Creativity Brand Strategy

Coke’s Pratik Thakar on the ‘Real Magic’ of unexpected mashups and metaverse opportunities

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By Kenneth Hein | Editor

December 17, 2021 | 7 min read

As voting opens for The WFA’s Global Marketer of the Year, The Drum catches up with finalist Pratik Thakar, Coca-Cola’s head of global creative strategy and content. He shares his thoughts about how the brand is planning to amplify its ‘Real Magic’ global campaign by leaning into emerging platforms.

Pratik Thakar, Coca-Cola

Thakar says to expect the unexpected when it come's Coke partnerships in 2022.

The pandemic has proven tricky for Coca-Cola. After all, sales outside of the home at sporting venues, theaters, restaurants and convenience stores drive a significant portion of its business. Then there are the on-going supply chain issues. Plus, the fact that the company is coming out of a massive global reorganization.

Still, The Coca-Cola Company has beaten its earnings estimates for the last four quarters. This has some analysts feeling rosy about the company’s prospects for continued growth.

This despite having held back a significant part of its marketing investment in 2020. Now “they are in full reset mode,” says Duane Stanford, editor of Beverage Digest. “They’ve built a strong identity around ‘Real Magic.’ In the middle of all of this disruption, they got their heads together and came up with a massive global campaign. They may not have all the points right yet, but it’s a strong point of view and visual element. That’s what you need to do to take advantage of the rebound.”

Enter Pratik Thakar, head of global creative strategy and content at Coca-Cola. He is the driving force behind the debut of the brand’s first new global campaign since 2016. Thakar has been working behind the scenes with his team to successfully bring ’Real Magic’ to life this year with an eye on massive global amplification in 2022.

Inside the ‘Real Magic’ spell book

Every great campaign starts with an insight. For Thakar it is the concept of dichotomy. He views the Coke brand itself as full of useful contradictions. For example, the brand is “humble, but iconic” and “real, as well as magical,” he says.

At the same time, the world is going through “geographic polarization, societal polarization… it creates that real tension of different points of view,” says Thakar. ”Real magic isn‘t just a way of bridging dichotomy — but bridging the divide and looking at how the world becomes even more beautiful when you bring opposites together. That‘s who we are and how we have built this strategy for real magic.”

In terms of execution, we can expect some of the iconic creative that Coke is known for. For example, The Drum named its holiday Christmas ad, ‘Chimney,‘ one the best of the holiday season. But, the true power of ‘Real Magic‘ will be “unexpected” mashups between “designers, technologists, esports teams, DJs, music bands” and more, says Thakar. “That‘s the direction we are going. That‘s where the brand experience comes alive for Coca-Cola, which is relatively different compared to our competition or overall generic advertising. Real magic is created by people but triggered by culture.”

Coke will also be dialing up its sports partnerships with Fifa 2022 and the next Olympics. And, of course, there is much-hyped metaverse to contend with. The metaverse itself is a “melting pot” of contradictions and dichotomies, he says. “You will see fashion meeting music meeting gaming meeting blockchain which is NFT meeting merchandisers, and then launches like limited-edition drops. The metaverse is going to be a true playground for bringing all the different passion points from different parts of the world and different subcultures… A few years back we used to call Facebook a new media. That‘s the deja vu happening. Except this a 100 times bigger opportunity.”

Creating that true global glue

Creating a true global brand means straddling differences region-to-region whether its language, food and lifestyles in general. “We turn those differences into our advantage, rather than looking at it as a barrier,” says Thakar.

He views Coke Studio as one of the brand’s most powerful assets – and a vehicle for global collaboration. One of his favorite example was last year’s experiment, where Coke took the X Ambassadors song Jungle and asked K-Pop giants BTS to rethink it. The song became an international hit. “That's how we can bring the music loving community of west and east together in a very different way.”

A bevvy of new beverage partnerships are on tap for the new year. “We are going to liberate this iconic brand by creating the moment to make the world choose a more human way,” Thakar says. “The world needs ‘Real Magic‘ now more than ever. This hyper-connected world is also equally isolated and lonely. We need to connect people.”

Thakar says his inspiration comes from “connecting the dots between culture, creativity and technology. I‘m fortunate that my professional upbringing has happened in highly diverse and digitally advanced markets in Asia Pacific. I lived and worked in Hong Kong, in China, in Singapore. I spent a lot of time in Korea and Japan — markets that have led the revolution whether it's a K-Pop, blockchain, esports, digital art, all of this. I see inspiration from being in the epicenter of this new generation marketing. In my global role, I bring that knowledge, collaboration and embracing this new way of doing things to all of brand Coke globally.”

The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) and The Drum have partnered once again to find the Global Marketer of the Year. We’ll be running interviews with all finalists ahead of the vote closing on December 31. You can cast your vote to crown this year’s winner here.

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