Feature

DentsuMB CCO on creating global cinematic blockbusters for Coca-Cola

Chief creative officer Simon Lloyd reflects on creating Coca-Cola's Halloween and Christmas ads and the lessons on emotive storytelling he took from his time at Adam & Eve/DDB.

Coca-Cola holiday ad tells an uplifting tale of a cardboard chimney that brings people together
Coca-Cola holiday ad tells an uplifting tale of a cardboard chimney that brings people together

Imagine being handed the Christmas brief for a brand that essentially invented Father Christmas as we know him today. A brand that’s so synonymous with Christmas that each winter you’ll hear people claim: “It’s not Christmas until the Coca-Cola ad is on.”

“You sit there and write John Lewis Christmas and think, this is the biggest it’s going to get,” Simon Lloyd, who joined DentsuMB back in October 2020 as chief creative officer, after 11 years at Adam & Eve/DDB, says.

“Then you start talking to Coca-Cola that says [the ad is] going to run in 90 markets and the media spend is £150m. And you’re like, holy shit. Christmas is the one moment that [Coca-Cola] feels it owns as a brand.”

The reason why a small-ish UK agency got trusted with the daunting task of delivering the drink brand’s global Christmas and Halloween ads is that Coca-Cola’s agency roster includes an “open-source” creative model that is designed to help its marketers tap into the world’s best creators. 

And while Coca-Cola hasn’t officially announced said creative roster, despite revealing its media line-up earlier this month, agencies including DentsuMB and Havas-owned BETC have been creating work.

Earlier this autumn, Coca-Cola unveiled its new "Real magic" philosophy – its first global brand platform for five years, with “Awakening” by BETC London. “That was followed by our Halloween spot. Awakening, Halloween and Christmas are the three flagpole moments for the 'Real magic' platform,” Lloyd explains. “I’ve been working on it since I joined at various stages.”

Lloyd recalls how, from the outset, he forged a relationship with the Coca-Cola client in Singapore and began writing him stories. “He wanted someone to give him emotive storytelling which he was craving,” Lloyd explains. “He quite candidly gave me a list of work that he didn’t like and a list of work he did. It was clear all the ones he did like were proper stories where Coca-Cola was pivotal to the storyline.

“He hated the idea of a generic person going into a store, opening a can of soft drink before starting to dance. Anyone can do it.”

The word that joins DentsuMB’s Halloween and Christmas ads together, Lloyd says, is "cinematic".

“It allows you to hang all the work together. To be from Coca-Cola, but also bring to life a different style,” he says. His definition of cinematic incorporates the music and styling of the ads as well as the performance and character design (such as those in the retro Halloween spot).

“[The Halloween ad] has a very 80s style, Stranger Things vibe. It’s a simple story where a ghost wants a can, can’t pick it up [and] so a boy smashes it. I can sell that in two or three lines,” he says.

Meanwhile, the Christmas spot set in Manhattan presents an uplifting solution to the universal issue that millions of kids living in apartment blocks do not have a chimney for Santa to stuff himself down.

“It’s still cinematic and connected between the work because there's a red thread tying them together,” Lloyd explains.  

Reflecting on his time working on John Lewis at Adam & Eve/DDB, Lloyd says his thinking and output relied heavily on gut instinct and storytelling, which is something he has tried to apply at DentsuMB.

“I always thought it was a dying art. A bit of a traditionalist’s view. But, having seen a company like Coca-Cola want to change its work from linear to end-to-end and evaluate its work through the way it makes you feel was lovely to see,” he says.

With the two big campaigns out the way, Lloyd shares that DentsuMB is now working on a big Coca-Cola sustainability brief.  

“We’re doing a big move for it on sustainability. Which is all to do with them being more responsible in the world. It will be full end-to-end, not linear storytelling,” he divulges.

“It will be on-pack to conferences, roundtables and partnerships with charities and things like ocean clean-ups to really take Coca-Cola into its next big battle, which is against waste.”