Sergio Zyman: I'd Like To Teach The World To Sell

The master marketer reckons most advertisers are getting it all wrong

Sergio Zyman, a master marketer who earned the nickname "the Aya-Cola" for his combination of ego and hardball tactics while Coca-Cola Co.'s marketing chief, is back in action. One of the marketing industry's best known and most colorful players--if not always its most successful--Zyman recently hung out his own consultancy shingle a year after leaving Coke. And in a new book in stores this month, The End of Marketing as We Know It, the outspoken ad man takes on many of the industry's best-loved and most common practices. From attacks on ad agencies for being wedded to old, unproductive methods to complaints that corporate marketers can't prove that their programs work, the book is a provocative read. That's no surprise, coming from Zyman. His 13-year Coke career (in two stints) included such huge successes as the slogan "Coke Is It" and megaflops like New Coke. He recently spoke with marketing editor Ellen Neuborne.

Q: Why does marketing as we know it need to end?

A: Too much focuses on awareness rather than reasons to buy. In the old days, awareness advertising was more effective. There was less competition. All you had to worry about was whether or not people remembered your product. As technology and more kinds of media have come about, it's no longer enough to be remembered. The consumer has too many choices. Your marketing has to send the message that you are relevant. You need to be sending reasons to buy.

Q: Is that just a price war strategy?

A: No. Price wars are the laziest kind of marketing. It's the last thing you should use. It's like negative politics--the low that a candidate stoops to when everything else fails. We can all count: 49 cents is less than 89 cents. Fine. So that's one day. But it does not say how this product connects to your life.

Q: Any marketers doing it right?

A: VW. The marketing and advertising of the Beetle presents a reason to buy. If you are this kind of driver, this select few, you have this optimistic personality, you don't take yourself too seriously. Your personality matches the personality of this car. That's a reason to buy. This is your car. It's not about price at all, it's about what this product means to you, how it fits into your life.

Q: Who is sticking to the old ways?

A: Levi's. They are still clinging to the notion that they have all this awareness. So everyone is aware of that brand. But it's obvious from the numbers that their awareness is not converting into reasons to buy. They need to be less concerned with how they are perceived and more concerned with selling the product.

Q: What's the most inefficient marketing tactic commonly used?

A: Celebrity advertising. Companies are mesmerized by movie stars and sports figures. You end up with a movielike commercial, and everyone goes around headquarters humming the jingle, sending tapes of the commercial to their aunts and uncles because it's so great. It's a trap. Coke ads, such as the ones featuring Mean Joe Green and "I'd like to teach the world to sing" did not get people to buy more Coke.

Q: How about the most underappreciated marketing tactic available today?

A: Packaging. This is the loudest possible ad vehicle you have--it's right there in the store when you are standing there with your money. But I see very few people really trying to market with their packaging. Go down the cereal aisle: They all look the same. The pasta aisle, same. Frito-Lay is one of the few companies constantly updating its packaging. This is a place to activate the consumer's impulse to buy.

Q: How effective is the advertising now popping up all over the Net?

A: For some marketers, it could be very effective, but you really have to know what you are buying. You can't use old measurements like reach and frequency. It's not about how many eyeballs you get. You have to be sure your buy is very targeted. If you want to sell hamburgers, you don't want broad reach. You want hamburger eaters, and you want them every day. On the Internet, reach is not as key as continuity. The Internet should be viewed as an opportunity not to do the old reach-and-frequency thing but to target your own special customer every day.

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