Ad Agency Translation To Do For Sprite Sales What They Did For Bud Light’s

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Coca-Cola hasn’t learned from Budweiser’s experience. If they had, they wouldn’t have hired Translation Advertising, whom A-B InBev shoved aside as Bud Light’s lead advertising agency three months ago, to handle Sprite.

“I can confirm that they are currently on point for some new work but don’t have any details I can share at this point,” Coca-Cola spokeswoman Kerry Tressler told Advertising Age September 6.

Inconsistent gains

Sprite has a history of treating advertising agencies like square-dance partners, changing them often. Past partners include BBH, Johannes Leonardo (which is still doing their international work), Turner Duckworth, and most recently Leo Burnett, which they just fired after 18 months.

The ad spending has been even more “erratic,” as Ad Age put it, than their agency relationships. Spending in measured media has swung back and forth between $7 million and $17 million over the past five years, according to Kantar Media.

Results have varied with spending levels. When Sprite spent $17 million in 2010, sales volume grew 2 percent; when they cut back to $10 million two years later, volume fell 1 percent.

Nonetheless, Sprite owns 5.7 percent of the carbonated drink category and dominates the lemon-lime subcategory, outselling 7Up and Sierra Mist.

A marriage made in hell?

Over the years, Sprite has used the borrowed interest of celebrities – basketball star LeBron James and one-time “African-American poet-philosopher action figure” Miles Thirst – as substitutes for such mundane things as consumer benefits.

And over the years, “[t]ying brands closely to music, celebrities and athletes is Translation’s sweet spot.”

Sweet for them and their stable of celebrities, perhaps, but kinda sour for clients.

Consistent losses

Headed by a former recording-industry executive, Translation has done advertising like the proverbial man with a hammer who sees everything  as a nail.

Their commercials for Bud Light and its line extensions were more often about promoting some singer’s latest release than trying to sell the beer.

So it’s not the least bit surprising that for the first quarter of this year, Bud Light sales were down 4.1 percent, then down another 6 percent for the first two weeks of April alone.

At the same time, after using crony “creative director and musical curator” Justin Timberlake and one of his new songs to introduce Bud Light Platinum, that brand’s sales briefly blipped, then plummeted 36 percent.

Within two months, A-B InBev replaced their music-talent agency masquerading as an ad agency with real advertising agency BBDO Chicago for its main brand, Bud Light.

And now, Translation’s “on point” to do for Sprite what they’ve done for Bud Light.

Whose agenda is it, anyhow?

If you’re an advertiser, particularly a small advertiser, there’s a lesson in this for you. The marketplace is filled with vendors – everyone from ad agencies to media sales reps to printers – out to sell you something. Often that something will perform far better for them than for you. So make sure that their agenda is your agenda, and they what they’re proposing actually has a chance to achieve it.

And be particularly leery of marketing campaigns based on celebrities. For one thing, their talent fees make your campaign exponentially more expensive. For another, those more expensive ads are far less effective than advertising built around ideas and information, according to Ace Metrix research.

Otherwise, you may end up with year after year after year of shrinking sales. Just like Bud Light – and maybe, in the future, Sprite.

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