When I joined Coca-Cola in 2010, one of the first meetings that was arranged for me was a sit-down with the President of the Canadian organization at the time, a smart and driven man named Nikos Koumettis.
I had been hired to run Coca-Cola's energy drink portfolio at a time when the energy drinks category was exploding and the company needed to claim its fair share of that growth. During our chat, Nikos reiterated something I had been told during the recruitment process: I'd have the freedom to do what I needed to do, as long as I achieved our aggressive growth targets.
That was good news for me, because I like my freedom, and because I tend to achieve my best results when I have it.
But I was seeing some very aggressive, very innovative marketing from the likes of Red Bull and Monster, and I suspected I'd have to push some people within the organization outside of their comfort zones to execute the type of ideas that would get our energy brands noticed by our target consumer. And being new to the company, I wanted to know the best way to get a "different" idea approved.
So I asked Nikos the question. And his response, delivered in his heavy Greek accent, is something I've recited often since then:
Opinion versus opinion, the boss wins. Opinion versus facts, the facts win.
He was telling me that opinions were great, but debates should be settled with data.
I had to remind myself of this yesterday as I was having an argument with someone I don't know on LinkedIn.
Recently, I wrote about what I felt was an ineffective marketing tactic.
That person I didn't know who was arguing with me on LinkedIn? He's a partner at the agency who developed said tactic.
Obviously, he didn't share my opinion that the puzzle his agency created wasn't good marketing. So in response to my LinkedIn post (which was a summary of my newsletter), he wrote:
"Critiquing puzzle pieces out of a box for not being clearly attributable to a brand is about as near sighted as saying all ketchup looks the same out of the bottle. I don’t want to interrupt the dissection of a singular marketing tactic here, but I thought that might be worth considering, for a start... "
I saw that as a passive-aggressive response, and I'm not a fan of passive-aggressive. I also felt it was flat-out wrong.
I knew I wasn't going to convince this guy that the idea his agency brought first to his client, and then to the market, was bad marketing. But I replied anyway, as follows:
I think it's completely fair to critique a tactic that doesn't have any attribution to the brand when a) marketing dollars have been spent on that tactic at the expense of others that could have had a better association, and b) the execution could have been tweaked to achieve a secondary objective. (I'm not the only one who questioned why something wasn't printed on the back.) Also, the press I've seen focused on the "singular marketing tactic", not a robust integrated marketing campaign. So I'm critiquing the tactic as it was presented; I think that's fair too. With respect, my post was not meant to antagonize anyone involved with this campaign, it was meant to provoke a discussion on what defines "good marketing". I think this was a very creative execution, and I said as much. You will probably win an award or two for it. But will it make people love Heinz more? And will it sell more ketchup? I'm skeptical on both accounts. And if it doesn't build brand love and it doesn't build sales... I'm not sure how we can put this tactic in the "good marketing" category."
There was one final sentence in my reply, and it was the most important one:
"But if in a few months there's data to show that either sales or brand love have increased as a result of this initiative, I'll happily admit I was wrong."
Everything else I wrote, in both my initial post and my subsequent response, was a series of opinions. I had mine. He had his. And given the campaign just launched and data takes time to assemble, I'll bet neither of us had the facts to definitively decide who was "right".
It's perfectly okay to have an opinion or to disagree with somebody else's opinion.
Just as long as you're flexible enough to change it when the facts don't support it.
P.S. You likely can't get your hands on a Heinz puzzle even if you wanted one, because only a very limited number of puzzles were produced as part of a global contest giveaway. But this article talks about how a number of these single-colour puzzles are available for sale on Amazon, and positions Heinz as a company that, "also hopped on the puzzle trend." (Their words, not mine.) I had never heard about single-colour puzzles before I read about the Heinz campaign, but apparently, they were already a thing.