#CokeLeak: Can Soda Be Sold Like a Political Campaign?

Kyle Pfister
Oct 20, 2016 · 4 min read

An interesting find in the recent #CokeLeak of internal Coca-Cola executive emails is how the soda company actually trains their teams to use a political campaign model.

In this campaign model, it appears that soda is the candidate — which is supported by a “platform”, “paid media campaign”, and “ground game” similar to a political campaign.

Slide from “Campaign 2.0: Global Public Affairs & Communications” (Spring 2015)

Campaign 1.0: Defensive Strategies

The campaign model appears to have started in 2013 with the “Campaign 1.0” phase, which trained 600 Coca-Cola associates in “campaign capability building” throughout Public Affairs and Communication, Marketing, SRA, Strategy, Bottlers, HR, and Finance teams.

In 2014, Coke expanded the “Campaign 1.0” internationally and attempted to systematize the model across their markets with “varied success”:

“Launched learning and development tool and career framework for Global PAC, Led industry to create first-ever global beverage trade association summit to train international associations in new approach, Reviewed campaign model in action across markets. Met with varied success, Observed need for focus on two core areas: digital and proactive stakeholder relations, Developed a score card to measure business unit readiness and capability.”

Slide from Coca-Cola’s “Campaign 2.0: Global Public Affairs & Communications” (Spring 2015)

In case you, like me, were intrigued about how to “Focus on the Golden Triangle”… I’m guessing it has less to do with Southeast Asian heroin sales or economic development around the White House, and probably just germane corporate communications tactic. Sounds exciting though, right?

Campaign 2.0: Proactive Efforts

In 2015, Coke launched “Campaign 2.0” to take their political campaign model to the next level. The biggest upgrade in “Campaign 2.0” was to:

“focus on proactive efforts, vs. Campaign 1.0, which, by necessity, was built around defensive strategies/tactics”

Slide from Coca-Cola’s “Campaign 2.0: Global Public Affairs & Communications” (Spring 2015)

This meant upgraded skills and infrastructure through:

Deeper training in specific campaign components: proactive stakeholder relations across digital, public policy, brand PR, and commercial diplomacy

Regional hubs for expertise and additional resources modeled after the Washington D.C. office

Slide from Coca-Cola’s “Campaign 2.0: Global Public Affairs & Communications” (Spring 2015)

Coke’s global campaign model envisions a future state in which “Campaigns created and stewarded via collaborative cross-functional teams and bottlers” with “stakeholders identified and relationships activated”.

Slide from “Campaign 2.0: Global Public Affairs & Communications” (Spring 2015)

Modeled After the US State Department

What makes this campaign model especially powerful, is that it leverages the unique expertise of the US government via a paid consulting relationship with Capricia Marshall, the former “Chief of Protocol” at the US State Department. Marshall was responsible for advising President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton on matters of national and international diplomacy.

“We are planning a 1 hour session for you to provide some insights based on your experience from the State Department.”

Michael Goltzman, Coca-Cola to Capricia Marshall (2/18/15)

Invoices show that Marshall was paid $7,000/month from Coca-Cola during this period for her consulting, though there is no specific compensation information related to this campaign strategy training

The draft training agenda lists Marshall’s presentation as “ Learnings from former senior-ranking US State Department official on commercial diplomacy”.

So what can Coke campaigns can learn from the US government? Well Michael Goltzman actually outlines ideas including how the State Department facilitates, weathers, and responds to criticism; for example when the State Department transitioned from the Bush Administration to Obama Administration.

“Undoubtedly Secretary Clinton, and her senior advisors, heard a lot of negative commentary about the US government during her initial outreach to foreign governments. How did the Clinton State Department internalize this criticism? Was there a substantive effect on policy? Was there an effect on the format of public communications? What was the mandate from the Secretary for embassies to engage with critical stakeholders? Was the US government more consultative, even if it made decisions opposed by our allies?”

Michael Goltzman, Coca-Cola to Capricia Marshall (2/18/15)

They also talk about a 80% rule to focus on “progress” instead of focusing on those who can “never be convinced”.

“Did you have an 80% rule at the State Department — essentially believing that some governments would never be convinced, but focusing on those where progress was possible? Can you talk about how you, the Secretary and the other senior officials helped forge common ground with allies?”

Michael Goltzman, Coca-Cola to Capricia Marshall (2/18/15)

I wonder if Coke thinks 20% of health advocates are just squeaky wheels who can just be ignored.

What Can We Learn

This political campaign model shows us that Coke is:

  • Inspired by political campaigns beyond traditional soda sales

Overall, Coke isn’t just selling soda, it is building a political infrastructure to protect sugar and fight health policy internationally. In some ways, Coca-Cola looks more like a country than a company. With tactics that are increasingly focused on political strategy, it’s logical that they see the US Government as a model.

Will the public see the soda industry as an their international political strategy? Or will they be bamboozled by Coke’s carefully curated public image of a friendly food company selling them happiness?


Leaked Emails from an Unhealthy Industry

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