C.C. Chapman sent out a message (okay, more than one) about a contest and promotion he’s heading up for Coca-Cola, called Virtual Thirst. Submit an idea to the contest for a virtual vending machine to be built in Second Life, and if you win, you get flown out to San Francisco to be featured in the video of the making of the vending machine. From the official web site:

Imagine a world in which a simple vending machine could dispense – not Coca-Cola – but the ESSENCE of Coca-Cola: refreshment, joy, unity, experience… So throw away the box, your expectations and interpretations of what a Coke machine is. Think expansively about the possibilities for having fun and being part of a great experience. Show us your best ideas – what do you wish you could do or see in Second Life? Do not limit yourself to your own abilities to create objects inside of Second Life – find any way to express your idea and get it to us. Let us and the developers of Millions of US help you make them real in Second Life.

Incidentally, I have to wonder about the following rules for entering:

You may submit your idea in any of the following ways: – gift an object to us in Second Life – teleport your avatar to http://www.virtualthirst.com/launch and use the drop-box to gift us your object
– share a video in YouTube – visit http://www.youtube.com/virtualthirst and use the “Connect with VirtualThirst” function to send us a message and attach your uploaded video
– share an image/description with us in MySpace – visit http://www.myspace.com/virtualthirst and use “Send Message” to post your idea as a message to us
– US residents only can also e-mail us your idea – send an email to [email protected] with the subject line, “Virtual Thirst Entry” and attach your idea to the email. Please do not use the body of the email to describe your idea.

Why isn’t blog post in there anywhere?

Here’s the problem I have with the contest – and I’ll be frank, because as much as I want C.C.’s first major public project to succeed wildly, I think he’d be more disappointed if I didn’t speak my mind.

Coke’s idea of its brand is not my idea of its brand.

The essence of Coca-Cola to the company is “refreshment, joy, unity, experience”. For me, as a consumer of its products, Coke products fit the first to a greater or lesser degree, and the other three don’t apply. Coke’s brand to me is essentially a source of cold caffeine, as is Pepsi, and virtually any other soda manufacturer out there. It’s what I drink (usually diet) when coffee does not fit the bill. If you were to sit me down in a focus group and ask me what the brand makes me feel, it makes me feel somewhat energized (or at least less lethargic, as I usually have it after lunch), carbonated, occasionally burpy, and less thirsty. I don’t have a particularly strong attachment to the Coke brand, even though I really enjoy reading about the company’s history and its original recipe.

And yes, if Classic Coke were truly Classic Coke, a la Pemberton’s recipe, it’d be illegal in the US. Ah, cocawine!

Can I create an idea around Coke’s idea of its brand? Sure. But it’s not my idea of their brand, and in the age of the empowered consumer, my idea of their brand is more important than theirs. Why? Because my idea and feeling about their brand ultimately dictates whether or not I buy it, whether or not I recommend it. A virtual vending machine dispensing their brand ideal in Second Life will not make me more likely to choose their product over another’s – whose product is most readily available at a good price point at 1:30 PM on weekdays will most likely influence my purchase. Happily for the Coca-Cola company, the Student Loan Network has a contract with a local distributor that provides employees free Coke products at work.

Ultimately, Coke has fairly little brand equity with me – they’re a provider of beverages, and if I need or want a beverage, they certainly are in the running as a potential source, but they haven’t secured enough brand loyalty with me to make me automatically choose them over another product. They have brand recognition with me, of course, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into sales. What would improve my loyalty to their products? Not sure. I do know that when Pepsi ran its iTunes promotion a while back, I grabbed an awful lot of Pepsi products during the promotion, and I remember it, but since the promotion ended, I’ve defaulted back to convenience and cost as drivers of my purchases.

So, all that said, here’s my idea for the Virtual Thirst contest. It’s automatically invalid, I guess, because it’s being submitted via a non-approved way, but since I probably will be booked whenever the contest winning time is announced anyway, (if you can’t travel on the dates specified by the contest, you forfeit your prize, and my Google Calendar looks like my defrag map on my hard drive) here’s my idea for Coke’s view of its brand:

Build a vending machine that you step into and it shows you various types of Creative Commons licensed new media that have been tagged with the same qualities as Coke’s brand – refreshment, joy, unity, experience. As you experience each media type, you vote on whether you think the media fits with its tag. After a while, you’ll have a pool of Creative Commons media – photos, audio, video, music – that the community has voted as the most refreshing, the most joyful, the most unifying, the greatest experience.

Good luck with the project, C.C., and I hope that you get some truly wild ideas for thing to build in Second Life!

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