Ashwini Gangal

"Today, Twitter is the most widely read 'newspaper'": Venkatesh Kini, Coca-Cola

Venkatesh Kini, president, Coca-Cola, India and South West Asia, addressed a group of advertising and media professionals at 'IAA Retrospect and Prospects', an event organised by the International Advertising Association - India Chapter.

Venkatesh Kini, president, Coca-Cola, India and South West Asia, is a soft-spoken orator, with an agreeable demeanour. Last evening, he addressed a select group of advertising and media professionals at the Mumbai leg of 'IAA Retrospect and Prospects', an event organised by the International Advertising Association - India Chapter.

"Today, Twitter is the most widely read 'newspaper'": Venkatesh Kini, Coca-Cola
The objective was to convey the "Coke view" on today's rapidly changing media landscape. Kini called his talk a "quick tour of how we do marketing and look at storytelling."

Kini, who has spent around 25 years in the field of marketing, shifted to general management a few years back. "That's when I was shocked to realise that the world doesn't revolve around marketing and advertising," he joked, before adding, "But it works... marketing works, advertising works." After spending around 17 years at Coca-Cola, that's the one thing he can vouch for.

"Coke is not successful because of its secret recipe that's locked away in a safe somewhere," he said, implying that it's the company's marketing efforts that have built the brand over the years. That, and his consumers.

Going on to talk about these Millennials, or Gen-Y if you will, Kini said, "Consumers haven't changed; the way you connect with them has." The world, he said, is "shrinking to a '2 by 4' screen," referring to the smartphone in youngsters' hands. Giving a then-and-now perspective, in this context, he said, "Previously, there was one screen and many consumers (at this point, he showed the audience an image of a TV set in a shop window, with a crowd gathered around it) but today, one person has multiple screens."

Talking about the general shift from one-way brand communication to a two-way conversation around the brand in question, Kini said, "Today, your target audience is a node in a broad network. Every person who consumes your brand, your ad or your communication, is a node... your consumer is also your advertiser."

Kini then spoke about a shift from the "5 Ps of marketing to brand experiences." By way of explanation, he added, "Today, consumers have immersive experiences with your product, brand or service." He showed the audience the 'Sprite Till I Die' video, to illustrate his point.

With a smartphone in his/her hand, the consumer, he insisted, has taken control over brands. "Agencies don't have this control anymore," he shrugged. The consumer is also a "great reporter" he said, adding, "Twitter, today, is the most widely read 'newspaper'... this has democratised the process of creativity."

What can brands do to leverage this reality? Plenty. Firstly, in Kini's words, "Whatever you do, be 'share-worthy.'" He showed the audience a film about Coca-Cola's efforts to reunite overseas foreign workers with their families back in the Philippines. The campaign is called 'Where Will Happiness Strike Next: The OFW Project'.

His next tip: "Have a 'cultural point of view.'" Coke's Hilltop commercial from 1971, released as a plea to end the Vietnam War, supported this point. In 2011, Coke partnered with Google to contemporise the same message; through interactive vending machines, the brand enabled people to send a Coke, along with a special video/text message, to a stranger anywhere in the world.

Other tips include: "Be simple in your messaging, always be constructively discontent, be contemporary and be consistent." What better way to demonstrate how consistency pays, than bring up Thums Up, a brand that has maintained the same voice for over 20 years?

Kini's next tip: "Be disruptive". In this regard, he spoke about Coke Studio, "an asset the company has spent little or no money on." A recent video ('Ladki') of a nine year-old girl singing on this platform, has become very popular on YouTube. He added about Coke Studio, "When you create a property like this... content like this... you create a whole new way of connecting with the consumer."

Kini then spoke about why it is important for brands to be associated with a purpose/social cause. He spoke about Coca-Cola's Support My School campaign, a multi-partner CSR initiative aimed at building toilets in Indian schools. The partners include several NGOs as well as popular TV news channel NDTV. "Coke doesn't advertise or make its products available in these schools," Kini reminded.

Lastly, he spoke about four types of media: Owned (product packaging, the trucks that transport his products and the coolers that store it), earned (consumers' conversations around his brand), shared (partnerships like the kind he has with McDonald's) and paid (good ol' advertising).

It was the last of these four that made Madison's supremo Sam Balsara, seated in the front row with his peers from other agencies, smile at Kini with glee.

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