Coke lost its bubbles?
It's been a while since Coca Cola entered Second Life. When they finally entered, a lot of us were expecting a whole lot from them. Now they're turning their backs on Second Life with outright disappointment. What happened?
Let's get back to the start. In early april an enormous buzz surrounded the anticipated immersion of Coca Cola. We'd all expected Coke to launch a cool island in Second Life, but they didn't. Led by marketing agency Crayon they've set up a small campaign on the Crayon island as an extention to Coca Cola's new marketing campaign, "Virtual Thirst". The buzz created in the days leading to this release was good. The actual immersion a bit disappointing to many residents and bloggers.
[image from Coffee with Crayon]
Yet Crayon seemed to be doing a good job. The "Coffee with Crayon" sessions showed commitment to the community, or engagement (one of the 5 essentials according to Information Week's Mitch Wagner). I think over the past months, since april 2007, respect grew for the way Crayon & Coke handled things. At least, I've seen pretty positives things in the blogosphere and we were curious to see where this was going.
[image by Cyn Peccable at Flickr]
However, Coca Cola has a reputation when it comes to marketing. It spends millions of dollars on brilliant television ads, most of which we can recall pretty well. I personally had expected them to create such an epic adventure in Second Life as well. But they didn't. And now they're disappointed.
The infamous Wired article "How Madison Avenue Is Wasting Millions on a Deserted Second Life" tells about Coke's adventures in Second Life and their disappointment in the number of visitors they drew inworld:
"Yet Donnelly decided to put money into Second Life anyway. He's no digital naïf: When he joined Coke last summer, the company was being ridiculed for its huffy response to a spate of Web videos showing the soda geysers that erupt when you drop Mentos into Diet Coke. Within weeks, Donnelly had Coke and Mentos sponsoring a contest on Google Video that's gotten more than 5.6 million views. But Second Life was different. 'Many places you go, there's still nobody there," he concedes. That's certainly the case with Coke's Virtual Thirst pavilion, where you can long linger without encountering another avatar. "But my job is to invest in things that have never been done before. So Second Life was an obvious decision.'"
Nick Wilson at Metaversed is also having second thoughts about his initial excitement on the Coke-strategy for Second Life, as he writes:
"What they didn't count on though, was the fact that Second Life isn't full of the same echo chamber web2.0 commentators that wave and cheer and throw their knickers at mere mention of user generated media. No, it's made up of ordinary folks interested in their own stuff -- their own shops, groups, businesses and friends. And when you realize that, is it any wonder that the figures cited by Joel Greenberg are less than stellar?"
These Greenberg figures are:
- 300 blog posts about the contest
- 33,000 links
- 150+ photos in Flicker
- 31,000 Youtube views with 160,000+ comments.
Tony Walsh from Clickable Culture writes:
"Here's what I think: Hardly anyone entered the Virtual Thirst contest, which is why Crayon kept asking for submissions, why Coke didn't mention how many entries the contest got, and why the official site now rots before us. If the contest did receive an impressive number of entries, where's the evidence on Flickr, YouTube, MySpace, or the official Virtual Thirst site? "
Furthermore, he remarks "And then... nothing. No mention of the fact that the contest judging was delayed by over a month. No major Virtual Thirst site updates, just an announcement of the winning entry two months after submissions were closed. At the time of this writing, the official Virtual Thirst site doesn't even acknowledge the winner."
Where does this all add up to? Has Coke failed to impress the way it usually does with marketing campaigns? And can we conclude that Second Life is a bad platform for marketing activities? The next quote (by Ordinal Malaprop) perhaps says it all:
"Would it be reasonable to put up a promotional video on YouTube that not many people wanted to watch, leave it there, see that it didn't get a lot of views and conclude that YouTube was a useless medium? Or, for that matter, to publish one issue of Wired and then complain that people stopped buying it after a while?"
This was said in response to Chris Anderson's The Long Tail: Why I gave up on Second Life, another of those examplary articles of old media not understanding the world we live in today.
It's not fair to say this blog by Chris Anderson is another examplary article. It's pretty much the same article. Chris Anderson writes for Wired and both the Long Tail and Madison Waste article are signs of personal frustration. They're only looking for the negative aspects in this story and don't leave room for (even small) success stories.
Donnelly said in public he thought this first entry into Second Life a success. We don't have all the data, Coke has. We don't know what their criteria for success were at the start. But if the client is happy, why say it's a flop?
This was also said (again) by Electric Sheep's Joel Greenberg:
"'Coke was in Second Life prior to us actually entering SL,' said Donnelly, referring to coke machines fans were making and putting in the world. Taking what the fans were doing to the next level, Crayon and Coke developed a contest to make a vending machine, with the idea that SL residents are thirsty for experience. Of course, avatars don’t have physical needs like eating and drinking, but by taking the brand value of coke and appropriately translating it into a virtual world, Crayon and Coke created an appropriate, successful campaign. To be clear, I’m not saying they were successful, Donnelly the client said the campaign was successful based upon the criteria they set for themselves."
Okay, one last quote, this time by from Second Effects blogger ArminasX Saiman:
"In such a small market, you must expect small returns until the economy grows. You cannot expect big things to happen. Consider an analogous situation: a big-city manufacturer shows up in 45,000 resident Smallville and spends $1M on a spanky new store. By the way, the big city manufacturer produces items that are not usable in Smallville. What do you think is going to happen?"
So did Coke blow the bubbles or didn't they?
Coca-Cola by nature is not a virtual brand. It's products (soft drinks) have absolutely no value in a virtual environment. Avatars don't need nutrition. This means Second Life, or any other virtual world, isn't suitable as a product selling platform. It has merits though when it comes to branding. Coca-Cola is a strong brand and is capable of creating a strong brand experience in tv-commercials. If they're capable of creating Christmas they must be able to create a Second Life experience as well.
More recent campaigns, such as the one above would certainly be strong material to create immersive shared experiences in Second Life. Personally I've never been enthusiastic about Coke's Virtual Thirst campaign, but reading the evidence I wouldn't call it a flop. I just hope they're getting involved in the Community and create Cocalicious experiences. Is it worth doing so in an environment with 'so few active users'? That will be up to Coke. As long as they take into consideration that:
- We're just in the early days of Virtual Worlds and they will grow, no matter what frustrated journalists say.
- The userbase (which might not be as large as many would have liked) in Second Life is a very active, downright creative and critical userbase. And if they can "make it there, they'll make it anywhere."