Coca-Cola's Javier Sanchez Lamelas on needing emotion and innovation for storytelling

Strategically planning the direction of Coca-Cola's European marketing output can be challenging but creating content that is emotionally relevant makes it all worthwhile, says Javier Sanchez Lamelas.

Javier Sanchez Lamelas: Christmas is a hugely exciting time for Coca-Cola
Javier Sanchez Lamelas: Christmas is a hugely exciting time for Coca-Cola

I consider myself exceptionally lucky to work at Coca-Cola, which is as much about the people that I work with as the content of the work. We all sell great beverages, yes, but our marketing is about more than refreshment and great taste. It is about human values: universality, togetherness and friendship. It is about working with an incredibly talented and diverse team.

I’ve worked for Coca-Cola for more than 18 years (plus another eight at Procter & Gamble). During this time the marketing landscape has changed dramatically. It used to be that marketers could produce a piece of content, put money behind it and get people to see it. This doesn’t work today. Millions of pieces of content compete for people’s attention and viewers have absolute control over what they want to watch. So a brand’s content has to connect with them emotionally and with relevance. Today you need people to want to see your content… or else your marketing is ineffective and obsolete.

Today you need people to want to see your content… or else your marketing is ineffective and obsolete.

My main focus is to make sure all our marketing content has powerful storytelling at its heart, connected through universal human values, which you will see shine through in every piece of content we deliver. I also dedicate a significant amount of time trying to foresee the future (not easy) and adapt our structures and infrastructures (such as digital capabilities) to what is coming, so we keep our marketing competitive. While you need to have a good long-term plan, it is key to build flexibility into those plans. The most adaptive marketing is the one that will survive. Therefore, it is essential to keep the teams nimble, responsive and with the necessary empowerment to make decisions.

We have had a really busy 2014 with the launch of our FIFA World Cup campaign, ‘Win a ball, give a ball’ promotion and the return of ‘Share a Coke’, which put more than 1000 different names on our bottles and cans across Europe. Both of these campaigns have been hugely successful for us. For me, success is about brand attachment; when consumers take your idea and play with it, making it their own. One guy actually proposed with ‘Share a Coke’ bottles. I love that – there is no greater sign that you are connecting with people. I truly believe there has never been a more exciting time to be a marketer; the possibilities for brands to interact and excite audiences are endless and we want to continue to innovate to drive deeper engagement.

I truly believe there has never been a more exciting time to be a marketer; the possibilities for brands to interact and excite audiences are endless and we want to continue to innovate to drive deeper engagement.

The global nature of our business means I’m constantly on the move. While I spend about 40% of my time at our new UK offices in London, the rest of my time is split between visiting our teams across Europe and my home in northern Spain. It is easy to stay in the office, having meetings with peers and working through the computer. The risk of isolating yourself in an ivory tower is always there, and staying out of touch is a recipe for bad marketing.

During the past month I have travelled to several countries we operate in and, as I write, I am on a flight to Atlanta for meetings with some of my colleagues at our global HQ. It is essential to be in touch with local marketing teams to help shape our ideas, resolve challenges and get a first-hand understanding of the issues we are facing. It’s inspiring to see how different teams interpret and adapt campaigns for different markets. And perfect substitutes for store visits or face-to-face meetings, whether with colleagues, bottling partners, our customers or agencies, have yet to be invented.

My role now is less about campaign implementation – which I love and miss – and more about strategic planning and direction. We often plan ideas three to five years in advance, mapping out key areas before working on specific content ideas with different market teams, ensuring all the content created across Europe is relevant, exciting and ahead of the curve. With all the changes happening, it is becoming more challenging.

Coca-Cola's trucks campaign returned this year

Christmas is a hugely exciting time for Coca-Cola and I’m delighted with the reaction to this year’s campaign. We started planning it back in November last year, and worked really fast and smoothly (we have some good knowledge and experience about Christmas with Coke). The concept originated and was developed in Germany in collaboration between Ogilvy and our local team. It is about generosity – the importance of little things to make other people a bit happier – and it will be seen by audiences around the world. One of the great things about working for a global brand is the reach our messages can have; the not-so-fun part of this broad reach begins when friends and family provide unsolicited opinions on how to improve your creative.

I feel a great responsibility to ensure we continue to push boundaries with our marketing, live up to the success of past campaigns and continue to innovate and execute brilliant, fresh ideas. I’m particularly excited about some of the work that we’re doing at the moment, which will land in 2015. This is why I love my job – I get to work with great teams to create beautiful content designed to make people smile.



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