coca-cola’s friendship machine meets the social machine

A Commercial for Friendship

It’s not really a viral video, or perhaps even an attempt at one [watch the video, it makes a difference]. Only 10,000 views in the first three days. It’s a conceptual video, and perhaps one that is aimed specifically at the kinds of people that would find this kind of thing compelling: social media citizens. It lacks the short visual “hook” that makes something viral. Instead it is a commercial, carefully crafted to persuade, to inspire. One of the largest companies in the world makes a kind of performance art piece representing its product, and produces a beautiful message cut right from the values essential to social media group making.

Mashable wrote about the video release, explaining the machine’s design:

Coca-Cola actually planted the machines in Argentina last August to celebrate International Friendship Day, but just this week uploaded the video to its YouTube channel. The machines appear to be about 12 feet tall and requires that you ask a buddy for a boost to use it. Coke rewards that bit of cooperation by dispensing two Cokes instead of one.

via Mashable’s article “Coca-Cola’s Friendship Machine Rewards Cooperation with Cokes”

This is what really fascinates me about it. Social Media values have begun to exert pressure upon corporate messaging, upon their self-branding, that pulls them towards an ethic that is different. Previously it was all about the product. Post-handshake and storefront, in the Age of Advertising this has been the case. Make an amazing product, show that, and nothing else matters. The “sell” was showing the product. And endorsements – from outright pitching to unconscious associations – were nothing more than 3rd party proofs of the quality of the product. This Coke machine does something else, a shift that is slight in focus but huge. It is no longer smiling people who are made to smile because of the product’s quality. It is rather people who are made to smile because of themselves, and the product is only an catalyst or even space for it. There have been themes of this in advertising for a long while, but never perhaps so explicitly performed. The machine is literally climbed upon bringing two people together.

The Art of It

This goes to some very admirable achievements in marketing built right into the machine itself. It is monolithic, imposing a 2001 like unreachableness, but it is also a lateral invite to people to join with each other. The great corporate logo suddenly becomes a jungle-gym, a physical puzzle game – given the right age of folks. The very size of Coca-Cola becomes playful.

I talked briefly about this with Stan Phelps on Twitter @9INCHmarketing and he pointed me to a Harvard Business Review blog post where Coca Cola spoke about a shift in marketing, surely something that this machine is part of. I quote somewhat at length for convenience, as it points us toward a philosophical shift in general: capturing expressions. Expressions are the new vital metric.

In the near term, “consumer impressions” will remain the backbone of our measurement because it is the metric universally used to compare audiences across nearly all types of media. But impressions only tell advertisers the raw size of the audience. By definition, impressions are passive. They give us no real sense of engagement, and consumer engagement with our brands is ultimately what we’re striving to achieve. Awareness is fine, but advocacy will take your business to the next level…

…So, in addition to “consumer impressions,” we are increasingly tracking “consumer expressions.” To us, an expression is any level of engagement with our brand content by a consumer or constituent. It could be a comment, a “like,” uploading a photo or video or passing content onto their networks….

[one strategy]…Develop content that is “Liquid and Linked.” Liquid content is creative work that is so compelling, authentic and culturally relevant that it can flow through any medium. Liquid content includes emotionally compelling stories that quickly become pervasive. Similarly, “linked” content is content that is linked to our brand strategies and our business objectives. No matter where consumers encounter it, linked content supports our overall strategy.

via: Harvard Business Review – blog

But there is something even more going on here beside just brilliant marketing, or a seismic shift in corporate strategy towards user loyalty. The machine – even if a ploy – captures something that is happening in the media that it is designed to thrive in. It speaks the language of community building that is binding social media communication together, and perhaps necessarily so. There is the sense in Twitter, or in Facebook that the vastness of these connections, these platforms dwarf us, and we needs the boost up from the person right next to us to make anything out of it. The Coca-Cola Friendship machine performs – even if for only the benefit of a camera and a YouTube viral try – the very mise-en-scene of social media itself, and it does it in symbolic and artist fashion.

The Gift as Essential

Not to be missed is that a gift results in any shared labor to use the machine. A second Coke is dispense. 1 becomes 2. For those that have been following our recent conversation on Gift Economy and Gift Economy logic in social media, it is no coincidence that a gift result is the outcome and focus of Coke’s social experiment. Note, Pepsi attempted to make itself the center of gift-giving in a very different, I would say less powerful way. Gift is the creation of positive debt that binds community together in a symbolism of surplus. The Coke machine becomes the locus for gift giving, creating a micro circuit that cements the brand as not only the goal, but the means and the space. That this is done for a 3rd eye, the camera, to be poured into social media platforms is really evidence of the intimacy of connection between Gift Economy thinking and social media itself. This is what is special about social media. It has created a powerful nexus of sharable affects under the distinct values of Gift Economy logic, and it is not completely clear if Coca-Cola is using social media here, or if social media is using Coca-Cola.

The Environment of the Question: Quora

Quora’s Clean Room of Answers

Chris Brogan has dipped into Quora and found the water pleasant.

I think I finally understand Quora, the social question and answer site. The part I understand is the appeal to users. Essentially, it’s a site where you browse around for questions you think you can answer, and/or you view interesting answers.

That last part was what hooked me. I stumbled into answers by AOL’s former co-founder and CEO, Steve Case. Holy cats. All kinds of people had asked really hard questions of Steve, and he took the time to answer them, and now me, just stumbling into it, had all kinds of amazing information about the heyday, the decline, and everything in between, about AOL.

How Quora COULD Get Interesting.

I too have been exploring, taking my cue from the Mashable article Why Quora Will Never Be as Big as Twitter. It was a brilliant title and subject. Well of course it won’t be as big as Twitter, but even being in the same breath certainly makes it very interesting. Maybe interesting for Mashites, but still…My own path into Quora was less question browsing, or people noting (certainly a huge potential draw for the site) rather was question asking. At the time I was working on some marketing strategy and among problems I was having was remembering an Excel formula and process I learned about a year ago. I loved the jump-right-in question bar at the top – which incidentally functions as a topic search not something immediately apparent – and within hours got informed attempts to find a solution, and a sense of comradery among the users. Question answering is a particular kind of social interaction which (when best) the dignity of the questioner and the answerer is affirmed. A great germinating basis for a social network interchange.

My brief experience there lead me to some over all impressions of the site in terms of its feel, the distinct sense I got that it was a genuine “space”, almost a clean room of answering. Much of this is captured in the comment I left over at Chris Brogan’s:

What I find most interesting, or perhaps, what is most suggestive for growth, is that there is a very strong interaction aesthetic there that they have been successful in establishing. It is just this kind of thing that promotes an anchored community of users and growth, a real sense of environment. Part of it is the simple, clean aesthetic (in vogue these days), and part of it is the rigorous testing for reading comprehension before asking a question, high language standards (without much exclusionary snobbery) and the repeated emphasis on grammar, distinguishing it from a vast number of other internet spaces. These thresholds which seem pretty firmly monitored – a grammatical use of “concatenate” in an Excel question I had (?!) was edited by a etymology maven – and then re-edited after a check with with the OED, coupled with the UI, create the dictionary-of-questions feel that really might be appropriated and fused to other media and resources.

That seems to be the double path: build a sense of community with committed users expressing an aesthetic, and make the result harvestable and linkable by other media services. Will it be long before Quora questions top Google organic searches?

If this can be coupled with the brush-with-knowledge experience of knowledge celebrities that Chris found so striking, and the Twitter-like tunneling into the interesting lives of otherwise sealed-off persons, there is room for huge development here. I do think though that this requires the upkeep of its already rigorous pruning, at the language and content level. This vine needs to be cut back continuously to produce the very sweet fruit required for social media wine.

Addendum (1/13): And more Quora love from SocialMouths.