The subliminal message that has been beaming out of Coca-Cola’s
Atlanta headquarters since its marketing director, Sergio Zyman, quit
last month is two-fold.
1: Don’t panic, it’s business as usual. And 2: We love our marketing
people overseas; we’ve upset them in the past, but we’re listening to
The colourful, autocratic, artistic Zyman had resoundingly shaken up all
aspects of Coke’s advertising during his five-year reign, treading on a
lot of toes in the process. No more so than in Coke’s marketing offices
around the world, where his snap decisions and tight central control was
a constant source of grief. Similarly, he made few friends among the big
agency networks he effectively ditched in favour of an ad hoc assortment
of creative boutiques.
So Coke is using his departure as an opportunity to promote the new
incumbent, Charlie Frenette, as a steadier, friendlier beast. A Coke man
through and through, he is firmly planted among the nuts and bolts of
But no-one expects the changes to be radical, or even imminent. Frenette
is expected to spend his early tenure focusing inward, analysing Coke’s
strengths and weaknesses. What he will find is that the problems facing
Coke have changed since Zyman joined.
Back in 1993, advertising was perceived to be lacklustre, and the
effervescent Zyman was asked to spice it up with more zest and
personality. His successor, in contrast, will have the task of smoothing
ruffled feathers and pulling things together to make a more cohesive
Creatively, Zyman dropped Coke’s long-held reliance on nostalgia in
favour of hip ads laced with technological gimmicks designed to
But critics say Zyman’s formula created an inconsistent image for the
Coca-Cola Classic and Diet Coke (Coke Light) brands and his record on
new product launches, including the Fruitopia line of juice drinks, was
The incoming Frenette is not considered to be so seasoned a marketer as
Zyman and this fact has not passed agency bosses by. They are hoping to
be treated as business partners once more, rather than as mere providers
of ads as in Zyman’s day. Thus, the big networks with an existing
foothold at Coke, such as McCann-Erickson, the Lowe Group, Leo Burnett
and DMB&B, are gearing up to meet the new Mr Big with some interest.
’Get ready for a new era at Coke,’ a company insider says. ’Charlie is
going to hold agencies accountable for being strategic.’
IN - CHARLIE FRENETTE
If Charles S. Frenette (he prefers to be called Charlie) were a stick of
rock, he would have two sets of lettering running through him. One would
say ’United States of America’ and the other ’Coca-Cola’.
Both his father and his grandfather were Coke bottlers in upstate New
York, and Frenette’s entire career to date has been within that august
Most of his working years have been at Coke’s so-called ’fountain’
business, which covers sales through restaurants and bars and, during
his 18 years there, he was credited with turning the entire business
After sorting out fountain, he moved to head Coke in South Africa, where
his direct approach, colourful vernacular and appearance earned him the
nickname of Danny de Vito.
’He brings a lot of positive energy with him,’ says one colleague from
those days: ’He also says what he likes and doesn’t like - the kind of
guy you can get answers out of quickly.’
Meanwhile, those who have worked with him at Coke appreciate his
businesslike approach. ’He’s a micro-manager. Very smart and orderly in
the way he goes about things,’ says one. ’He knows the business end
extremely well,’ adds another.
OUT - SERGIO ZYMAN
Nobody calls Sergio Zyman ’Serge’ for short; in fact, he is more often
called ’Ayacola’ in reference to his somewhat autocratic style.
But although his difficulties with local marketers are legendary, they
should not eclipse his achievements, which include developing the ’Coke
is it’ campaign and bringing a more hip image to Coke’s ads.
Flamboyant, mercurial and ambitious, Zyman brought energy to Coke’s
advertising and - despite what his critics say - did temper it to fit in
with the enthusiasms of local markets. ’Eat football, sleep football,
drink Coca-Cola’ showed that.
’I would see Sergio as a revolutionary brought in to change things, and
I think he did what he was supposed to do,’ a former Coke man says.
A native of Mexico City, Zyman was educated in London, Paris, Jerusalem
and Harvard, and his career started with Procter & Gamble (Mexico) and
McCann-Erickson (Mexico, Japan and New York).
Unusually, Zyman then work-ed for both PepsiCo and Coke, joining the
former in Brazil and the latter in 1979 as an assistant to Coke’s
vice-chairman in Atlanta. He left seven years later to start up his own
consultancy and rejoined in 1993.