Bet the ranch on Jonathan Mildenhall winning the next Cannes advertiser of the year for Coke

The award (won by Mars this year) doesn’t go to an individual of course but Coca-Cola marketer Jonathan Mildenhall (left) has become the face of the mighty corporation and its excellent advertising. Coke won 30 Lions at this year’s festival (two more than BBH) so it’s a pretty safe bet that he’ll be up on the podium, unless someone poaches him first of course.

Here’s Mildenhall on why winning Cannes Lions (and producing creative advertising generally) equals commercial success.

I have long been an absolute believer in the correlation between outstanding creative success and outstanding commercial success. In this year’s marketing (campaign) for Cannes Lions I am quoted as saying “If Cannes has taught me one thing, it is that creativity drives effectiveness. You can not have one without the other. That knowledge has been instrumental to my career.” I have been going to Cannes for nearly 20 years and can’t help but notice that the the client organizations recognized as Advertiser of the Year often enjoy periods of historic financial success at the same time. Let’s take a brief look at a few of them.

Volkswagen: Recognized as Advertiser of the Year in 2008, the same year that its share price grew 89 per cent to 283 Euros. This most prolific period of stock market growth coincides precisely with its most prolific period of creativity.

P&G: Recognized as Advertiser of the Year in 2007 when its share price hit an all time high of $74.67, beating the S&P 500 by a country mile.

Honda: In 2006 Honda was awarded Advertiser of the Year for brilliant work like “Cog” and “Grrr.” During this time, its share price was as high as $38.50 and its U.K. sales were up 28 per cent. Wow.

Playstation: Was awarded Advertiser of the Year in 2005. Now, Playstation is a sub-division of Sony so we cannot isolate its share price. However, what we can do is isolate its sales. During that year it became the worlds biggest selling gaming console selling a record 100 million units.

BMW: Took the mantle of Advertiser of the Year in 2004. So rightly deserved when you consider the lasting legacy of BMW films (still held up by most as the breakthrough work taking advertising into long form content). As a result of this work, which ultimately landed them the award, BMW saw a sales increase of 12 per cent and a stock price rise of 16 per cent. This is huge, especially when you consider the turbulent, post 9/11 period.

Nike: In 2003, the same year that Nike was awarded Advertiser of the Year, Phil Knight, CEO and Founder, wrote ‘’We decided to cross the threshold of 9/11. Eight months later we delivered a 14 per cent increase in earnings and beat the S&P 500 by 45 points. Advertiser of the year was a defining moment. A Nike moment.”

Swatch: From 1999 – 2001 the S&P 500 did not grow a cent but Swatch reported its steepest growth period on record.

Clearly, the correlation between winning at Cannes and winning in the marketplace is compelling. That’s one of many reasons why The Coca-Cola Company places a premium on creative excellence. It is simply makes sound business sense. The creative industries and client organizations are in a co-dependent relationship -we need each other. As Phil Thomas, CEO of the Cannes Lions, puts it: ‘‘The Advertiser of the Year award is presented to advertisers who have distinguished themselves for the inspiring, innovative marketing of their brands and who embrace and encourage the creative bravery of the creative work produced by their agencies.’’

As for Advertiser of the Year, well that recognition still eludes us. That said, Cannes Lions makes the call for next year’s advertiser early in January and this year’s performance leaves me confident that we will give the industry’s best a run for their money.

I think we can take that as read Jonathan.

Mildenhall is an interesting guy, beginning his career at BBH and going on to work at at a number of UK agencies, latterly as strategy director of Mother before he joined Coke in 2006.

But he’s hardly typical of UK agency recruits. He’s black for a start and studied business at Manchester Metropolitan University, a former polytechnic and now highly successful. But still a representative of the kind of education-for-all institution that lots of British Tory education ‘thinkers’ would like to see the back of and hardly the kind of gilded Oxbridge-type place today’s agencies like to recruit from.

Now he’s vice-president of global advertising strategy and creative excellence at Coca-Cola. Will he ever get the chance to run a big company, even Coke? Maybe not without a specialist financial background although he did a later stint at Harvard.

There must be a few agency groups wondering if Mildenhall might be tempted back into the fold.

Here he is at New York’s Advertising Week explaining what he and Coke are about, including its ‘liquid and linked’ strategy.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

One comment

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    Thank you for the post. Jonathan Mildenhall is an extremely intelligent guy and it really wouldn’t surprise me if he won the award for Coke next year.