Coke Says: Content Is it

A.J. Brustein, The Coca-Cola Company's newly-named Innovation Accelerator Director talks about how content sits at the core of everything they do.

How does Coca Cola think about content?

Everything is content -- whether it's traditional TV or out of home, from the product to the packing to the stories that are told. The way content has evolved, content has become more of a liquid thing, it's not necessarily something we shape and deliver. It's about the idea and the way it takes form, mostly because of the advancement of social media and the ability to create dialogue. Our department here used to be called Creative Excellence; it's now called Content Excellence.

How has content creation changed from within Coke?

Innovation has changed the way we define it. A couple of years ago, innovation was a department and they worked on product innovation from a marketing point of view. We've evolved that thinking. The majority of our innovation is in communication and the way the ideas are spread.

Is that where the 70/20/10 formula comes in?

Yeah, 70 percent of the stuff we know how to do and we're good at, like point of sale marketing or an emotional commercial. Twenty percent would be interactive digital point of sale or 3D advertising, innovating off of stuff we know how to do. But the 10 percent is working on stuff that's new to us and new to the world. It could be a huge return or a complete failure, but it ensures we keep it fresh and continue to learn. We ask, Where will happiness strike next? We tried it first in 2009, and it was called the happiness machine -- a vending machine on campus at St. John's University in New York City. It would dispense things like balloons, pizzas and two liter Cokes, all in an experiment to harness the power of earned media. Making cheap, fast, quick and dirty content was not traditionally thought of as a way to build brand equity. It was new thinking at the time, and now we're so used to it that it's a 70 percent idea. Another 10 percent activation was the 24-Hour Session, where we partnered with Maroon 5 and put them in a London studio for 24 hours to write a new song. Coca Cola followers interacted with the band through Twitter and the fan's tweets would shape the lyrics. People from over 100 countries participated.

What's the most innovative content initiative you've seen or been a part of in the past year?

When I look at what's interesting out there, I look at two categories: First, innovation in ways where it's beneficial for the consumer, and one that comes to mind more recently is the rebirth of Tupac at Coachella; it drove Tupac fans crazy and sales of Tupac songs like crazy as well. I thought that was fantastic. Siri in iPhone makes my life easier. Nike fuel band, Google driverless cars, etc.

The other category is when we can do something to get people to reconsider the brand or the way they use the brand or the product. I saw this year, at Cannes, a library that was going bankrupt and a bunch of activists and library members started their own campaign to burn down the library -- with all the books. Citizens reacted in horror and they came out and voted and provided the money needed for the library to stay afloat.

Another one: A couple years ago, there was a chocolate bar from Romania called Rom. They were getting beaten by the competition and becoming irrelevant due to its aging image. They created a campaign that changed their packaging from a Romanian flag to an American flag that celebrated America, all in an attempt to get Romanians to fall back in love with Patriotic icons like the Rom bar. It's hilarious, effective and you can see it here:

And there was a product called Repellent Radio that used radio frequencies to repel mosquitoes as an added benefit.

What mistake do content creators make that can be avoided?

Not believing that content is liquid and believing you can control everything. In the world now, it doesn't work that way. Week after week you see some brand making a fool of themselves around content.

How do content projects move forward at Coke outside the RFP?

It depends. We've done a lot around how we work with agencies and in the end, it depends on the project, scope, time line and budget. But I'd say to people that you have to bring something that's different and unique and we have thousands of agencies who we work with and we'd rather have a hundred. What's your unique angle?