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Amid polarisation, Coca-Cola grapples with progressive values

News, 23 May 2017
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GLOBAL: Brands that step out and espouse values risk being caught in the crossfire of 2017's polarised consumers, but Coca-Cola's new CEO, James Quincey, believes it is a risk worth taking.

In comments to the Financial Times, Quincey, who took control of the soft-drinks giant on the first day of this month, said he was not prepared to be inconsistent with the brand's messaging, even as the external context gets rougher.

Following the election of Donald Trump, for example, reports have documented shifts in marketing spend and strategy for brands trying to manoeuvre a more divided public. However, for a multinational such as Coca-Cola, whose value of inclusivity remains a guiding purpose, Quincey argues there is no room for inconsistency.

"Andy Warhol said it well: the great thing about Coke is that everyone can afford one. That is part of the Coke brand. So you start getting these policy answers as part of the core brand positioning, because how can you be inconsistent with it?

"A brand has to stand for something and you have to make the choices of what you want it to stand for, and then stand behind those choices," Quincey said.

Coke came under fire for its message of inclusivity at the 2017 Super Bowl when the multi-language It's Beautiful ad drew criticism and calls to #BoycottCoke, for what some on Twitter felt to be a personal attack on their values.

But recent research suggests Quincey is right to adhere to the brand's values. A Mediacom Social Change Hub study, reported in City A.M., found that half of respondents are willing to pay more for a brand that supports a cause they share.

Furthermore, the research suggests a generational preference for clear values, as 49% of 18-24-year-olds said they had bought a product specifically because of the brand's values, compared to an average of 35% across all age groups.

At the same time, however, 45% admitted scepticism toward any brand claiming to support good causes, demonstrating the tightrope brands now have to walk.

But Unilever, the FMCG giant, has shown that a progressive value – sustainability – can spur business growth. Last year, the company's sustainable brands: Hellmann's, Dove, and Ben & Jerry's, delivered more than 60% of the company's growth.

Data sourced from Financial Times, City A.M., Marketing Week, SB Nation; additional content by WARC staff

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