Getting Canned

Have you ever done something, with really good intentions, and it backfired? I have and now I have the company of a multi-billion dollar corporation. Trust me, you should never give a pet as a gift. Did you know that the average lifespan for a cat is 12-14 years?

Last week Coca-Cola unveiled its recently re-designed holiday can. The can features polar bears and was a collaborative effort with World Wildlife Fund (yes the WWF, who made the WWF the WWE, but that’s fodder for another post), to bring awareness to polar bears. Coke is donating 3 million dollars toward the effort to protect polar bear habitat. This is cool (literally and figuratively). The new can, primarily white, has been met with resistance and confusion by Coke drinkers. The first issue it the can isn’t red. The second issue is that the can is easily confused with a Diet Coke can.

The color red is easily connected to Coca Cola. When something related to your identity becomes iconic, you probably shouldn’t mess with it. Even when you have a tradition of holiday related advertising and promotional items, you have to know your boundaries. In a Yahoo article a Coke spokesman was quoted saying that “The white can resonated with us because it was bold, attention-grabbing.” The article goes on to say that “Coke’s marketing executives wanted a “disruptive” campaign to get consumers’ attention.” (This is fancy corporation talk for “this was my idea and I’m sticking to it.”)

The second issue is that the new holiday can looks remarkably similar to a Diet Coke can. Though, traditionally silver, the frosty look of the white can has confused many Diet Coke drinkers. It is either the cans or the artificial sweetener. Even if you are competing with yourself, it is important to know what the competition is doing. The response to this issue is interesting. It has been broadcast across Twitter and YouTube. It has even brought up old issues of New Coke and a possible switch in recipes, even though there have been no changes. Most of these accusations are related to consumers who grabbed a new white can and thought it was a Diet Coke.

What can interpreters and interpretive designers learn from this? Stay within your boundaries and do go too far outside of what you are expected to do. If your visitors have an emotional connection to your product, keep in mind changes can lead to an emotional response. Don’t forget they won’t be afraid to bring up past indiscretions as well.

Coke has about a billion of the new cans in circulation, so maybe they are hoping no one will notice. Thankfully I didn’t end up with a billion cats.

World of Coca-Cola Part 2 – Soda Shangri-La

Last week I don’t think I was efficient at expressing my thoughts about the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, Georgia. Perhaps I was too excited about opening day of the Major League Baseball season. I didn’t mean to come across as harsh because the place is really cool.

One of the major tenets behind Coca-Cola advertising is enjoyment. Phrases such as “Have a Coke and a smile” or “Enjoy Coca-Cola” encourage those who drink the soda to sit back, relax, and enjoy their product. That’s probably where it went wrong for me.  I try to look at interpretive sites of various types objectively and enjoy them for what they are, but I have now confirmed that I cannot enjoy anything. Being a fuddy duddy is really a drag.

As an interpretive designer, I am constantly searching for the next non-personal Shangri-La where images, type, resources, and interpretation all come together, hold hands, and sing “Sunshine on My Shoulders” and I feel self-actualization land on me like a truckload of Diet Coke. When what I should be doing is simply enjoying things for what they are, much like a soda.

When it comes down to it, interpretation should help build a connection between the visitor and the site. We can’t make assumptions; the visitor needs to be involved in the process, and opportunities for reinforcing the experience should be developed.

Some of the interpretive elements of the World of Coca-Cola seemed forced by making the assumption that visitors already think highly of the product. If you don’t have an affinity or some interest in Coke, it is difficult to think that an exhibit is going to give you warm fuzzies (that’s right, I’ve used the words fuddy duddy and warm fuzzizes in the same post) about a multi-million dollar corporation.

Regardless of how snazzy the technology is, how well selected the typeface is, or how well crafted the theme is we can’t make assumptions about our visitors. This is important for more traditional interpretive sites (museums, parks, and nature centers) to remember. We can’t assume that our visitors already find value in what we have to offer, what our mission is, and what our stories are.

In my opinion this exhibit (described last week) made the assumption mentioned above.

This was not the case for the entire site. One exhibit titled “A Coca-Cola Story” allowed visitors to be involved in the process. In my assessment of how visitors were using all of the exhibits, many visitors seemed to be spending much more time at this exhibit than any other.

Have you ever looked at someone and asked yourself “Do I look that old?” or “Is my gut that big?” or “What is wrong with Paul?” If so, then you can connect with this exhibit. Visitors have the opportunity to provide a story of special moments in their lives that involved Coke or how Coke has impacted their lives in various ways.

I think many of the visitors are drawn to see how their experiences (with Coke) compare to others. Many of the stories were funny while others were heart wrenching and inspiring. Where the stories of inspiration (mentioned above) were polished like a commercial, these stories were “The Real Thing.”

Of course after reading them, you want to leave your own.

My son decided to send his in digitally. I’m sure the code-breakers at Coke are still working on his story.

Three opportunities for reinforcement of the message were provided at the end of the experience. The first is appropriately titled Taste It!

You can’t visit this site without developing a serious hankerin’ for a drink of Coke. This where the minds behind the development of the museum took an opportunity to the next level, very successfully. You would expect a free sample but the opportunity to try 60 different Coke products from around the world? Now we’re talking.

As with all of the displays there, the dispensers were striking and used color-changing lights that added a unique atmosphere. This was the opportunity to for you to experience Coke in a new way. The picture above is before.

This is after.

The gift shop provided reinforcement to underlying themes and messages. Products such as these chairs made out of recycled Coke products support their green efforts.

The final reinforcement is that you get to take one of the Cokes bottled there on site, off the assembly line, to keep and remind you of your visit or to be given to your son in small doses to to help bring him down slowly from a sodadose. Next week I have more from Georgia packed with discussion about the letter G. I know you can’t wait.