Photo: cola life

Coca-Cola Saves The World

The future of marketing is philanthropy. Here’s an idea which illustrates this concept.

All over the world, even in the most remote parts of developing countries, people demand Coca-Cola—and they get it. By way of example, the company has no official presence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but make the trek there. Within minutes of touching down at Abumumbazi Airport, you’ll no doubt be able to crack open and enjoy a cold can of Coke.

Coca-Cola is undeniably a leader in the global beverage industry and one of Coke’s core strengths is its awesome capacity for distribution. Coke’s distribution network is so incredibly vast, that they can launch a brand new product, like they did with Coke Zero, to the entire world almost instantly. Coca-Cola Zero was introduced in 2005 and it took less than four years to top $1B in revenue.

Clearly, the folks behind the desks at Coca-Cola official world headquarters in Atlanta Georgia have been, and continue to be doing something right in terms of marketing—they have built what is quite possibly the world’s most valuable and recognizable brand. But these days anything can change—and fast. Brand success in the future will be driven by meaningfulness.

Coca-Cola happens to be a fantastic corporate citizen in terms of social responsibility. They give back to communities through their foundation with a focus on water stewardship, healthy and active lifestyles, community recycling, and education. In 2011 alone, The Coca-Cola Foundation invested more than $76 million in 257 community organizations around the world.

The philanthropic activities of Coca-Cola are impressive and commendable. However, it should be noted that they are separate from the official marketing initiatives. To be clear, my opinion of this company is good concerning social responsibility. I’m mostly just using Coca-Cola to illustrate a point—although, they could realize my aspirational vision for the future of marketing.

This is my vision: The future of marketing is philanthropy. What Coca-Cola isolates under “Corporate Giving,” should be front and center. Coke could have an even bigger impact on improving the human condition. The company could save lives, help whole generations of children grow up healthy and educated, and in the process, build an enduringly meaningful brand.

Here are some ideas for Coca-Cola. Coke could partner with the World Food Programme to deliver pre-packed, nutritious “red cups.” The World Food Programme’s Fill The Cup campaign addresses the issue of hungry school children. It’s estimated that almost 60 million primary school kids attend school hungry across the developing world and 23 million of them are in 45 African countries.

Kids who attend school hungry are one thing—many don’t attend. School feeding initiatives increase enrollment and boost attendance rates. Proper nutrition also improves brain development. So, the kids learn, they grow up, they get jobs, and they start families. The result is improved communities, improved economies, and countless lives transformed for the better—now and forever.

It needn’t just be food. Coca-Cola might also distribute medicines like those Product (RED) works so hard to deliver in their effort to deliver an AIDS free generation. HIV positive mothers can give birth to HIV negative babies with access to proper antiretrovirals. How would Coke’s marketing team feel if they could say, “Remember when people used to have AIDS and now they don’t. We did that.”

Whatever it is, the enormous distribution machine that Coca-Cola has built, combined with this kind of meaningful marketing could actually change the world. Coca-Cola would become synonymous with astonishing feats of humanity and be a massively successful business. Brands supported by meaning and purpose can withstand unexpected market shifts because people are attracted to meaning.

Cone Communications is a national leader in Corporate Social Responsibility and cause marketing. Recent Cone research suggests companies that do good, do well. 94% of consumers are likely to switch brands to one that supports a cause. 93% would buy a product associated with a cause and 65% already have. 93% would boycott a company for irresponsibility and 56% already have.

Last year, in an op-ed piece for the Financial Times, former President Bill Clinton wrote, “The most effective global citizens will be those who succeed in merging their business and philanthropic missions to build a future of shared prosperity and shared responsibility.” Maybe my optimism is hallucinogenic, but I’d very much like my son to grow up living and working in this kind of world.