In this episode, we speak with Laura Maskell, Marketing Activation Manager with Coca-Cola. We learn how Laura’s passion for sports led her to a career with Coke and how one of the world’s largest brands connects with its consumers and community.
James Giglio (00:00):
Hi everyone. This is James Giglio, CEO of MVP Interactive, and welcome to the MVP podcast. Our podcast will bring insight into a range of topics involving technology, consumer engagement, experiential marketing, and general business-related subjects. This show will host not only our great roster of clients from the professional sports world, along with Fortune 500 brands and agencies but other entrepreneurs and startups. We hope our podcast brings value. And thank you for listening. For general inquiries or topic requests, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, and please subscribe to our YouTube page and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and SoundCloud with the account name MVP Interactive.
Hi everyone, this is James Giglio with the MVP podcast. Today we have a very special guest, Laura Maskell from the Coca-Cola Company. She’s the marketing activation manager. Thrilled to have her here today. We have worked with Laura and her team for the last two years with a variation of projects both relating to NFL projects and Major League baseball. Really excited to have you here. I know that you’re local and you handle a lot of, the regional team. So it’s exciting to be able to talk about that given this is the Super Bowl edition, right?
Laura Maskell (01:33):
So as a way of background, you know, I was kind of like in preparation of our podcast here, I kind of like to put it together just a couple quick bullet points, you know, and the fact that Coca-Cola is a 130-year-old company, and generally speaking, one of the top five most valued brands in the world that essentially 1.8 billion people on a, on any given day <laugh> is drinking your product are just staggering numbers. And I had to kind of think to myself, Wow, and we get to work with you. How cool is <laugh>?
We get to work with you.
James Giglio (02:10):
So, oh, thank you very much. So yeah, I mean, I just thought that was a fascinating point and we’re obviously very grateful to work with you guys and your team and you know, you guys are so forward-thinking both on the technology and the activation side of things. So it’s really a perfect marriage, so to speak, in terms of two companies aligning. So thank you again. So I wanna make that public.
Laura Maskell (02:33):
Oh, no, thank you. We love working with you guys and I’m happy to be here and happy about our relationship.
James Giglio (02:39):
Okay, great. So you know, we like to learn a little bit more about you and your background and, you know, we can kind of go into you know, what you do with Coca-Cola, but you know, maybe give us a little bit of background about yourself.
Laura Maskell (02:52):
Yeah, so I moved around a lot as a kid, so one of the things that I was always passionate about actually was travel. And I ended up I graduated high school in Texas, went to Texas a&m, and another one of my passions was sports. I did gymnastics pretty much my whole life. I was on the gymnastics team at a&m but also was involved in a number of other things on campus as well. So when I graduated I actually worked for a leadership education program and traveled all over the world and then ultimately went back to graduate school. And because of that travel experience you know, I got a call from a friend who worked at Coca-Cola and said, Hey, there’s this role in the multicultural marketing team, you know, we think you’d be a perfect fit.
And so I said, Sure, let’s, you know, let’s see what this is about. And so from my first year and a half, I think I was on the multicultural team focused on a number of different things relating to sports or scholarship programs all different kinds of stuff. And then eventually because I come from a big sports family and just have such a passion was lucky to be able to move into the team that I’m on now. So now I manage our marketing relationship with a number of our sports, entertainment, and university partners in the Northeast,
James Giglio (04:27):
So That’s fantastic. So you got your feet wet, so to speak, in the multicultural division. So, what were some of the initiatives or projects that you would work there in the communities that you would outreach, and how does Coca-Cola as a brand value that type of community service?
Laura Maskell (04:43):
Yeah, absolutely. I did work on all different kinds of things. You know, some of the more I don’t know if memorable is the right word, but definitely, some different things than that I worked on were the C I A A tournament which is basically this huge basketball tournament for historically black colleges and universities. <Affirmative> and it is not just a basketball tournament, but it’s also a huge party that whole week out in Charlotte. It’s a really cool thing. So we were always, I was always involved in the activation there. I was very involved with Calle Ocho down in Miami, so if you’re not familiar with that, it’s a huge well, Miami has a huge Cuban population, but outside of, you know, Cuban heritage just, you know, Hispanic Americans in general. And it’s this huge you know, party essentially that happens there, we have you know, a bunch of music. We do all kinds of programming. We have a Coca-Cola stage every year. And a fun fact, I don’t remember what year it was before I started working on the team. But Pit Bull actually got his, he performed at Calle Ocho back in the day before he became,
James Giglio (06:01):
Before he was Pit Bull before he was just a little puppy <laughs>, Okay.
Before he became popular. yeah. Yeah, I think he went by Pit Bull then, but it was before he is who he is today.
James Giglio (06:10):
Oh, very cool, very cool. Yeah. You know, it was interesting to learn a little bit more about that division when we met with your counterparts out in Los Angeles and you know, the significance of the Fanta brand as part of the Coca-Cola umbrella and the Hispanic community, and, you know, the outreach and you know, how important it is for a brand to stay involved with, you know, a multifacet of consumers. So you know, it was interesting because, you know, once you work with a brand, you’re really not sure outside of what your general common knowledge or maybe your experience with the product is, But, you know, could you talk about a little bit more about working with a large brand like Coca-Cola and some of the things that maybe surprised you as a, as a new employee to say, Wow, you know, we’re not only a global brand, but you know, we’re making an impact.
Yeah, absolutely. You know, when I referenced, I got that call about someone saying, Hey, I think you’d be a perfect fit. And yeah. You know, I have to say, when I, went through the interview process, I just absolutely fell in love with every single person that, I met through that process. And that’s why I basically said, Yes, absolutely. You know, this company is a perfect fit for me from a cultural standpoint. You know, the company really values optimism, diversity, and inclusion. <Affirmative>, and I felt that from day one just genuinely, people care about making an impact in their community, whether it’s you know, through education or through you know, green initiatives or we, whatever it might be people generally care about making their communities better. You know, in terms of Coke being the big company that it is, definitely one of, you know, one of the big benefits is, you know, we are able to make a difference.
Laura Maskell (08:04):
In a pretty impactful way. You know, one of my first, I think my first month at Coke I don’t even remember how I got connected to him, but I was able to meet and spend about an hour of one-on-one time with the guy that leads our global clean water initiatives. And I, you know if I didn’t already feel good about working for Coca-Cola you know I learned about a lot of the Clean Water initiatives we did that most people don’t know about. And it was just really, it was really empowering and made me feel really good.
James Giglio (08:38):
Yeah. You know, and I guess, you know, that’s a really strong point too because I suppose the counter to being such a large brand is, you know, some consumers or people that don’t have you know, that access just kind of have their opinions or what have you and, you know, are anti large corporations. So, you know, to learn more and have that awareness out about the green initiative or water initiative is really important to kind of break down those stereotypes and sort of being an anti-big corporation mindset.
Laura Maskell (09:09):
Right right, Yeah.
James Giglio (09:10):
So given that Coca-Cola is, is such a large brand, you know, everyone, you know, it is such a piece of America knowing marketing channels are very strategic. Why do you think or why does the brand concentrate, on sports marketing and sponsorship the way they do, and what’s the importance there?
Yeah, so I mean, overall, you know, Coca-Cola strives to inspire moments of optimism and happiness, and we, you know, truly wanna be integrated into people’s everyday lives. And sports is a very important part of many people’s everyday lives. Whether somebody’s, you know, playing in a soccer league or, you know, whatever it may be, or if they’re, you know, watching it on tv, watching pro teams, watching their kids it’s just, it’s, you know, sports is just a big part of people’s lives. So, you know, we wanna be part of these moments whether your favorite team is performing on the field or whether you know, the team is impacting the community off the field we wanna be part of that.
Right, right. Yeah, absolutely. And I think one of the real fascinating components in working with you guys too is you know, kind of shifting gears a little bit to the technology piece you know in our capabilities and, and sort of suite of software and whatever engagement levels that we produce, we, we look to gain some type of consumer insight for the brand and continue that ROI or justification of, you know, the expenses for these marketing initiatives. Right. And so one of the things that struck me in a, and I really love the sort of philosophy of it is you’re really less Coca-Cola and the brand is really less concerned about the quote, traditional marketing data, and CPI and all of that good stuff, but you’re more about the experience, right? And, you know, you want to create that experience for fans or consumers. Obviously, brand message is very important, but you know, the synergy between sports and your brand and creating that experience you know, seemed like a perfect fit in like, the philosophy of that was really intriguing to me.
Laura Maskell (11:26):
Yeah. you know, I think you know, technology is important. And the way that we use it really depends on what our specific goals are for you know, a specific initiative or partnership. So, you know, so for example I can speak to a couple, you know, programs that I’ve worked on in the past that leverage technology, last I guess it was two years ago actually working with you guys, you know, with I work with the Philadelphia Phillies is one of, as one of my partners. And, you know, one of the goals was fan engagement both for the Phillies and for Coke. And for Coke also, we wanted to build brand love. So, you know, kind of with that as a starting point, what we did was we tapped into the tradition of bobbleheads in baseball.
But we made it one, a little bit more personalized and two, you know kind of adapted it in a way that we made it current with today’s digital age. So it kind of makes me think, I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie Jumanji. Over the holidays or the newer one? The newer one came out. So arguably I think, you know, potentially the best movie that came out over this last holiday season. But without giving any spoilers away, <laugh> if you saw the first one you know, they, it was basically a board game that came to life. So this reboot of it, if you will it was a similar context and that they’re playing a game, but it’s <laugh> they did a great job making it more recent.
Laura Maskell (13:05):
So, it was actually the game was done via a console, so they were actually in a video game. So, again, kind of more, a little bit more relevant to today. So anyway, going back to the Phillies. So yeah, so, you know, with that tradition of Bobbleheads, you know, we were able to work with you guys and come up with a really cool augmented reality morphing station experience where you know, fans could click on screens and take their photos and basically transform themselves into a bobblehead. And they could share that digitally. You know we did, we did printouts with them so they could hang it on their fridge or show people in person. And you know, we always get really great feedback.
James Giglio (13:52):
Yeah, it’s a great product to produce. It’s always quote successful because it’s so relevant. It really transcends any particular sport, but particularly in, as it relates to you guys, I mean, what’s more Americana than baseball, Coca-Cola, and bobbleheads? And so it’s like the trifecta of you know, consumerism, so to speak in terms of the experience. And yeah, it worked out really well. And you know, it was nice to see some iterations after the first season performing so well in the second season, we were able to add that printer so people actually had the momentum and, or Memento, I should say. It was pretty neat, to also anecdotally this is kind of self-promotion, so I apologize, but coming home one afternoon and turning on the Phillies game and yeah, the team actually did a, a media hit on the morphine station, so like a mad man, I had my cell phone out and recorded the screen rather than DVR-ing the video on the console. But yeah, it was an awesome production to be a part of. And so really happy that, you know, everybody has been a, you know enjoyed it, both the fan, clients and obviously yes. Us producing it, so.
So have you, I know technology is a focus of, yours and, and your team and the brands and what have you. Can you speak to many other experiences? Again not necessarily MVP productions, but you know, we are lovers of technology, so I would love to hear a little bit more on other things that you’ve done.
Yeah, absolutely. So you may or may not be, well, I know you’re familiar, but listeners may or may not be familiar with what used to be the, My Coke Rewards platform that we had was basically a rewards system as you drink a product and you can earn points and win cool rewards or get cool prizes or gear or swag or whatever it may be. So we, last year in 2017 basically transitioned from MCR from my Coke rewards <Affirmative> into coke.com and I was able to work on a pilot program with this new technology that we call SIP and Scan, basically. So essentially what it is, is there’s this icon on our packaging. You can think of it as a QR code, that’s not exactly what it is, but there’s an icon on our packaging and, you know, basically you go to coke.com, scan that icon, and then you could enter into sweepstakes or, you know, whatever it may be.
So last year, we launched this and did some testing for our football programming in the fall. So, you know, the neat thing was when we launched this program, it aligned with us relaunching our Coca-Cola Zero Sugar brand. So with that specific program, you know, one of our biggest goals was driving trial <Affirmative> of the reformulated brand, while tapping into that passion of football that football fans have. So kind of marrying the two you know, we had the icon scan and encouraged people to go to coke.com and either scan the code or enter the codes on the cap. And then they could either win, you know, free 20-ounce, you know, Coca-Cola zero sugar they could win a V I P experience to, let’s say the Philadelphia Eagles game later that season. They could win all different kinds of stuff. Yeah. gift cards to get some gear. And, you know, part of that was really just, you know, educating or starting the education process for consumers for this new platform. And we had so many learnings. And since then we’ve been able to make enhancements. So, you know, I can’t give any spoilers away. Sure. But yeah, we’ve definitely been able to enhance that technology and improve programming for 2018.
Okay. Great. Yeah, that’s great. It sounds like it’s, you know, a perfect, as you said, the making of all of your initiatives, right? Whether it’s packaging the technology and then also driving traffic to a particular website. I mean, it’s really that holistic kind of consumer experience and journey. So that’s very you know, that’s not only strategic but very smart and kind of holistically bringing it all together. Right? Yep. So, you know, we were talking about, you know, maybe some lighter experiences outside of technology and, you know, you guys are a product, right? And a beverage, and you know, at the end of the day you’re looking for consumers and new consumers. And you know, what are some of the activations or promotions that you do that maybe, not leverage technology?
Yeah. you know, I think I referenced driving trial, honestly, sometimes you know, even just a couple weeks ago at the two home playoff games for the Eagles, we still want people to keep trying, not just Coca-Cola is your sugar, but our other brands that have been around for a while too. So sometimes we’ll literally just set up a table and yeah. Have free ounce cups of product, and, you know, basically, give free trials and free samples away to people. That doesn’t leverage any type of technology at all. It’s really just grassroots getting out there and reminding people, Oh, yeah. You know, I really, I really do.
James Giglio (19:48):
And the reminding comment is really important too, because I think it, and it’s also awareness because when people think of Coke, they think of Coke and Diet Coke, right? <affirmative>. And, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. So can you speak about a little bit more of the internal brands that happen that, you know, maybe people don’t, aren’t completely aware or associate with Coca-Cola?
Yeah, I mean, we have well, globally, we have over 500 brands. Not all of you know, all 500 plus are within the United States. But some of the ones that people don’t realize, I think most people know Sprite is one of our brands. Dasani is usually pretty well-known as well.<affirmative> Powerade, Smart Water if you like tea, gold peak tea, honest tea, fused tea. We’re also in the milk business. I am, chocolate milk is one of my favorite things in the world. So if you haven’t gone out there go try Fairlife® chocolate milk or regular milk or Yup. As well. So and though that’s really cool. That’s a, it’s a really cool backstory. But it’s basically ultra-filtered milk. So there’s no lactose. So for our lactose-intolerant friends. You can drink it, and it has half the sugar as normal milk and twice the protein, so yeah, we have, I mean, we have many, many brands. Yeah.
James Giglio (21:10):
That, that’s fantastic. So with that said, you know, with having so many brands, maybe let’s shift gears a little bit and, and talk about as a marketer, what are some of the challenges you face both with maybe, you know, activations, promotion, and, and just general marketing, because like anyone, I mean, you know, there, there’s going to be challenges, right? No matter how big you are. And, so can you speak to that a little bit?
Laura Maskell (21:35):
Yeah. You know you go down, well, there’s not just one beverage aisle anymore in the grocery store, but there are, you know, even outside of Coke there, there’s many many different brands popping up left and right. So, you know, even internally it’s prioritizing, you know, which brand are we focusing on in this and what’s secondary and what’s primary and what’s really not the right target. It’s, I, you know, I think it’s honestly both a blessing and a curse to have so many brands. Sure. Because you can, I mean, there really is a product for everyone, for every situation, and probably even more than one. But yeah. You know, going through that prioritization process to figure out, you know, we would love everyone to drink everything, but in reality, most people have their, you know, their top few for whatever reason. That’s what, that’s what they’d like to drink. Right?
James Giglio (22:31):
Right. As technologists as well, we currently like to share a lot of onsite war stories with some of the challenges, whether it be weather environmental issues, and all of those good things that make our sort of world and, our marketing space both exciting and challenging. Right. And so you know, going back to just your brand challenges for other folks listening that are in the experiential space or maybe looking to activation, you know, is there any strategies or philosophies that you carry to like, Okay, here are the protection plan, or do you have a set of vendors that you like to work with to say, Okay, they’ll cover us? And you could speak a little bit about that, that could be helpful for the community.
Laura Maskell (23:22):
Yeah. well, for me, I like to say it’s pretty easy because co Coca-Cola has this vetting process basically, so we have a list of agencies on our roster that we are basically, that we work with. Sure. and anyone outside of that roster you know, it’s really hard to work with anyone outside of that roster for a number of reasons. But yeah, so it’s, you know, pretty much depending on what we’re trying to do, you know, whether it’s experiential or more social, digital or whatever it may be you know, we pretty much already have our short list of who we work with. And then at that point you know, the number of factors could determine who you work with. But definitely, you know, in that experiential space, you know, you referenced whether, yes, of course, having green plans and, and sometimes there’s only so much you can do. So sometimes, you know, with our share Coke tour that we’ve had the last few summers there is technology involved with there including touch screens and you know, if it’s a rainy day, you know, at a theme park, you’re sure that’s pretty much your shut down. You know, there’s, you know, even if there’s a covered indoor space you’re probably not gonna get a lot of people Yeah. Roaming around. So yeah, definitely contingency plans.
James Giglio (24:49):
But so with those contingency plans yeah. Is that a good opportunity for the kind of to kick in that product placement or sampling and things of that nature? Is that a part of kind of a backup for you guys?
Well, a lot of times the sampling is part of our original plan anyway. Right? Yeah. Fair point. We do, we kind of do it all. Yeah. yeah, I mean, and honestly, you know, sometimes, we just roll with it. So maybe it’s getting a little bit more creative with, instead of having your samples at a table, maybe you have people going out you know, and bringing the product to the people if you will. Yeah. You know, it’s sometimes we can get really creative with that contingency <laugh>planning. And other times you just, you know, it’s like, well, you know what, it’s gonna be okay.
James Giglio (25:39):
Right, Yeah. You know, and that, and <laugh>,
Laura Maskell (25:41):
You can only control what you can control.
James Giglio (25:43):
Exactly. And that’s such a great point. And sometimes something that we just have to remember as well, because, you know, we want to constantly overproduce for our clients and really put the best product forward and make sure that the fans and or the consumers are enjoying their experience. But, you know, as they say, s will happen sometimes. Right. And so it’s how you handle that <laugh>.
Laura Maskell (26:04):
Yeah. And I think, you know, having that expectation set off, you know, if this happens, know that, you know, Yeah. This is how we will or won’t be able to react Yeah. Or adapt.
James Giglio (26:17):
Absolutely. Absolutely. So, you know, we had mentioned we are on the, heels of Super Bowl 52 with the Eagles in the Patriots, so that’s early February for us. And so we’re, you know, two months into 2018 is there anything that you can speak to any initiatives or, or, or new products or anything that the folks out there would be interested in, in hearing as a little of a sneak peek.
Laura Maskell (26:45):
<Laugh>? I know well, I can’t give too much away. You know, I’ll say first definitely what I’ll be doing is watching the Eagles on Sunday, and then hopefully I’ll be really busy next week. Yeah. with some stuff. You know, this past, I don’t even know what date is within the last week or so we launched our new Diet Coke flavors. So we have four new flavors, Ginger lime, feisty Cherry Esty, Blood Orange, and Twisted Mango. If you haven’t tried any of those yet, I recommend them. So, you know, but you know, I think definitely in 2018 you’ll start to see
James Giglio (27:29):
Great for Super Bowl parties.
Laura Maskell (27:30):
Yes. Yeah, great for Super Bowl parties. But you’ll start to see us in a number of different ways. You know, promoting this Diet Coke relaunch, with the new flavors
James Giglio (27:42):
Can you speak to that at all or is that too soon in terms of packaging and branding, things of that nature?
Yeah, I mean, it’s out. I mean, you could go to, you know, your grocery store or wherever right now and you’ll see it. I think the cans look really sexy. Okay. They’re kind of taller, slim, and have basically, a colored line bar depending on the flavor and diet. So regular Diet Coke, even though the can looks a little bit different it’s the exact same formula. So for the Diet Coke lovers out there don’t fret. Yeah, we did not make any changes. Yeah, we, you know, we’ll be around the US touring you know getting, I talked about driving trial earlier, be giving away a bunch of samples. It’s some a, in an experiential type way at a number of events and things. Yeah. You know other than that pretty much, you know, kind of a generic blanket answer to that question is we’re gonna continue trying to inspire moments of optimism and happiness while trying new things, but so doing a little bit of what we’ve always done with some stuff we haven’t done before. So, yeah.
James Giglio (28:54):
That’s fantastic. Well, Laura, thank you so much. This was a great podcast for us. Thank you for us and with you. You know, it’s, it’s been a great pleasure to work with you and continue to work through new challenges and new opportunities together with you. And so for those of you, speaking of the Eagles that were at the game last week or two weeks ago we had the pleasure of activating our 360 selfie platform that Eagles fans and both Vikings fans participated in, which love to see, you know, opposing teams still participate, connect with the brand and enjoy their experience. So we look forward to the 2018 Major League baseball season as well, and anything that should come up. So, thank you so much, Laura.
Laura Maskell (29:37):