GEOFF COKEIt all started with a 151-word creative brief that was issued together with a free-reigning license for the agencies pitching for its business to deliver a disruptive idea that would make the biggest of headlines for the brand & shake everyone to attention.  Lucie Austin, then director of marketing for Coca-Cola South Pacific, was huddled in a Sydney conference room with her colleagues in 2011 listening to 5 agencies pitch concepts for Coke’s upcoming summer campaign.  The rest, as the saying goes, is history!

This campaign known as “Project Connect” was based on its ambition to both strengthen the brand’s bond with Australia’s young adults and inspire shared moments of happiness in the real and virtual worlds.  You and I know this campaign more commonly as “Share a Coke.”  This unique breakthrough activation accorded consumers the license to swap out the Coke branding on bottles and cans with their own personal first names.

This “disruption” not only worked.  It skyrocketed the brand into exponential proportions.  That summer, Coke sold more than 250 million named bottles and cans in a nation of just under 23 million people.  The campaign has since made its way around the world, reaching more than 70 countries to date.

Are there lessons to be learnt from this phenomenal branding coup [which incidentally just hit Singapore recently]?  I’d like to think that publishers the world over can take a leaf out of this Coke case study across 3 fronts.

  1. Ideas stem from disruptions.

This is obviously easier said than done.  Most management teams will accept the need for legacy media owners to embrace disruption, but when push comes to shove, not many who value their seat in the hierarchy will put their necks on the block to back a disruptive idea with the fullest of conviction.  The “fail fast” mentality, albeit a concept that has been bantered around for more than half a decade, is still not something that is comfortably embraced.  The stigma of failure and fingers pointed back at the “brave” culprit is a mindset to be grappled with.

I say, “If it ain’t broke, fix it”.  We can all contribute to making something that seems OK right now even better.  Let’s not wait for major alarm bells before looking into what to do next.  That’s exactly the reason why we in Singapore have pulled out all stops to “bring sexy back to print”!  Everything from 3-dimensional newspaper advertisements through to augmented reality embellishments, creative ad buys, panoramic formats, multi-sensory advertising etc.

  1. Ideas don’t come from apples falling on your head.

Staring into a blank space hoping to stumble upon a gem of an idea is probably the worst way to ideate.  So is digging into the archives – historical reconnaissance is not the best way to unravel what your company should be doing in the future.  Ideas come from joining the dots.  When a bag was a bag, and wheels were just wheels – whoever thought that marrying the two would lead to the innovation known as the trolley bag.  And from two wheels, it has now evolved to four-wheeled variations with spinners!  An example for publishers – think perfume, think ink – combine the two and voila, a scented advertisement!

Ideas also come from adaptations.  Take the “Share a Coke” example – what’s stopping the New York Times, or The Daily Telegraph, or even The Straits Times in Singapore, to launch a campaign allowing readers of our titles to have a day’s issue of the newspaper printed with their first name on the masthead – ala “The Geoff Times” or “Geoff’s Daily Telegraph”!

And now with the surging dominance of social media, you can bet that I will share my personalized front page voraciously with my friends on facebook, instagram, twitter etc.  This reeks of nothing but sheer positive unsolicited advocacy for the newspaper brand.

In the words of Lucie Austin: “Our research showed that while teens and young adults loved that Coca-Cola was big and iconic, many felt we were not talking to them at eye level.  Australians are extremely egalitarian. There’s a phrase called “tall poppy syndrome.”  If anyone gets too big for their boots, they get cut down like a tall poppy.  By putting first names on the packs, we were speaking to our fans at eye level.”

Doesn’t this remind you a little of ourselves?  Legacy publishers, who for the longest time thrived on being a monopoly, are sometimes guilty of getting too big for its boots.  Embarking on an interpretation of “Share a Coke” could go some ways in speaking to our fans at eye level rather than talking down to them!

  1. Ideas don’t have to originate from the head office.

“Share a Coke” started in Australia, not Atlanta.  It is a great example of how “LOCAL WENT GLOBAL”.  It was birthed in Sydney, and is now all over the world.  Often, the best ideas are not handed top down from the boardroom, but from the ground up.  There is much to be learnt from crowd-sourcing and the harnessing of ideas from doers rather than policy makers.  What the management can do to encourage this is to open up a non-judgemental channel for staff to share their thoughts and suggestions on how the company can best future-proof itself.


“Share a Coke” reminds us that there is every reason to bring our readers into close relationship with our titles.  We must strive for our own version of Project Connect and do what we can as custodians of our business to promote a sense of intimacy with our targets.  To think of it, the art of sharing originated with newspaper publishers like us.  The “pass-on rate” for every single copy of the paper we sell speaks volumes of how our valued content is shared with the community around us.

Mahatma Gandhi was known to have said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow.  Learn as if you were to live forever.”  Sounds very much like “start-up” mentality to me coupled with an insatiable penchant for knowledge.  I am sure we can all attest to the fact that the publisher model badly needs a new lease of life – and learning from what the best brands in the world are doing is a great way to start!





Change or Die!


Subscribe to the 1% Rule!

I used to be the one dishing out a barrage of “lame” excuses to my friends who regularly encourage me to do some form of exercise to stay fit. For the record, I am not proud at all to have successfully staved these promptings for the longest of time. And it was not only until 3 years ago that I got tilted over the balance and started indulging in both cardio and strength training three times a week.

Having learnt the hard way as to what it means to get healthy, I feel a compelling need to share with one and all the principle of sparing your body just a fraction of your time each week to work out. It’s called “The 1% Rule” because it really only takes up 1% of your time to keep yourself in top shape.

I learnt this ethic from Mike Geary, author of The Truth about Six Pack Abs, who puts it this way: “… if you dedicate only 25 minutes per day, 4 days per week to a good exercise routine, that’s only 100 total minutes per week. Considering that you have 1440 minutes in each day multiplied by 7 days equals 10,080 minutes per week of total time. So now look at those 100 minutes per week dedicated to exercise and divide that into the 10,080 minutes total that you have in a week, and that represents approx 1% of your total time in any given week.”

I am almost sure you haven’t looked at it in this way before, and if you can continue to say after reading the above that you still can’t spare the time, it probably confirms that you have consciously decided to not do anything about it.

You know, if you want to look for excuses and I used to do it all the time, they are a-plenty and some of these include: I’m in horrible shape – well if you don’t want to do anything about it, it won’t get any better; I don’t like it – I don’t like a lot of things like brushing my teeth, waking up early, paying my bills, but I still do them. Exercise is an activity you really can get used to; I’m too tired – trust me, you will feel more energized after you exercise than if you skip it altogether. An endorphin-high is really something to be experienced after a good workout; I’m too busy – I can guarantee you that someone busier than you is working out right now; I’ve got better things to do – isn’t keeping healthy and fit something really worth spending time on?

My “health” awakening came a little late but I figure that it is better late than never. My weight used to be 78kg, it’s now 63kg; office pants used to be size 36, it is now 31; total cholesterol used to be 250, it’s now 180; LDL used to be 160, it’s now 100; HDL used to be 40, now it’s 80; total cholesterol/HDL ratio used to be 3.5, it’s now 2.8.

And all because I chose to spare my body 1% of my time!

Lose To Win

For those of you who have been following my blog, you know that I love to tell stories.  In a two-day “mentorship” training workshop which I attended only recently, the trainer touched a soft spot in my heart by emphasizing that one of the main attributes of a good mentor was the ability to tell “stories” – stories that resonate with the mentee and inspire him or her to reach for their full potential.

My story today is about a running legend by the name of Greta Waitz.  She won the New York City Marathon a record of nine times, setting a world record in her very first attempt at this 42.195 kilometre race way back in 1978.  She won the London Marathon twice, the gold medal at the 1983 World Championships, and the silver at the 1984 Olympics.

Beyond Grete’s athletic achievements and her sports-superstar status, she was to those who knew her more intimately – a super human being.  She was known by many to be approachable, giving, and above all, humble.

One significant lesson we can learn from Grete pertains to her decision to run in the 1992 New York City Marathon for the last time.  It was made on the basis that she wanted to accompany her old friend Fred Lebow, the founder of the New York City Marathon and the man who first invited her to leave her home in Oslo to run in New York City.  Lebow was 60 years old and suffering from brain cancer.

Waitz and Lebow ran the entire race together, finishing in 5:32:35—twice Waitz’s usual finishing time.  The New York Times described their unforgettable appearance at the finish line: “They finished with their hands clasped and raised over their heads.  She would always call it her 10th victory in New York.”  Fred Lebow died two years later.

This story got me thinking – what if I choose to relate this to my mentee in the future, what would the learning be, in the context of career and professional development?  Here’s my take – the workplace, which can be akin to the world of a long distance runner, is often a lonely place in many parts.  I guess that is why the endless pursuit of work in today’s competitive corporate world is referred to as the “Rat Race”!  Singaporeans tend to be an ambitious lot, obsessed by our KPIs, and totally focused on climbing up the corporate ladder.  To an extent, it can be cold and unforgiving out there!

But like Greta Waitz, we need to sometimes slow down our pace to help someone around us.  I know that in the highly-strung environment we live in today, especially with technology contributing significantly to upping our efficiencies, we get impatient when our staff takes a little longer to get the work done.  I plead guilty that many a time when this happens, I have taken the job back to do it myself.

Grete’s story has taught me that there are occasions when we should let expediency take a backseat, and instead take the hand of our subordinate or colleague and complete the task together.  Forgoing glory so that you can help someone else shine is a gesture that many of us can afford to do more of.  Life is about sharing – sharing your expertise, knowledge, experiences.  It’s a positive legacy you can choose to leave behind.

Greta Waitz was a special kind of heroine – one who was so confident in herself that she was willing to deflect the spotlight onto somebody else.  “Losing”, in a situation such as this, is in fact equivalent to “winning” – winning the hearts of the people around you!



At a recent conference which I was invited to speak at, I shared on the topic of “Ideation”.  In a world where me-too products and services are becoming more and more proliferated, there is a dire need for companies who want to differentiate their wares to start pulling bright ideas out of the bag.  Inventory alone and good customer service is at most times insufficient to draw in the customers.  The consumers of today are spoilt for choice.  If they can’t get what they want where they are, there’s always e-shopping they can call on to accord them breadth of choice.

It’s no wonder that more and more creative consultancies are sprouting out all over the world.  Corporations across the board have become accustomed to working with external partners to help them innovate.  And invariably, brainstorm sessions and ideation workshops come as part and parcel of the offerings.

Ideas, however, as quite a few exponents have attested to, are not necessarily plucked from the air so to speak.  They are developed, on many occasions, from a combination of two or more existing ones.  Take for example the trolley bag, which was quite a breakthrough when it was first introduced.  However, if you look at it in more detail, it came about by merely combining a bag with a set of wheels.  The same goes also for combination locks – which is merely combining a simple lock with the technology that is employed in the locking mechanism for bank vaults and safes.  Why don’t you try this out – start looking at the things around you and break them down into the original two or more basic products which they were once before.  It’s a real fun exercise!

I’m sure most of you know about thinking outside the box.  To me, there is a fundamental flaw in this – and it the fact that the box is still there.  When you try and innovate to come up with new ideas only to have them rejected by your conservative boss, there is always the tendency after a few repeated incidents to climb back into the box and to give up trying.  One of the principles I spoke about at the event was to do with “burning the box”.   When the box is no more there for you to fall back on much alike a security blanket, you have no choice but to continue “pushing the envelope” and ideating!

The world needs more people to burn the box and bring new things to the table.  Whatever the situation may be, whatever your occupation or situation may be, there is always a good reason to innovate.  Thinking up new things is not just confined to the folks from the creative industry.  It cuts right across the board. Engineers can do it, accountants can do it [well, I’m not quite sure about creative accounting though], restauranteurs can do it, sportspeople can do it.

Being able to think creatively provides the “fabric” and depth to our lives. It supports the emotive part of our psyche and reinforces our ability to come up with something new all the time.  It makes us unique and provides us a sharper edge in our personality.  If you’ve never done so, why not jump on this bandwagon right now and see what interesting innovations await you!


In the light of the Olympic Games which recently happened in the city of London, we were reminded over and over again in every medal ceremony about the value of gold!  Not so much for what it is worth monetary wise, but more for what it represents – the highest honour, the most cherished accolade, the greatest achievement in the sport.

For me, however, gold holds a whole lot of value as well but for a myriad of different reasons.  Of late, I’ve started to store up a repository of quotable quotes made known by an eclectic crew of famous and not-so-famous people.  And with the wonders of the internet and social media, my collection has started to grow exponentially and with this, so has my perspective in life.  I have since organized these into various topical groupings and one particular one which I would like to make specific mention of in this column is entitled “Golden Inspirations”.  I find that these come in really handy as words of encouragement, especially during life’s more challenging moments.

Take for example, when someone riles me up and gets me on the edge, I remind myself that “Life is too short to stress yourself with people who don’t even deserve to be an issue in your life.”  And if this doesn’t get me calmed down, I resort to another liner which states that “Anger is a feeling that makes your mouth work faster than your mind.”  On more than a few occasions, this has saved me from saying things which I probably would have regretted if I had voiced out my feelings at the spur of the moment.

The Dalai Lama was to have said, “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others.  And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”  A timely reminder as we tread through the sometimes cold and selfish world we live in.  You know, life is such that we don’t always understand everything that happens, the many outcomes that transcend us, the convoluted twists and turns that we encounter – I guess that’s why someone wrote, “Someday everything will make perfect sense.  So, for now, laugh at the confusion, smile through the tears and keep reminding yourself that everything happens for a reason.”

People who have been hurt or have been let down by their so-called friends can relate to the fact that you should “Only trust someone who can see these three things in you: The sorrow behind your smile, the love behind your anger, and the reason behind your silence.”

All in all, my favourite poster quotation is the one that goes, “When I was 5 years old, my mom always told me that happiness was the key to life.  When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I wrote down ‘happy’.  They told me I didn’t understand the assignment and I told them they didn’t understand life.”  Isn’t it strange how a simple piece of teaching with a profound meaning can be so misunderstood by the people who think they know it all?

I hope that by sharing what others have shared with me has inspired you in a small way this day.  Let me leave you with this suggestion: “Lead with your heart…your life will follow.”  Have a great day!