Bradford Ross is the Atlanta-based Director, Global Football Marketing at The Coca-Cola Company. As the FIFA World Cup 2018 fever peaks in Russia, we caught up with Bradford to ask him about the experience of having led the charter for the last four years and the association with FIFA. Excerpts are included below from the conversation Coca-Cola Journey India’s Ashutosh Sinha.

AS: You have led the FIFA World Cup 2018 charter for last four years! What does a day in the life of a Coke employee with one of the most coveted job profiles look like?

BR: This is indeed a journey, and like all journeys there are different phases that you and the team go through. A ‘day in the life’ therefore all depends on what stage of the campaign development we are in. The average day in 2015 or 2016 was very different from what it looks like now. We were trying to lay the foundation of what we are doing now. When we started, it was about laying the foundation, building the business case and understanding the role that the FIFA World Cup could play for driving the business and our brands.

We also needed to do exploratory work and understand from various markets and geographies what they needed from this campaign. Although football is the world’s sport and the most ubiquitous sport in the world, there are still nuances to how the sport is consumed and what this means for the business. For established football markets like Latin America and Europe, it was about leveraging the existing love for the game and generating higher frequency of consumption. For emerging markets like India and Africa, leveraging the association and growing passion and love for the sport has helped in ‘recruitment’ for our category of consumers.

Once we understood the business brief and what we needed to do with the campaign, we moved to the insights and creative development of the campaign.

Driving a global campaign like this is a balancing act. On the one hand, we know that the FIFA World Cup is a five-week event, but the timing of our deliverables are well in advance of that. Our commercial colleagues needed the work first as they held discussions with our customers very early on. One of the key priorities of their campaign was to ensure we developed work that could be commercially implemented while being integrated across the marketing mix and all key touchpoints.

Each day in life depends on whether we are at the strategic stage or the execution stage. Now we are trying to leverage the opportunity in real time and continue to build on the bases of the campaign architecture that we set up.

AS: Coca-Cola’s association with FIFA has been going strong for over 40 years. How do you think the association has helped take the FIFA World Cup even further to the masses?

BR: The Coca-Cola Company first advertised in the FIFA World Cup in 1958 and we formally signed up as a sponsor in 1976. This has been a long-standing, mutually beneficial partnership, and I would like to think that it is fair to say that Coca-Cola has helped FIFA take the game to different parts of the world, some of which were distant or remote.

For Coca-Cola, it is not only about sponsoring the highest level of the sport. We are actively engaged in the Copa Coca-Cola, our largest grassroots programme as well as sponsoring other FIFA events, including the FIFA Women’s World Cup, and the U17 and U19 FIFA World Cups. We also work in partnership with FIFA on the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour which gives consumers around the world access to the original FIFA World Cup Trophy.

AS: How different is Coca-Cola’s approach this time in terms of driving digital engagement during FIFA World Cup?

BR: We started the work by establishing the product more saliently in the consumption occasion. We started the building the campaign with a clear focus on ways to establish product saliency within this occasion. We changed our approach by moving away from primarily targeting attitudes, to being more holistic to ensure we are targeting by behaviour. Focusing on the intrinsic of the brand to showcase the functional benefits of the product, enabled us to drive the narrative around attributes within the viewing occasion.

It led to a lot of change in the way things happened after that. When we did our photo shoot, our ‘digital ninjas’ were in the background. We got great content that was a ‘digital first’ for us. When we did the television commercials, we embedded the ‘digital ninjas’ once again. This enabled us to have relevant digital content that was consistent with our campaign architecture and creative approach. With that creative content, which had product attributes at the heart, we could then offer our markets the opportunity to take the raw content, localise and then publish it. This ensured overall consistency in the brand narrative and in the look and feel, but also gave the markets the opportunity to be locally relevant in a way that mattered most to their consumers.

This model of global and local collaboration in the digital production and amplification process helped us with a 1+1=3 synergistic outcome.  

AS: India held the FIFA U17 World Cup last year - the first FIFA event to be held in India. How do you think it will help increase popularity of the sport and also bring fans and Coca-Cola together?

BR: I think football is fairly untapped in India. It (the FIFA U17 World Cup 2017) gave a taste of what could come. I saw first-hand the passion that India has for football at the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour in 2014 and it was spectacular. The fandom and passion for the sport in Kolkata could rival that in Buenos Aires, Istanbul and the like. This was then expanded during the U17 FIFA World Cup and a broader base of India became exposed to football. Obviously, cricket is still the number one sport in India, but seeing first-hand what the trophy tour and U17 Football World Cup meant to the country can only indicate a very positive outlook.

Football will continue to grow in India and for Coca-Cola, it should be a big play. For FIFA, it should be a big play too. Exciting times are ahead for the growth of the sport in India.

AS: Please tell us how the Coca-Cola Anthem ‘Colors’ for FIFA came about.

BR: We wanted a song that could really drive the brand narrative and leverage the core values of the brand. Inclusion and diversity are two of our core values and we wanted to include these. Equally important was to allow the creative process to unfold as organically as possible, and we wanted the artists to give his or her own persona to the anthem.

When we looked at the target audience in 2014, 3.2 billion people had tuned in to watch the FIFA World Cup. It told us that FIFA is a social and cultural phenomenon, and we realised that music is an important element of the campaign. That is why music played such an important part in the campaign. More than 20 local versions of ‘Colors’ have been produced. This year, from the early reports, we can expect 3.9 billion people will tune in to watch the FIFA World Cup.

If this campaign was about the product, music gave us the chance to elevate the purpose behind the brand message and highlight the narrative about inclusion and diversity. Whether you were part of the FIFA World Cup or not, it is about being proud of who you are and where you come from.

AS: How do you personally feel about FIFA increasing of the number of finalists from 32 to 48 over the next few tournaments? What do you see changing?

BR: I think it is a great thing. Increasing the number of teams gives more countries the opportunity to participate. If you are on the fringe of qualifying, it gives you a window of opportunity. You can already see in this year’s FIFA World Cup that smaller teams have done well. Giving more teams the opportunity to participate will drive even more engagement. When you are looking at a team from India or China, there is now a better chance to qualify for the FIFA World Cup.

AS: We’ve seen a lot of upsets and surprises in the tournaments so far! Your take on these as a fan?

BR: I love it. I have always been a fan of the underdog. It is wonderful to see a small country like Belgium or Croatia make it to the semi-finals. It is also great to see a country like England who has had such a heritage make it to the final rounds. I think the strength of European club football has a lot of do with the performance of the countries that have done so well.