Coca-Cola gets real.

February 1, 2003

February 2003

Coca-Cola’s launch of its new “real” campaign represents a watershed moment in advertising history.

The owner of the world’s most valuable brand has turned its back on everything near and dear to the hearts of the creative community and returned to its roots.

“It’s the real thing,” a theme indelibly embedded in the minds of cola drinkers since it was first used in 1969, is the obvious inspiration for the new campaign.

We applaud Coke’s decision. This is what advertising is all about. To reinforce and reaffirm ideas that already exist in the mind.

Advertising is not about “creativity.” That is, advertising is not good at communicating the “new and different.” Advertising lacks the credibility to insert a new idea into a mind. Especially an idea that conflicts with one that is already up there.

The Coca-Cola Company spent millions on an ad campaign called “Always.” Yet go into a bar or restaurant and ask for an “Always” and see the bewildered look on the face of the waiter or waitress. But ask for a bottle of “The Real Thing” and see the look of recognition you’ll get.

Forget about creativity. Forget about creating something new and different. The only role for advertising is to act as a cheerleader for people who already have positive thoughts about your brand. This is exactly what the new Coke campaign will be doing.

“Real” returns the brand to its heritage. Coca-Cola is widely known as the first, the original cola. Everything else is an imitation.

This is a powerful, motivating reason to prefer Coca-Cola. How can Pepsi-Cola or Royal Crown be better than the real thing?

Interestingly enough, early Coke advertising urged consumers to “Demand the genuine” and “Accept no substitute.” The company also created a distinctive bottle to assure people that they were actually getting a real Coca-Cola. Coke’s advertising should continue in this same vein.

(If you want to put a new idea into a mind, turn to PR.)

What advertising does best is to protect and enhance the position that a brand has already achieved. And no brand has been blessed like Coca-Cola. When you own “the real thing,” why would you run advertising programs like these:

• Polar bears prefer Coca-Cola.

• Enjoy.

• Life tastes good.

• All the world loves a Coke.

You can’t argue with success, you might be thinking. Coca-Cola is the world’s most valuable brand, worth an estimated $70 billion

But is Coca-Cola the dominant brand it appears to be?

• Marlboro leads Newport by 397 percent.

• Kodak leads Fuji by 269 percent.

• Budweiser leads Miller by 156 percent.

• McDonald’s leads Burger King by 133 percent.

• Visa leads MasterCard by 96 percent.

• But Coca-Cola, the world’s most valuable brand, leads Pepsi-Cola by only 47 percent.

Coke can and ought to do better than that. And its “real” campaign is a real step in the right direction.