Perez on Coca-Cola's New Upfront Formula


From the set of American Idol to most every major sporting event, it's hard to avoid the presence of Coca-Cola when it comes to major television gatherings. The soft-drink behemoth spends tens of millions of dollars a year on TV, and now like every other advertiser, it must navigate its television buys around a post-strike world. Coca-Cola North America senior VP of integrated marketing Beatriz Perez sat down with B&C Los Angeles Bureau Chief Ben Grossman to discuss Coke's strategy during a brief development season, the evolving upfront process, and the changes from emerging technologies.

How did the writers' strike affect yourbusiness?

The good news is we were heavily invested in things that are around reality TV and live event viewing, so the impact on our media plans was minimal because we were already strategically positioned a certain way. But for us, it's about what happens in the future. We know there is a time lag; even though we were positioned this way in 2008, a lot of programs are not in the can, so to speak, for 2009. So how do you make sure that either we continue doing what we're doing anticipating those things, or use this as a time to actually see what they are going to be developing and get first-mover advantage and get a peek under the tent?

What do you hope comes out of the strike?

I hope the notion of a more customized type of interaction between people developing programs and advertisers and networks. Also looking at digital content development and other forms of communication, I hope that continues. It started almost by necessity out of that time period, and for me representing Coca-Cola, it was a huge advantage to actually better understand the other places to bring these things to consumers where it's relevant, and give then more than they would have had before.

What's your take on the upfront selling season right now?

For us, the upfronts are important because it's a good place to connect with people. But we don't necessarily put all our eggs in that basket. We want to make sure we are seeing things before others are and we are building those relationships, so we don't go to the upfronts to say “now we are going to make all our buys.”

Do you care if the big dog-and-pony upfront shows, and upfront week in general, go away?

I don't think it's as critical as it has been in the past, and I think more and more advertisers want the more customized approach. It might be more efficient for [networks] to get it all out at one time for the mass groups of advertisers that maybe aren't in the top five. But for the top five, it's that one-on-one customized approach.

Do you agree with Disney's Bob Iger's theory that the computer may replace the TV as the main content pipe?

It's not TV, it's about video. If you recalibrate in your brain and don't think about it as TV, radio or print, but if you really take the notion around content, the first screen might be your mobile device you are walking around with, it might be Grey's Anatomy or American Idol, but it may not always start at home on your TV set. If we take a broader perspective that way and the industry does, we'll all win together. Consumers can watch their games when traveling in China because the technology exists. That's a huge opportunity for everyone.

What do you want to see from digital departments at the networks?

Tell us what's coming. [We want to be] able to sit down and know what they are working on and developing. And for us, if we can be clear about what our objectives are, and see where they fit. I can't just say, “Do this one thing,” because it might not be relevant for all of my brands or all the consumers I want to reach. So for us, it's about sitting down with them to see the connections.

Network primetime ratings were struggling even before the strike. Are you worried about where network television is headed?

From this, there will be many bright lights. Now is the time to see what is out there and gain advantages, versus closing up shop and saying it's never going to come back. Consumers like to engage and interact, but at the end of the day some of them still like to come home, turn on the TV and be passive.


UPFRONT: Flat Is the New Up

A bitter writers' strike, depressed ratings and a national recession aren't exactly getting TV executives—or ad buyers—in an upfront mood. With so few pilots, can networks outperform analysts' dour predictions?