ATLANTA: Coca-Cola, the soft drinks giant, plans to increase its use of social media around the world, as it seeks to put consumers "at the heart" of its business, according to Jonathan Mildenhall, the company's vp of global advertising strategy and creative excellence.

Speaking at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, Mildenhall said the chance "to have consumers genuinely at the heart of our business is something that truly excites me."

However, he added that like many other major advertisers, Coca-Cola was initially reticent about using the rapidly-expanding range of social media tools available to advertisers, meaning it has fallen behind some of its rivals.

"We've been really nervous about user-generated content and, in terms of other brands in the space, we're playing catch-up," he argued.

Despite this, the company has enjoyed considerable success on Facebook, the social networking website, via a "fan page" that was set up by two brand advocates, and now has over 4 million "friends".

While the rules of the portal demanded some official involvement from the company in the administration of the page, Coca-Cola decided to "partner" with its creators, and then take a hands-off approach.

Speaking about this development, Mildenhall argued that "at first we were unsure, but we've seen another world in the sense of the creative community love for the brand."

Indeed, Coke's popularity on Facebook has "helped build confidence in handing over brands to user-generated content and we're putting that into a lot of our plans," he said.

One example of this is an initiative in Mexico where consumers can make 60-second TV ads and upload them to the web.

Internet users in the country can then watch these spots and vote for their favourite, with the most popular being broadcast on television.

Mildenhall also said that should he be presenting at Cannes "in three years' time, I'll have UGC from all over the world to talk about."

With regard to broader changes across the advertising industry as a whole, he predicted that "we'll see a lot of consolidation as traditional agencies merge with digital agencies."

"From a Coca-Cola Company perspective, trying to manage different silos between creative, planning, digital and the big idea is too cumbersome for brands," he continued.

As such, "we'll end up with a one-stop-shop model with everything except media planning and buying, which I think will always be separate." 

Data sourced from New Media Age; additional content by WARC staff