Today Melinda Gates was a key presenter at the TEDxChange event, “The Future We Make” and spent much of her presentation talking about how the campaign to achieve the Millenium Development Goals can learn from Coca-Cola. She had travelled around the world looking at development needs and visiting some of the poorest and most needy areas of the world – and everywhere she found Coca-Cola.

How had Coca-Cola managed to reach these areas and establish sales? Melinda identified three key activities

  1. They ensured they had real time data and acted on it to adapt to local needs and what was happening on the ground. In contrast, too often development projects are only assessed at the end when it is too late to adjust course or even fine tune
  2. They used local entrepreneurial talent, getting enthusiastic local people to act as distributors for them. Exactly the same point was made by Mechai Viravaidya later on when he described a campaign to make condoms available everywhere in Thailand, which shows that the same approach is sometimes applied in the field of development, although there is work to do to make it the norm.
  3. They market Coke as an aspirational drink, whereas too often development goals and activities are presented in terms of things to be avoided or as necessities. This should be so easy to change, since people do aspire to be healthy, to be well-educated, to have jobs and to live in a safe, sustainable environment. We marketing people just have to do a better job of promoting the goals and putting them in terms that people are enthusiastic about.

I am not involved in marketing development activities but I am involved in the debate on climate change, through my work for the AIB (Association for International Broadcasting). The presentation made me realise how actions to limit climate change need to be marketed to those of us in developed countries in the same way – highlighting the ways we can create a healthy, sustainable, good environment for ourselves and more especially for our children and grandchildren, rather than thinking of the things we should give up.