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#017: Coke – they already had an empire, but…

Coke.  Hold on a minute.  They are already an empire.  This is a lesson on how no matter how big you are, no matter how much you spend, and even if you are the best marketers on the planet; you cannot bend the consumer to your will.  If you have ever thought that you can use advertising to change consumer behaviour you need to listen to this podcast.

David Young:

Welcome to the Empire Builders Podcast, teaching business owners, the not-so-secret techniques that took famous businesses from mom and pop to major brands. Stephen Semple, is a marketing consultant, story collector, and storyteller. I’m Stephen’s sidekick and business partner, Dave Young. Before we get into today’s episode, a word from our sponsor, which is, well it’s us, but we’re highlighting ads, we’ve written and produced for our clients. So here’s one of those.

[No Bull RV Ad]

David Young:

Steven Semple, today, we’re going to talk about Coca-Cola.

Steven Semple:

It’s interesting. And we’re doing yet another department, we’ve been doing those lately.

David Young:

Yeah, that’s not even really empire building. It’s like how somebody that had an empire tried to kill it.

Steven Semple:

Yeah, basically, but there’s a lesson to be learned here. Because often we hear clients that come to us, they sit there and say, I’d like the consumer to behave different, it would be better if they shop at these times or they behaved in this manner or they did this and the other thing. And we’re always saying you can’t use advertising to change the behavior of a customer. And I came across this around Coca-Cola and I found this fascinating because look, let’s face it. Coca-Cola is arguably one of the most successful advertisers on the planet. One of the most successful brands, they have a huge budget, like they’ve been doing it forever.

Steven Semple:

And the company has been around since 1886, was founded by John Pemberton. And even when he founded Coca-Cola, he started with a big advertising budget. So by 1912, they were spending a million dollars a year in advertising, which was a huge budget at the time. That’s $30 million in today’s dollars. Then also think about how small the population was in comparison for that $30 million. So really it’s probably more like 400, $500 million budget if you adjusted for inflation and population. So they’ve been great, done it for a long time, hugely successful, big budgets, but they have this one little problem. And this problem was they discovered that people were not asking for the product by name.

David Young:

They weren’t standing up and saying, “I’d like a Coca-Cola, please.”

Steven Semple:

No, they were standing up and saying, I’d like a Coke.

David Young:

Oh a Coke.

Steven Semple:

A Coke. And for the longest time, the company wasn’t happy about it. They decided, consumer behavior must change. We must change consumer behavior. Consumers must use the full name. We are Coca-Cola, we have big advertising budget. We know what we’re doing. So we are turning our marketing muscle to changing consumer behavior. We will bend the customer to our will, right? Because all we’re asking you to say is Coca-Cola, damn it. Just instead of Coke, Coca, just add Coca, two syllables, easy, right? So here’s what they did. In 1913, they started running an ad that said this, Coca-Cola, ask for it by its full name, then you will get the genuine. That was the advertising campaign. And they tried various things for almost 40 years. They weren’t-

David Young:

To get people that quit saying Coke.

Steven Semple:

To get people to quit saying Coke. In 1942, they finally waved the white flag.

David Young:

Stay tuned, we’re going to wrap up this story and tell you how to apply this lesson to your business right after this.

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David Young:

Let’s pick up our story where we left off and trust me, you missed a thing.

Steven Semple:

In 1942, they finally waved the white flag and they trademarked Coke.

David Young:

It blows my mind.

Steven Semple:

Yes, after beating their brains against a brick wall of trying to bend the consumer to their will, all they had to do is say, “Hi, can you trademark Coke for me please?” Trademark. I’m actually surprised no other competitor trademark Coke. And that would have really messed with them. That’s what I would’ve done. I would’ve messed with their head and I would have trademarked it. But here’s the interesting thing. Not even the mighty Coca-Cola can change this one simple behavior of getting the consumer, got this little teeny tiny word, Coca, four letters, two syllables. It’s in the name Cola.

David Young:

It’s amazing how hard it is to get people to change a habit, especially once they’ve made their mind up, right? When I decided that’s what I’m going to call this thing. And the retailer knows darn well what I mean, right. I go into a cafe or someplace and order to Coke, they know what I want.

Steven Semple:

Right. And then we get customers like we’re in home services who are plumbers and things like that and say, you know what, what I’d really like to do is, can we have it so that customers don’t call us at night when they’re home from work or weekends.

David Young:

No.

Steven Semple:

It’d be way better if they could wait until Monday. Coca-Cola, couldn’t get a person to say Coca-Cola. It makes me think, one of our business partners, I love Mick Torbay for saying this. We do not serve our clients by supporting their delusions, right. But right now, if you think you can change a consumer’s behavior, you are deluded. Meet the customer where they’re at, give them what they want.

David Young:

Yeah. I agree with you. And I agree with Mike. At the same time, we also are smart enough to steer the bull in the direction the bull wants to go, right? And that’s a phrase that we use with our customers, our consulting clients. And if they’re dead set on going a certain direction, I mean, there’s only so much you can do, right. You can say, “Yeah, I don’t think you ought to do that. But it’s your company and if that’s what you want to do, I’m going to do everything I can to make that happen.”

Steven Semple:

And just for clarity, what Dave’s talking about here is, when we get somebody who’s finding to hire us for advertising, we’re saying, this is a bad idea and they still want to do it. We’re going to try to figure out how to make it work. But I beg people not to do that. I go, don’t think you can change consumer behavior, please, please, please. Just don’t go down that path. And usually what they’ll wrap it in is. What I’d really like to do is educate the consumer, I need to educate them. Kind of like saying, ask for it by its full name. Because we’re educating you on how to order it, ask for it by it’s full name.

David Young:

You’re just not going to win that battle.

Steven Semple:

So what Empire Builders have done that we’ve noticed from these other podcasts is they’ve done things that the consumer values, they’ve made themselves better known or given a better product or done things in a better way that has made them beloved by the consumer. They haven’t fought with the consumer. They’ve actually embraced the consumer and made it cheaper, better, faster, easier, better knowing, more entertaining. All of those, all of those, all of those things.

David Young:

More convenient.

Steven Semple:

And that’s build an empire.

David Young:

All of it, yeah. Have a Coke and a smile.

David Young:

Thanks for listening to the podcast. Please share us. Subscribe on your favorite podcast app and leave us a big fat juicy five star rating in review at Apple Podcast. And if you’d like to schedule your own 90 minute empire building session, you can do it at empirebuildingprogram.com.

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