susini added.

“The power of the Coca-Cola brand at its best is the ability to go really high, with the big message of the film, or really small. The empathy goes from a big message for everybody to really engage with the community, door by door, restaurant by restaurant, bar by bar.”

Difficult journey

Reflecting on the past four months, Susini acknowledged the Covid-19 pandemic has been a “difficult journey for everybody”.

Back in February, Coca-Cola launched a major marketing campaign focused on empathy, only for the world to enter lockdown just a month later. However, Susini said events have only made it clearer that empathy should be the “lighthouse” guiding Coke’s actions going forward.

It therefore decided to pull advertising spend and redirect its efforts into the Covid-19 response.

“We believed it was important for us to come off air and redirect our resources to our most critical priorities, so doing everything possible to ensure our people’s safety and wellbeing, as well as focus our effort on making a tangible difference for our retail partners, the people, the communities out there,” he explained.

During the pause in commercial advertising – the longest in Coke’s history – the company donated $120m (£93m) globally to organisations leading coronavirus relief efforts.

Coca-Cola Open
A still from the Open Like Never Before campaign.

In the UK, Coke donated 1.5 million drinks to frontline workers and supported food redistributor FareShare, enabling the charity to distribute the equivalent of 2 million healthy meals and more than 1 million drinks to those most in need. The brand donated advertising space, including in high-profile spots such as the Piccadilly Lights, to charity partners Crisis and FareShare to promote their fundraising messages.

The pandemic has also prompted a review of Coke’s product portfolio and a decision to cut a number of “zombie brands” in a bid to refocus resources on its biggest, most profitable lines.

Speaking last week, Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey described the need to nurture and grow “smaller and more enduring propositions” in the wake of the “toughest and most complex” period in the company’s history.

This period of history, of course, has also seen the world confront the impact of social injustice following the death of George Floyd. Coca-Cola joined a number of high profile brands by throwing its support behind the #StopHateforProfit campaign, pausing all paid and organic social media for at least 30 days beginning on 1 July.

Coke’s objective was to reassess its internal advertising standards and policies in the wake of increased hate speech online. Susini explained that the company is committed to removing hate and racism in society, in particular across social media. The company plans to release an update in the next few days on how it will proceed once the 30-day boycott has ended.

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“It’s not about what we demand from them [social media giants], it’s about what we do internally as a company to change and get better,” he said.

“We’ve had a lot of discussions on what we can do better, what we can do differently, what we can improve. It’s a journey that doesn’t only look at outside, it looks at inside the company and how we can get better. We are taking a lot of action and there are many teams around the world working on this to really start from the inside.”

For Coke, the Open Like Never Before campaign will be successful if it has inspired people to search for a “better normal”, whether that means being open to listening to others, achieving a better work life balance or removing injustice.

“For us as a company, it is about ensuring we keep operating more in the spirit of the campaign – with transparency and accountability rooted in how we do business,” Susini said.

“This will be a good learning for all of us, internally and externally. I’m really confident and I really hope the message will not just be a message, but a different way of looking at life.”