It has been both "it" and "the real thing", but Coca-Cola is still searching for "a zippier global advertising message", according to the Top 100 Global Brands survey from Interbrand and BusinessWeek. Now that the soft drinks giant has appointed Wieden & Kennedy Amsterdam to steer a creative concept and strategy for its global brand, it must be hoping that the search is at long last over.
Coke is the world's most valuable brand, boasting a $67.5 billion price-tag, according to Interbrand. The Coca-Cola Company is the world's largest soft-drinks outfit, with a presence in nearly every country in the world, a stable of nearly 400 brands and a conveyer belt of new products on hold: a trip-off-the-tongue new brand extension - Diet Black Cherry Vanilla Coke (and its full-fat version) launch in the US in January.
Yet over the past few years, it has been tough at the top: a long slump and management musical chairs have taken some of the fizz out of Coke.
Sales of its flagship product have dwindled, while new products have not always been successful, as the UK launch of Dasani proved.
Sales in the UK alone have declined by almost £100 million, and competition is intensifying with alacrity. There are more fizzy drinks, health drinks, fruit juices and flavoured waters entering the fray, joining Coke's long-term rival, PepsiCo. Some sources also suggest PepsiCo has far out-shone Coke in the innovation stakes.
Nevertheless, there are green shoots of recovery at Coke's headquarters in Atlanta. Third-quarter profits showed a 37 per cent rise to $1.3 billion and revenue shot up by almost 8 per cent to $6 billion. Recent growth has been largely fuelled by Coca-Cola colonising new markets. Yet analysts suggest Coke needs to reignite sales of its core products and target customers who are switching to alternative brands.
W&K's appointment follows the protracted but ultimately aborted search for "iconic" brand advertising from Coke's agencies. That hunt, instigated by the Coca-Cola chief marketing officer, Chuck Fruit, saw five roster shops, including Mother and Berlin Cameron Red Cell (now, Berlin Cameron United), charged with repeating the success of Mother's "I wish".
"I wish" was originally produced for the UK market, but was picked by Fruit to run in more than 20 territories. But the appointment of Mary Minnick in March this year to a new global role to run marketing, product development and growth strategies saw the "iconic" idea stutter and die, to be replaced with a new drive for global work.
W&K Amsterdam's brief, which it won following a final shoot-out with Sra. Rushmore United, is to create a global positioning. Just as the DDB-owned Heye & Partner came up with "I'm lovin' it" for McDonald's and W&K conjured up "just do it" for Nike, can the same approach now work some much-needed magic for Coke?
Rita Clifton, the chairman of Interbrand, thinks that it can: "Coke started off with one world vision, where it assumed everyone wanted to live like Brand America. Since then, it has been through the pendulum swing of localisation and glocalisation. It now feels the pendulum is in the middle: an umbrella global point of view, which is tailored for individual markets."
Coke's roster of local agencies is unaffected, except in North America, where, in a separate appointment, W&K Portland replaced Berlin Cameron on the $150 million account without a pitch.
Kelly Brooks, Coca-Cola's marketing communications director, explains how the new global arrangement will work: "The selection of W&K for the global work does not change the status of existing Coca-Cola agencies, many of which will help adapt the campaign to individual countries, in addition to local initiatives. It makes sense to create and nurture a single strong core idea for Coca-Cola that can help us speak in a clear, consistent way to consumers in all parts of the world. Local markets and regions may interpret and adapt it."
And certain local markets are becoming huge for Coke, particularly China, where sales by volume in the third quarter were up 23 per cent.
The country is close to Minnick's heart: the company's fifth new marketing chief in seven years was previously the president of Coca-Cola Asia. During her four-year stint in the region, she oversaw Coke's growth in China, helping to make it the company's fifth-largest market. She also contributed to the lifting of sales in Japan.
As always with Coke, there is a host of contradictory rumours surrounding Minnick, who has been at the company for 21 years. Some sources suggest that Neville Isdell, Coca-Cola's chief executive, is grooming her as his successor. Other insiders believe that, despite Isdell being praised by City analysts for his upfront leadership style, the board is dissatisfied with both Isdell and Minnick. One source says: "Shareholders are not happy with the company's performance, and there's pressure on the management to change and come up with the big idea."
So could W&K's big idea be the jump-start that the world's biggest brand needs? Certainly, W&K Amsterdam's cosmopolitan style - the agency currently boasts 22 nationalities - will help to stymie any approach that is too Anglo-Saxon.
Tim O'Kennedy, W&K Amsterdam's managing director, who led the pitch alongside the agency's executive creative directors (the ex-Mother man Al Moseley and the former Goodby Silverstein & Partners creative head John Norman), says that, since its appointment on Coke, the agency has been looking to staff up. "We've already received CVs from the great and good on the worldwide ad scene," he claims. "Coke's a big draw and it seems there's a lot of excitement about what W&K and Coke can do."