Creativity prevents Coca-Cola becoming "invisible" according to Coca-Cola VP Global Creative

“If Coca-Cola didn’t use creativity as a driver of the brand then it could become invisible,” according to Jonathan Mildenhall Coca-Cola VP Global Creative. In a recent interview with The Drum Mildenhall explained that though “ubiquity and scale is a huge asset” to Coca-Cola it “actually puts an ever greater demand on the brand as if we weren’t careful familiarity could lead to invisibility”.

Earlier in the week, the Coca-Cola Company was named as the winner of the Creative Marketer of the Year award at The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2013, something which Mildenhall describes as “a brilliant honour” and “a bench mark in our commitment to creativity and our belief that creativity makes our brand more dynamic and more valuable in the hearts and minds of our consumers”.

According to Mildenhall despite Coca-Cola picking up more than 100 Lions since its first win back in 1967 it is “very, very important that creativity is a driver in its own right”. Such is that importance that the Coca-Cola Company devised a Creative Excellence team in 2004 meaning that Mildenhall and his teams all over the work focus “100 per cent of our time on igniting creativity across all of our brands”.

Since joining Coca-Cola in 2007, Mildenhall admits the brand's remit has changed drastically when it comes to advertising, “my own personal journey since I’ve been at Coke was in the beginning I’d come up with a big idea, I’d have to do big TV, big shopper and big out-of-home, and if you look at the Beijing Olympics - that was the extent of what we did just four years ago. Compare that with the London Olympics where we produced content, mobile, digital experiences, and social. The sheer number of kernels that we have to make great creative has just multiplied exponentially”.

Coca-Cola's approach to the Beijing and London Olympics were very different; for the 2012 Games Coca-Cola generated more unique content and toured the UK as part of the Torch Relay Speaking of the brand's creative process, Mildenhall explained “we start completely the other way around now” meaning that the focus has gone from “the big TV that we used to do, and used to do well, to can it work on the side of a bottle first and can we pull it back encompassing all media all the way back to a big cinema screen”. Brand packaging has become more of a lucrative entity for the brand as “given that we get consumed 1.8 billion times a day our bottles, our packaging is a platform within its own right”. When asked how a brand like Coca-Cola keeps innovating and ensures its creativity stays fresh Mildenhall credits Coca-Cola’s chairman and CEO who “never speaks publically about the way the Coca-Cola company will continue to evolve without using two words – ‘constructively discontent’”. It is this mantra that Mildenhall believes forces Coca-Cola’s creative teams to “think positively but innovatively at all times”. In discussing his plans for moving Coca-Cola forward in 2013 and beyond Mildenhall concluded: “In a world where newer brands can enjoy consumer recognition and relevance just by being new, we want it to remain new and fresh and dynamic and surprising to consumers who have lived with us for all their lives,” adding “we don’t rest on our laurels, we’re always thinking how to challenge each other and try and do things differently”.

Jonathan's pick of Coca-Cola creatives

Having worked across a range of Coca-Cola creative projects during his five years with the brand, Mildenhall cites this year’s Coke Zero’s ‘A Step From Zero’ campaign as his favourite yet; "It was the community, not the advertising industry or the brand owners, but the Coca-Cola community who created it”. The idea behind the campaign was to “use conversation to make iconic content and unlock the power of our fanbase”. Despite being what Mildenhall describes as a “difficult communication model” the creative turned out to be a great success for “something that hasn’t been done before”.

Of the most challenging Coca-Cola creative, Mildenhall described the Coca-Cola North America’s ‘Polarbowl’ campaign where the Coca-Cola polar bears commented in real-time on the Superbowl’s commercials. In his own words Mildenhall described the campaign as “amazing, but scary and hard all at the same time”. The creative itself was a leap of faith for the brand as “it had never been done before and it was real-time advertising in a world that really hasn’t got to grips with real-time advertising”.

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