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Volume 22 No. 49
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Atlanta kicked off new approach for Coke

The Atlanta Games marked a new era for its prized corporate citizen, Olympics marketing dean Coca-Cola.

At first, Coca-Cola struggled to combat the perception that it had fixed the vote for Atlanta, a problem caused partially by its own enthusiasm at the 1990 vote and then perpetuated by a bitter Greek delegation. (Athens was considered the favorite to host the 100th anniversary Games.)

But over time, Atlanta ’96 helped reform Coca-Cola’s entire perspective on sports marketing. As preparations were underway, Coca-Cola was streamlining its sponsorship strategy, freeing up money to go bigger on a more limited number of properties.

As a result, Coke activated in 170 countries in 1996, far more than ever before or since. Global Director of Sports Strategy Stu Cross, then vice president of worldwide sports marketing, said Coke learned that using a single property to market worldwide, rather than a collection of properties, was cost-efficient.

“It was a true inflection point for the part of the business I manage, which is the global events,” said Peter Franklin, group director for worldwide sports and event management. “We very literally look at our work very different, pre-Atlanta and post-Atlanta.”

It also put new energy into its presenting sponsorship of the torch relay, originally an invention of Peter Ueberroth before the 1984 Los Angeles Games. With Coke’s backing, the torch relay grew in size, coming within 20 miles of 80 percent of the U.S. population in 1996. This year in Brazil, Coke is the presenting sponsor for the 10th time, Franklin said. It also brought the concept to the FIFA World Cup via its World Cup Trophy Tour.

Coke’s secondary on-site activation in Rio, a “Coca-Cola Station” for teens, also has its roots in the 1996 Coca-Cola experiential marketing near the Centennial Olympic Park, Franklin said.

Back home in Atlanta, the company put on the mother of all corporate hospitality events. Nearly 9,000 corporate guests visited Coke headquarters, which temporarily was emptied because its soaring height was deemed a security risk to some venues.

“That was something we’d always done, but the fact it was in Atlanta, we had the scope of a large hospitality footprint,” Cross said. “It was very good for us from a business perspective.”

— Ben Fischer