Interview with Emmanuel Seuge of The Coca-Cola Company

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2013 Advertising Hall of Achievement Interview: Emmanuel Seuge, Vice President, Global Alliances and Ventures, The Coca-Cola Company

In 1997, Emmanuel Seuge, then 21 years old, took a break between his fourth and fifth years at the École Supérieure de Commerce business school in Paris to complete a yearlong marketing internship with Coca-Cola. Emmanuel, a Paris native, helped with the beverage giant’s marketing push for the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France.

Early in your career you managed to combine two of your greatest passions, football and marketing, and spawn what must have been a vastly rewarding opportunity. When did you begin to develop a passion for marketing?

Very early. Even though I was born in Paris, I grew up in the US in the early 80′s. This was the time where Nike started to use [Michael] Jordan in their advertising; I remember very well understanding the role that this had in me asking my mom to buy my first pair of Nike shoes–and from them, I stayed very interested in brands. So very naturally when I had to chose a major in business school in Paris I chose marketing strategy. I think it’s easier to act as a marketer for a brand that you love and admire to a certain extent. I have been a fan of Coca-Cola since I was a young child so for me joining Coke after school was a unique opportunity, and everyday I remind myself of the honor it represents to work on a brand that generations of marketers have worked on successfully in the past 127 years.

What was it that attracted you to a career in marketing? Was it the opportunity to reach large audiences, the psychology of consumer engagement or something more?

Innovation is what attracts me to the field of marketing. Progress and the art of inventing new things and finding new needs that consumers might not be aware of is the most exciting part to me. I believe powerful marketing can change people’s lives. Nothing less!

What are your thoughts on the disruption vs. distraction paradigm? How can we toe the line between ads which enhance the overall experience, and those which take away from it?

Today’s world is so cluttered, content for communication needs to be meaningful, genuine and extremely well targeted to the consumer in order to have an impact. Disruption only makes sense if you’re trying to capture the consumer in a different way or ensure that you put their mind in a different kind of setting to be receptive to the message. Advertising for the sake of advertising in today’s world doesn’t mean anything—it’s just apiece of the bigger puzzle. At Coca-Cola we often speak about Earned, Paid, Owned and Shared media. Finding the right balance of these media to engage our consumers is key. Marketing today is about the right message in the right occasion with the right media.  Disruption, even if powerful, done at the wrong moment or with the wrong media will come unnoticed. 

Where did you draw the inspiration for launching Marketing Ventures for Coca-Cola, and how does someone in your position, or any position in this industry, put aside thoughts of failure and avoid making business decisions based on fear?

Partnerships have always been at the core of how we operate and grow as a company. The marketing venture work came out of a belief that we needed to evolve the way we think about partnerships. When our chairman announced our company’sambition to double the size of our business by 2020, we knew we would need to capture growth in a new way. The world of start-ups became quickly an inspiration for their ability to act fast, nimble, creatively, fail and get back up fast and we thought it would make sense for us to partner with these young entrepreneurs to address some of our key business needs. With our venture partnerships, we are able to bring our marketingreach and scale to the table, and the risks we take are rewarded by the equity we take in these companies. I believe that when you operate in a risk taking culture, it decreases your fear of failure.

We have now 5 start ups with which we have a venture partnership with including Spotify, Backplane and MisfitWearables.

Can you tell us a little about Coca-Cola’s relationship with Spotify? How did that develop and what sort of marketing tactics have you deployed to create a mutually beneficial partnership?

We began our partnership with Spotify to address a core business need to better engage our younger audience. We wanted to connect with our consumers on a daily basis and there is no better way to do that than to leverage music. Wherever you go around the world, teens listen to music every single day. Daniel Ek, the founder of Spotify, often speaks about making music available for free to over 500 Million people, making it completely accessible. We want to help them in that journey and that is why in any market that Spotify enters, we are at their side and put our marketing in motion to promote this service and offering. We recently launched together in Mexico and it is today the most successful streaming platform in the country.

We also want to enhance the Spotify experience by creating specific programs. This year we launched Placelists, an app that allows people to align songs and places and make connections with their friends, and we are launching something similar around the World Cup.

Sports, music and film are three universally adored mediums that can be adapted across language barriers and appeal to large audiences. Marketing platforms on the other hand, are not always so universal. Gaps in technology advancement, differing social platforms, government interference, and other factors must make it difficult for a globally minded person like yourself to develop such broad and ubiquitous branding campaigns. What sort of challenges have YOU faced, and how have you managed to overcome them?

That is the beauty of working with a global organization. At the core, we are a global company that is operated locally. We build our global programs with insights from our markets to make sure our campaigns are locally relevant. We create global programs that are 60-70% finished, and then markets put a localized layer on top of it. More and more our global programs are really co-created with the local teams and the worldwide consumer passion for sports, music, gaming, the Olympics, the World Cup and others allows us to have a global reach and connect with people on a global level. We had over 100 markets activate the Olympics for London and we will have over 180 markets amplifying our “World’s Cup” Campaign for the FIFA World Cup in 2014.

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