This morning we got a shock. Financial Express had reported that, "Last week, Coca-Cola India appointed Initiative Media (IM) as its media-buying Agency of Record (AOR) for the southern region." The report went on to quote Ashish Bhasin, president of IM, saying, "We will be handling media buying (for press and television) for the Coke brand in the southern states."
While we were wallowing in self pity for having missed the news - sitting right here in Delhi, in the middle of all the soft drink action (that is, till Coke shifts base to Mumbai in June / July) - a call to Coke made our day. Both Shripad Nadkarni, head of marketing at the cola giant, and Irfan Khan, head of communications, reassured us that the FE reporter had got her facts … well … not quite right. "They (FE) have made it sound bigger than it actually is," we were told.
Nadkarni clarified that Coke's regional offices across India have the mandate to do "local releases" in the language press and on hoardings, as these are highly fragmented, and it is not easy to use these effectively in a centralised manner. The local Coca-Cola offices take such decisions locally and that doesn't, in any way, affect the national-level advertising or alter the agency roster of the company. And that includes the company's media business as well.
The next obvious step was to confirm the position with Madison, Coke's AOR.
As it turned out, the agency brass was livid and Sam Balsara, CMD, Madison Communications, had shot off a letter to Prem Mehta, vice-chairman and MD, Lowe Lintas. The letter said, "It is indeed unfortunate that I have to write this letter to you to express my anguish at the completely irresponsible statement made by your Ashish Bhasin to the Financial Express (today's edition) …"
Veena Gidwani, chief operating officer, Madison, told agencyfaqs! that there were "several inaccuracies" in the report. For example:
1. The report suggests that IM has won the business for the south from Madison and, therefore, by implication, Madison is now the AOR for regions excluding southern states.
Fact is: Madison continues to be the media planning and media buying AOR of Coca-Cola in India including south India.
2. The report fails to bring out the distinction between national advertising handled by Coca-Cola at the head office and "some very minimal / casual releases" done by branch offices of Coca-Cola locally. Local advertising for Coca-Cola has been decentralised for quite some time and is handled by many agencies like Triton in Bombay, Bates in Calcutta etc.
Fact: Local advertising on an all-India basis does not account for more than 5 per cent to 7 per cent of the total Coca-Cola media spend. South would probably account, at best, for 2 per cent.
3. The report says that Lintas has been appointed for the southern region - for both print and television.
Fact: Coca-Cola India has confirmed to Madison that Lintas has been appointed only for local releases, for print only and that too for Tamil Nadu and Kerala only.
4. The report states that the account has been won by IM and has moved form Madison.
Fact: The local releases account was with Take-Wing in Madras and IM has won the account form Take-Wing.
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