I love companies that take on chief responsiblity for the categories in which they reside. I worked for a couple of guys at Coke, George Murphy and Scott Bedbury, who called this "category protagonism." It means elevating what you do, taking it to the next level, and putting the people who buy your stuff ahead of simply selling the stuff. For example, while other people just sold coffee, Starbucks became the protagonist for coffee and raised it to an art form, surrounding it with an environment where people could come together for work or social reasons. I can't tell you how much I believe in this idea.
I try not to write about Coke much, since I worked there for so long and have so many friends still there, but I'd like to believe that someday Coke will really take an active lead in becoming a protagonist for thirst. That would mean not only creating and distributing a wide portfolio of beverages to every corner of the globe -- which they already do -- but also using their considerable expertise and power to help solve the world's potable water problem.
What brings me to talk about companies being protagonists for their category? I saw a new TV ad last night for Coppertone. It's about a woman who has had skin cancer, and about how she pays attention to the sun and the protection of her family thanks to the products offered by Coppertone. It's a nice change from the average suntan lotion ad, featuring girls in skimpy bathing suits aiming at the darkest, most leathery skin they can get. Coppertone's new tagline? "Get smart about the sun." Good for them. A cynic could argue they're simply playing off the fears people have about sun damage. But I like to think they just realized that it would be good for them, and good for us, if they took a leading role in educating people about the effects the sun can have. Leadership means REALLY stepping up to the plate, even if it takes more work and money to do it. As Starbucks can attest, they certainly worked harder and spent more money than the coffee joints down the street, but the returns were worth it.