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Coke’s UK marketing boss says replacing global CMO with a chief growth officer is giving local ad teams greater autonomy

By Jennifer Faull | Deputy Editor

May 11, 2017 | 6 min read

Coca-Cola’s top UK marketer of six-months joined an organisation on the precipice of a marketing overhaul that saw the global chief marketing officer (CMO) job axed and folded into a commercial role. But Aedamar Howlett said the shake-up has not only led to greater autonomy but is also pushing her to get closer with the likes Amazon.

It’s been little over a week since Coca-Cola’s marketing restructure came into effect. Seeking greater innovation across its portfolio, the drinks giant ditched the CMO role and combined global marketing, customer and commercial leadership under a newly created ‘chief growth officer’ remit which would be held by Francisco Crespo.


Coke's new marketing boss on leadership shake-up

Faced with a sales slide of $4bn between 2012 and 2016, new chief executive James Quincey (who toook on the role this month) said the move was squarely rooted in getting the business to “move quickly to structure the organisation for faster growth” and supported his vision of Coca-Cola becoming a “digital company” rather than simply one the makes beverages.

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But what it meant for marketing left many commentators confused, with some industry commentators suggesting that Quincey simply didn’t trust a CMO to drive long-term growth. A former commercial director, general director and business unit president, Crespo’s experience of marketing – at least on paper – is limited and the extent to which customer facing comms would remain at a core pillar of the organisation was left in doubt.

However, speaking to The Drum Howlett, marketing director at Coca-Cola UK, explained that on the contrary, marketing is still very much “at the heart of the business,” stressing that the change “sends a clear signal about our ambition”.

“This combines the functions that contribute to growth,” she explained. “But we [regional marketers] also need to work more closely with our commercial partners, strategy partners and combine it into the function. It brings us closer [to commercial objectives].”

While it’s too soon to see the tangible outcomes of the leadership overhaul, 10 days in and Howlett said that it’s been a “a really good thing” for senior regional marketers and she has been given more autonomy over regional executions.

“We’ll be delivering more programmes ourselves to drive growth. It will come from all the local markets and ladder up,” she explained. “We’re still working within the [One Brand] framework and leveraging all of the great work that will still come out of the centre. But we will be leaner and the business units will have more autonomy to drive that growth.”

And in line with Quincey's ‘digital’ vision, Howlett is also looking to eke out more value from the channels “where consumers interact with our brands,” specifically e-commerce. Like its FMCG bedfellows, Coke has toyed with selling direct-to-consumers. For its ‘Share a Coke’ campaign in 2015 it created a platform that allowed consumers order a personalised glass bottle of Coca-Cola online for at-home delivery.

Realistically, the future of Coke’s e-commerce ambitions lie in fostering better relationships with online retailers and Amazon is one key ally that it’s looking get to closer to.

“We’re doing some great work with Amazon. There are projects happening that I can’t share. But with our commercial teams we’re working to really understand how consumers are interacting on those channels and how to make our offering right,” Howlette continued.

Undoubtedly one of the more immediate areas of focus is ensuring the Zero-Sugar variant succeeds where low-calorie Coca-Cola Life failed. Howlett has embarked on its biggest ever sampling push for Zero this summer as part of a wider ‘Share a Coke’ campaign while simultaneously phasing out the green-bottle which had left customers confused.

“The One Brand strategy is absolutely the right thing for us – but within that it’s about how we accelerate our Light products. Zero-Sugar (which now makes up 50% of sales) has demonstrated how we can do that,” she said.

“You’ll see us experimenting more with things in the future and that’s what you saw with Coca-Cola Life. It gained traction but what consumers were excited by was Zero-Sugar and it made more sense for us to put all of our efforts into that.”

Part of those experiments will see it invest more in working with start-ups. In an interview with The Financial Times this week, he revealed it had put money behind 42 start-up brands in the US alone over the past decade, including Aloe Gloe, a water start-up and Fuze, which makes teas and still fruit drinks, but it's looking to ramp up this pace of innovation.

And as such Coca-Cola, while still "the heart and soul of the company", will not be the sole focus. "The company can be bigger than that,” she said.

Howlett singled out Honest Tea and Fanta (which is being relaunched this year) as two brands that will be put in the spotlight in the UK over the coming year.

For the time being, getting its summer campaign off the ground is the priority. It has seen the brand name on its bottles replaced with holiday destinations and the activity is being supported with an £8.5m advertising campaign, including new TV spot that offers a new take on the long-running Diet Coke Hunk where a brother and sister fight to give the pool boy a drink.

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