Each of Coke's stories is relentlessly optimistic: Anupama Ahluwalia

Our work has straddled borders & challenged racial prejudices – guided by a common strand of DNA of optimism, says Ahluwalia of Coca-Cola, on the brand winning Cannes Lions Creative Marketer of the Year

e4m by Twishy
Updated: Jul 3, 2013 8:28 AM
Each of Coke's stories is relentlessly optimistic: Anupama Ahluwalia

In a world paralysed with negativity and despair, Coke’s resolution has been to go crazy and celebrate the unsung stories of kindness and joy that inspires us to adopt such acts of goodness. From ‘Believing in a happier tomorrow’ to being ‘Crazy for happiness’, Coca-Cola has always spread joy through moments of bonding and togetherness. Coke has showed the positive side of humanity by telling the world that for a fence someone puts up, 15,00,000 ‘Welcome’ mats are placed; for every grown-up who can’t write his name, there are 15 kids who can read a fairy tale; and while some fight over petty issues, millions share a Coca-Cola every day. The creative innovation across the world led to the brand being awarded as the Cannes Lions Creative Marketer of the Year.

Anupama Ahluwalia, Vice President – Marketing, Coca-Cola India and South West Asia, speaks to exchange4media on the brand winning at Cannes, Coke’s effort to unite India and Pakistan and much more...

Coke has been awarded as the Cannes Lions Creative Marketer of the Year 2013. Please share insights on the work that led to this prestigious recognition.
The Cannes Lion Jury notes that “this prize is presented to brands that have distinguished themselves by inspiring innovative marketing of their products across multiple platforms and who embrace and encourage creativity in their brand communications produced by their agencies. The Coca-Cola Company’s restless pursuit of creative innovation in the marketing of its brands across multiple platforms in many different territories has been honoured at Cannes for many years.”

Having said this, for years, Coca-Cola has always had a cultural point of view. Much of our work has straddled borders, challenged racial prejudices and defied gender stereotypes – all guided by a common strand of DNA – Each of our stories is relentlessly optimistic. We have always believed that Coca-Cola is a brand that will loudly say ‘yes’ in the face of ‘no.’ For the last 60 years, as long as Cannes Lions has been around, we have consistently backed creativity that makes a difference.

Coca-Cola's aim to unite India and Pakistan with interactive vending machines was much talked about. How effective, according to you, was it?
We have only received very positive responses from everyone who has interacted with the Small World Machines. The experience evoked many heart-warming and emotional reactions. One of the people from Pakistan who took part remarked, “It’s great to connect with an average Indian who is in most ways similar to an average Pakistani.” Another said, “It’s something to really bring the countries together”, and “It’s fantastic that you’re allowing people to see the other side as well, to not let it be a mystery anymore”.

The very fact that people have taken note of this video and are talking about it is what really matters and that keeps us going. We are very excited by the fact that this video has sparked a conversation – we consider this our success. Notably, this work has won several awards at Cannes this year.

Can you elaborate on the campaign themed around 'Refreshment at Rs 8' to drive the low price point?
In a move to further catalyse the market and fuel growth of the cola category, we have been offering our entry level pack for brand Coca-Cola – the 200 ml returnable glass bottle (RGB) – at a special promotional price of Rs 8.

The 200 ml pack, being the entry point into the category, is recruiting new consumers into the cola segment since it is an innovative and a very attractive price point. This promotional offer is in select markets and we have rolled out a strong communication programme to better optimise the proposition. We are leveraging our distribution and route to market capabilities to build on this exciting consumer proposition.

How are planning to tap the rural markets in India?
The rural market in India poses several challenges to beverage companies in terms of expanding their footprint, one of which is the availability of chilled products. One of the biggest challenges in rural market is getting more number of people introduced to consuming beverages in a ready to drink packaged form. In addition, distribution of soft drink beverages, including making them available in a chilled form is also a challenge. Hence, Coca-Cola India has been continuously thinking about newer and innovative ways to reach out to rural consumers.

We have done various innovations in chilling equipment. Due to intermittent or no supply of electricity, electric powered refrigeration is not a good option. Hence, Coca-Cola India has launched a new innovation named eKOcool. The eKOCool cooler overcomes the barrier of grid power availability and provides growth opportunities for many small business enterprises in areas, which have unreliable or no access to grid power.

Besides the eKOCool Coolers, in areas where electricity supply is intermittent, we have also placed eutectic coolers. These are coolers with brine solution that keep the product chilled even if there is no electricity supply for more than 12 hours.

‘Thums Up Jalsa’ is a unique consumer engagement initiative where Thums Up invites consumers to a thrilling action packed show which is running in its fourth year now. Thums Up has always been associated with action, attitude and adventure – a positioning that has made it India's largest sparkling drink brand. Through the ‘Thums Up Jalsa’ initiative, we aim to connect and engage with our consumers by giving them the opportunity to participate in and experience an evening of great entertainment and action. ‘Thums Up Jalsa’ is one of our largest consumer connect initiative for rural India and the response and encouragement that it has got from consumers over the years has guided us in making this event larger, better and more entertaining with every passing year.

We have also implemented a Hub & Spoke model for servicing smaller semi urban areas. This model enables us to reach villages with population of up to 2,000 and 6-7 outlets.

Why has Coke moved away from celebrity-focussed advertising?
The choice of celebrity depends on the core creative idea of the brand campaign. Depending on the requirement of the campaign script, we chose the characters/ brand ambassadors. Like our most recent ‘Coke Rs 8 Refreshment’ campaign features the cast of ‘Student of the Year’. They are extremely popular and were a perfect fit with the campaign thought and idea. So we don’t follow a particular rule; such decisions are based and dependent on the theme of the campaign.

In the West, Coke has created transparency in terms of calorie counts through the anti-obesity campaign. Are you planning for a similar move in India? If not, why?
The Coca-Cola Company is committed to providing factual, meaningful and understandable nutrition information about all our products. We believe in the importance and power of informed choice and support fact-based nutrition labelling and education that empowers consumers to make choices that meet their individual energy and nutritional needs, and those of their families.

For many years, we have provided basic nutrition information on our labels, even in countries where such information is voluntary. Where nutrition labelling has not been possible, e.g., on certain glass bottles, we’ve made the information available by other means, including company websites and consumer information telephone lines.

In September 2009, we were the first beverage company to make a global commitment to place front-of-pack energy information on nearly all of our packages by the end of 2011. We have rolled that out in India as well, which makes us the first beverage company in India to use front-of-pack labelling. We have also been providing nutritional information on all our packages.

How are you planning to enhance interactivity on the digital platform in India?
The digital platform is evolving at a great pace and we are, and we will, continue to invest ahead of curve on this very important medium as we understand its effectiveness and engagement potential, especially amongst our core target. With the rising popularity and the expanding user-base, digital media is definitely an important constituent of our marketing mix and the spends are progressively going up. A recent example is the Thums Up Facebook game we created for the digital platform. This is the first time Coca-Cola India took forward a brand thematic campaign through an engaging game to achieve top of the mind recall. The latest example is of the Fanta interactive graphic novel which brings alive the ‘Play’ proposition.

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