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Coke on a rope.

Allafrica.com examines the global and local marketing fizzles and carbonated commercial future of Coca-Cola.

KEEPING it real can be tough when you are the biggest advertiser in the world. After a string of marketing flops, Coca-Cola is trusting an outsider to return them to glory.

When Daniel Palumbo walked into the lobby at the company's headquarters in Atlanta this week, he was starting one of the most difficult marketing jobs on the planet; the world's most valuable brand has become one of the hardest to sell.

The evidence: two global marketing campaigns scrapped in three years; the exit of two chief marketing officers, and advertising that failed to stick in consumers' minds.

So in has stepped Palumbo as chief marketing officer, a former Eastman Kodak executive considered a breath of fresh air in the way that Steve Heyer, Coca-Cola's president and chief operating officer, was when he was recruited from Turner Broadcasting in 2001. The two appear ready to rediscover some of the old marketing magic.

But what happened to Coca-Cola marketing? Analysts say the restructuring that began in 2000 after Douglas Daft became CE shattered the centralised marketing structure based in Atlanta.

Senior executives falsely believed that by dispersing marketing responsibilities to local heads, the message would be more effective. Instead, the message was unclear Coca-Cola was appealing to everyone; then no, it was targeting youths. Coca-Cola was about "Enjoy" one year and "Life Tastes Good" the next.

Consumers were unimpressed, letting sales slip in major markets. There were other factors layoffs at the company also meant an exodus of seasoned marketers.

People close to the company say frustrations abounded with CocaCola's longtime advertising agency, Interpublic 's McCann-Erickson group, with accusations that the agency was growing too comfortable with the account.

In Palumbo, it seems Coca-Cola has found itself a much-desired mix: a seasoned consumer goods marketer with operational experience; someone trained at Procter & Gamble when he ran brands such as Vicks cough products and Pantene and Vidal Sassoon shampoos and conditioners.

At Kodak, where he was president of its $7bn imaging business, he was credited with developing the company's most memorable advertising campaign in years Share Moments, Share Life! That campaign was able to do what Coke has failed to do in recent years: strike an emotional chord with consumers.

Heyer has already done much of the legwork for Palumbo, developing a marketing programme earlier this year called Real.

Coca-Cola says independent research by Millward Brown shows US consumer reaction to the Real commercials, which featured celebrities including Penelope Cruz, Courteney Cox and David Arquette, scored the highest in 10 years.

Heyer has similarly shaken up Coca-Cola's relationship with Madison Avenue, moving the US Coke account to WPP Group's Berlin Cameron/Red Cell, and pronouncing that Coca-Cola sought stronger marketing partnerships with entertainment companies beyond commercial spots on TV networks.

The company has been pleased, for instance, with its sponsorship of Fox Television programme American Idol. In April, Coca-Cola invested in a network, College Sports Television.

There is plenty left to do the Real campaign is still being rolled out overseas. The issue of crafting a marketing strategy out of Atlanta has to be resolved. The marketing department is in need of structure.

Analysts quip that if Palumbo remains in his job more than two years, he will be declared a success.

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