AdAsia 2011: Changing agencies is no solution to business problems: Joseph Tripodi

By Ashwini Gangal , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | November 02, 2011
Joseph Tripodi, executive vice-president and chief marketing and commercial officer, The Coca-Cola Company addressed the press at AdAsia 2011.

On the morning of Day Two at AdAsia 2011, Joseph Tripodi, executive vice-president and chief marketing and commercial officer, The Coca-Cola Company, addressed select media representatives to chat about the company and its India plans in the near future.

Tripodi, whose job is to identify growth vectors in particular geographies, keep an eye on specific cultures, and ensure the capabilities to sustain the company in the long-term are in place, said that India is one of Coca-Cola's most important strategic markets across the dimensions of profit, productivity, planning, people and partnership.

Elaborating, Tripodi said, "We are very, very bullish, not only on urban India, but also on the rural regions." Specifically, he explained that the plan is to ensure that the product is easily available, affordable, the package is in the right size and the price points are right. Further, to optimise the supply chain is equally important; manufacturing must be brought closer to the people.

However, he added that one of the biggest opportunities for the company to cash in on is urbanisation. This is a reality in developing markets like China, Brazil and India. "When people move from rural to urban areas, their life becomes faster and mobility rises," he said, reiterating that this is part of the reason why India is a strategic market for Coca-Cola.

Tripodi then spoke about the importance of maintaining a fine balance between the global brand and local tastes. "Genius lies in the balance between global and local," Tripodi declared. He added that within this balance lies innovation, something that doesn't come with a secret formula, and is rather a tapestry of several different things like the product, the packaging, the equipment, and consumer engagement.

On a related note, Tripodi said, "In India, we will focus more on transactions than on total volumes; chasing total volumes was a mistake we made in the United States. We have learnt from that mistake and realised that we didn't have enough variety of price points, value and transactions because we focussed only on total volumes." Smaller, more affordable packing, he added, is the key to establish consumption of Coca-Cola as a habit (rather than a mere 'occasion-driven' soft drink).

Another key is to teach consumers about the drink's compatibility with certain types of Indian food. This can be achieved by sampling the product aggressively. "I'd rather be doing a lot of sampling programmes than just blasting out messages in a developing market. You have to have a mix between the intrinsic and extrinsic aspects of the product -- in a developing market, the intrinsic part is probably more important," Tripodi insisted, adding that doing so effectively is more art than science.

When will Coca-Cola introduce heath beverages in India? "In developing markets, we've noticed that people want calories -- they need sugar!" Tripodi answered. On a serious note, he hinted that perhaps the answer lies in advertising Diet Coke more. On the changing nature of the agency-client relationship and the dwindling span of time a client works with a particular agency, Tripodi spoke about the company's relationship with its ad agencies in India (McCann Erickson, for instance).

"I think it is naïve to believe that a company's business problem can be solved by changing the agency. All business problems needn't be linked to a communication issue," he added. He went on to say that to view the agency as a partner rather than as a mere vendor or supplier is crucial.

As regards the issue of sustainability in India, Tripodi shared that water-related projects (related to irrigation, availability of water and drinking water in schools) are the centre of the company's focus.

He concluded that though the general focus is on being disruptive in consumer engagement, and being "media platform-agnostic" is ideal, digital media does form an integral part of the brand's communication in the days ahead.

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