Not so long ago, we lived in a world with one screen surrounded by many people, when television was the sole custodian of audio-visual entertainment at home. Alas, for mass marketers the good times did not last. "Now we have one person with many screens," Venkatesh Kini, former President, Coca-Cola India and South West Asia, told an audience of marketers and advertising executives at the International Advertising Association's Retrospect and Prospects, a forum that invites industry leaders to take a look at the highs and lows of the marketing, advertising and media industry over the last year, and indulge in some crystal ball-gazing to forecast what lies ahead in the immediate future. The multi-screen world is making the job of a marketer a lot more difficult — as you may be connecting to consumers on one screen but they may have already switched on the other one. Kini says that some studies point out that in 2015 there would be more mobile phones that have been sold, than the number of people who inhabit planet earth. 

Consumer as brand advocate

The conventional definition of target audience is also undergoing a radical shift. At present, consumers have also taken on the mantle of becoming the brand's advocates — they pass on brand messages that they like, or alternatively trash brands that they dislike. Hence leaders like Kini believe that marketing is moving beyond the 5 Ps to experience. In its crowd-sourced execution for Sprite, Coca-Cola India encouraged consumers to create brand stories "that spread with or without us." The second principle that the company follows is to come up with ideas that are "share-worthy." Take the case of Coca-Cola in the Philippines. A major part of the country's population has relatives who work abroad. Many of these people have not been able to come home for several years — some left when their children were a year old. So, for Christmas, Coca-Cola decided to bring some of these expatriates — particularly the ones who could not afford a ticket — back home. Coca-Cola offered to fly them back and unite them with their relatives back home. The ensuing happiness tied in well with the brand's theme of spreading happiness. Kini says that in the current scenario brands must leverage owned, earned and shared brand assets. Paid media comes later. "Buying media is the last thing you do," he says, taunting the media agency heads in the audience. In the case of Coca-Cola, from the trucks on the street to the coolers and vending machines in the store, all are the company's owned assets. The shared assets were Coca-Cola's global tie-up with McDonald's through which the brand had a presence in all outlets of the fast food giant across the world and the earned assets come through from consumer conversations. 

Hilltop commercial

To generate conversations, the brand decided to adapt its famous 'Hilltop' commercial of 1971 in modern times. In the hilltop commercial a chorus of young people from around the world sang, "I would like to buy the world a Coke." In a recent project with Google, Coca-Cola enabled users to actually "buy the world a Coke" using Google's platform and a series of specially-developed vending machines. In the spirit of the original work, users could also record a message and send it with a Coca-Cola to connect with someone on the other side of the world. The receiver could then respond with a text or video message, completing the connection. Kini says that a lot of the new innovations are still work-in-progress and adds, "We are not even half way there." He adds that the beverages giant practises a 70:20:10 ratio while funding innovative branding ideas. About 70 per cent of marketing investments are directed towards ideas that are well established and measured for return on investment, 20 per cent of the money goes on gut feel, and the remaining 10 per cent is on "go and experiment." Some years ago, Coke Studio was a part of the 10 per cent. Today, its success has made it part of the mainstream marketing activities of the company. With the number of screens multiplying in households, marketers can also claim to have got a world of opportunity. 

This article was published in Catalyst, the weekly marketing section of The Hindu Business Line on May 01, 2015. Click Here