How Coca-Cola Makes Life More Bearable During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Coca-Cola recently announced a technology, contactless pouring, that makes it possible for people to choose and pour a drink from a Coke Freestyle fountain machine without needing to touch the display screen. With contactless pouring, consumers choose flavors and pour drinks by using their mobile devices to scan a QR code on the dispenser display. The news generated a few eye-roll responses on social media, including one doubting Thomas who wondered what all the fuss was about:

But I don’t think it matters how innovative or critical the technology is. A contact-free Coke machine is all about making us just a bit more comfortable with life during the COVID-19 pandemic. As I told Adweek, “We’re living in unbelievably stressful times, and if Coca-Cola launches a mobile interactive technology that reduces our stress even a little bit, then more power to Coca-Cola.”

The Freestyle dispensers are usually found in restaurants or workplaces. After their widespread rollout in 2019, they made it more fun for people to select fountain drinks by using a touchscreen to choose from 100+ different Coke products. Part of the joy was exploring all the different flavors in a machine and creating your own custom-flavored beverage (I have always loved combining Fanta Zero Fruit Punch and Peach with Sprite Zero Cherry). But exploring all those flavors also means standing in front of a Freestyle machine and touching a screen, usually multiple times – which has no appeal while the pandemic continues indefinitely. So with people slowly returning to restaurants in fits and starts, Coke created a workaround: just point your phone at the machine and make your favorite mixes without needing to touch a germy screen (and presumably you can have more control over where you stand):

A contact-free Freestyle machine is not going to save the world; touching a surface is not even the primary way the virus is spread, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the customer experience may give us some peace of mind and a sense of normalcy sorely lacking at a time when people’s routines have been altered radically. Life might be upended, but you can still have some of the little routines that are part of your day, such as pouring a drink from a dispenser. As such, contactless pouring addresses one of the troubling impacts of our times: the strain on our mental health caused by COVID-19. 

Consider all the threats to our mental well-being that the pandemic has triggered: the stress of waking up each day knowing that a deadly virus with no vaccine continues to rage; weeks at a stretch lived in lockdown this past spring with the possibility of lockdown returning; parents of children forced to become home schoolers while they hold down their jobs; and millions of people losing their jobs during a recessionary economy. Any of those factors alone would create widespread tension, fear, and anxiety. And we’re enduring all of them and more.  

The stress is taking its toll. In April, nearly half of U.S. adults surveyed by the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that their mental health had been hurt due to worry and stress over the virus. At the time 72 percent of U.S. adults surveyed by Newsweek said that they would hit a mental “breaking point” by early June if coronavirus stay-at-home orders extended through the start of summer – and we were only weeks into lockdown then. The Lancet summed up where we are now in the dry but still potent language of academia:

COVID-19 has resulted in an increase in known risk factors for mental health problems. Together with unpredictability and uncertainty, lockdown and physical distancing might lead to social isolation, loss of income, loneliness, inactivity, limited access to basic services, increased access to food, alcohol, and online gambling, and decreased family and social support, especially in older and vulnerable people.

And people expect businesses to relieve the strain. More than three quarters of the general population surveyed by Kantar said they would like to see brands talk about how they’re helping people adapt to the new reality of life during COVID-19. Seventy-seven percent would like brands to inform consumers about their efforts to combat COVID-19.

Businesses have responded quickly, sometimes in profound ways, as with Apple and Google collaborating on contact-tracing technology. In the retail and restaurant industries, businesses have focused on making the shopping and dining experiences safer and more comfortable, installing plexiglass shields at check-out lanes, adopting curbside pick-up services, and requiring that shoppers wear masks inside stores. These actions are meaningful on two levels:

  • They could help save lives, especially those regulations requiring that people wear masks.
  • They make us feel more comfortable by giving us a sense of control – thus easing the burden of the life we’re living now,

The contact-less Freestyle machine brings to mind something that Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said about the growth of Netflix’s subscribership during lockdown: “Our small contribution in these difficult times is to make home confinement a little more bearable.”

We still have difficult times ahead. Businesses cannot stop the coronavirus. But they can make our lives a little more bearable. And in their humble way, Coke Freestyle machines are doing just that.

Music Streaming: The Haves and the Have-Nots

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In recent days, I have blogged about the vast divide between the music industry elite and the have-nots. Last week I focused on the music elite via my post about Jay Z’s relationship with Samsung. (Jay Z responded defiantly by removing the hyphen in his name.) Yesterday my post about Thom Yorke’s war against Spotify focused more on the have-nots (such as indie musician Sam Duckworth), who earn next to nothing from streaming services. On July 19, Sasha Frere-Jones of The New Yorker also posted a thoughtful article about how difficult it is for emerging artists to generate any revenue from streaming services like Spotify. His well-written and well-reported piece also shows how streaming services favor the giant record labels for established artists with strong back catalogues, and I would recommend you read it. (For a dissenting view, I would also recommend two posts by Bob Lefsetz, “Thom Yorke vs. Spotify” and “Spotify?“). I don’t believe the solution to inadequate streaming royalties is for emerging artists to remove their music from Spotify (doing so sounds self-destructive, especially because Spotify gives musicians a platform to generate awareness). The music industry really needs an artist-owned music streaming/distribution service akin to United Artists in the movie industry many decades ago. Right now it’s coming down to big corporate brands like Coca-Cola and Mountain Dew to champion emerging artists. In 2010, Coca-Cola gave Somali-born rapper K’Naan a global stage via the 2010 World Cup tour. Mountain Dew runs its own label, Green Label Sound. Perhaps it’s time for another major brand named Jay Z to invest some of his own millions into a streaming service that champions the artists?

For additional reading:

Future of Music Coalition, “Does Spotify Make Sense for Non-Superstars?”

The Guardian, “Pink Floyd Back Catalogue Available on Spotify after Song Passes 1M”

The Independent, “Thom Yorke Spotify Criticism: Top Producer Accuses Radiohead Singer of Twitter Hypocrisy”

Update: NPR, “Paying the Piper: Music Streaming Services in Perspective”

“Hey Kid, Catch”: How Coca-Cola and Mean Joe Greene Launched a Legend

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The Super Bowl is the quintessential American pastime. No other event captures the essence of American culture so perfectly: our love of sport, our admiration of spectacle, and our devotion to capitalism. How else do you explain why the Super Bowl advertisements have become as famous as the game itself? I’ve been watching the game for as far back as I remember, including the year I wore a replica Miami Dolphins uniform (including helmet and knee pads) to watch the Dolphins vanquish the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII. And I have enjoyed the advertisements closely over the years. Even though the ads have become increasingly slick and high-concept, my favorite remains one that graced our TV screens 33 years ago during Super Bowl XIV: the Coca-Cola “Hey Kid, Catch” spot featuring Pittsburgh Steeler “Mean” Joe Greene and a little boy who adores him. In 2011, Advertising Age readers voted “Hey Kid, Catch!” as their favorite all-time Super Bowl ad.  I believe the ad’s enduring power is a testament to the power of storytelling and the appeal of Greene’s personal brand.

A Compelling Story

The ad, created by McCann-Erickson, endures because partly it contains a tightly constructed story arc, written by Penny Hawkey: after a hard fought football game, the hulking Defensive Tackle Joe Greene limps into a stadium tunnel to lick his wounds in the locker room. He is tired and bloodied. His Pittsburgh Steelers jersey has been ripped off his shoulder pads. A young boy timidly approaches the football star and offers him a bottle of Coca-Cola to soften the blow of what has obviously been a hard day.

“You want my Coke?” the boy asks.

Greene, obviously in pain, shakes his head no.

“Really, you can have it,” the boy insists.

Finally, Greene relents, offers the boy’s Coke, and takes a long swig while the boy turns away, muttering, “See you around.”

Then comes one of the greatest payoff scenes in advertising: Mean Joe Greene, refreshed by a long swig from the Coke, turns toward the boy and gently calls out, “Hey Kid.” The boy turns around, his face revealing that universal Continue reading

Brand loyal-tee

Conventional wisdom says brand loyalty is dead, and yet a recent discovery I made at a nearby Target store indicates we are still willing to pledge our allegiance to a logo, at least. Shoppers in the mens department are apparently willing to shell out good money for the privilege to flaunt T shirts advertising their love of products ranging from Coca-Cola to Ford, as these snapshots I took at Target show:

And of course you can find plenty more online:

So what gives? Well, I am not so sure the T shirts are about brand loyalty but rather nostalgia and hipness. The logos represent venerable consumer brands that say “Americana.” The logos (as well as the T shirt designs) have a retro feel to them. Also, I don’t think it’s any accident that the products are stocked next to tees with images of Pac Man and Sesame Street characters adorned on them. Some clever marketing going on here — making corporate logos legitimate by showing you that the SpagettiO’s smiley face can look just as cuddly as Big Bird.

Buy it?

How Twitter united indie star AM with Razorfish

AM

How does an emerging indie artist in the dysfunctional music industry find an audience anymore?

My employer Razorfish is tackling that challenge through an unusual co-branding relationship with indie musician AM, which sees Razorfish playing the role of quasi-record label, concert promoter, and DJ. And so far we are having a lot of fun while building our brand with a creative and smart musician.

Even though he is not yet widely known, AM has garnered critical acclaim among journalists and bloggers. His most recent recording Future Sons & Daughters was cited as “one of the pop albums of the year” by the U.K. Sunday Express and given a 4-star rating by Q magazine. And at Razorfish he has a huge fan: me.

I was personally smitten with the beauty of his laid-back yet smart songs one night in March when I saw him open for the French rock band Air. After the concert, I sent him a Tweet to let him know how much I enjoyed the show. And to my surprise, he replied with a heart-felt thanks. We began communicating more frequently, which led to my visiting with his manager Mia Crow of Visionworks while I was in Los Angeles for a Forrester Research conference.

From there, a client relationship between Razorfish and AM took root. Razorfish saw an opportunity to build our brand by associating with a forward-thinking artist who plays in the same social media sand box we do; and AM’s management recognized the value of Razorfish applying our own marketing and PR skills in a client capacity.

Fast forward to October: AM and Razorfish are creating the kind of co-branding relationship that you often see between emerging artists and business-to-consumer firms like Coca-Cola and Mountain Dew (the latter via its Mountain Dew Green Label). Our relationship is based on the three pillars of experience, technology, and community. To wit:

  • On October 13, AM will perform at the 10th Razorfish Client Summit, where Razorfish and our clients discuss the state of the art in marketing, technology, and design. He’s customizing a set list for nearly 700 Razorfish employees and clients including Axe, Best Buy, Levi Strauss & Co., and Mercedes-Benz. We’ll also make his music available to attendees via a specially created StickyBits application and mobile site.
  • His music is being streamed to 2,000 Razorfish employees around the world as well as a StickyBits download, hence fostering word-of-mouth marketing amid a highly social employee base.
  • Razorfish and AM are sponsoring a design-a-poster contest on Creative Allies, which invites artists to create poster art to promote the vinyl release of Future Sons & Daughters. Razorfish Vice President of Experience Andrew Crow will help judge the entries. The winning entry will be used in the actual promotion.
  • Razorfish has been using forms of social media to build awareness for AM’s brand, helping him boost his presence on Facebook and Twitter.

So what does Razorfish get out of the relationship? We benefit in a number of ways. We give our clients and people access to great music, and, through the Client Summit, an experience they’ve never had at our event. We also associate ourselves with a creative, up-and-coming artist who aligns well with the forward-thinking nature of the Razorfish brand — which is ideal for relationship building with clients and job seekers (we recruit actively at SxSW Interactive).

Meantime a relationship with Razorfish is one more stop in the unconventional and resourceful journey AM has taken to gain a following. Like other artists, he has embraced social media, including Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and YouTube to complement his website. And as evidenced by how he and I met, he really uses Twitter to reach out to fans in a genuine way. In 2010 he also successfully solicited fans’ financial support to fund the vinyl launch of Future Sons & Daughters. And by licensing songs to movies and TV shows ranging from Big Love to Friday Night Lights, he has not only kept his music visible but gotten paid for it. In addition to touring with Air, he has toured with Charlotte Gainsbourg and will head to the United Kingdom soon for more touring, building his fan base one venue at a time the good old fashioned way.

Our relationship comes at at time when it is acceptable for musicians to find corporate partners. Gone are the days when a corporate relationship meant “selling out.” As discussed at the September Billboard Music & Advertising Conference in Chicago, artists like Zac Brown find companies like Ram Truck to be essential conduits for their music and causes. As Zac Brown said at the Billboard conference selling out means doing something you don’t believe in, a sentiment AM shares. In many ways, companies like Mountain Dew and State Farm are little different from record labels in that they distribute music for the artist. With Razorfish, AM gets access to sources of potential deals (e.g., by performing at the Client Summit), and our employs act as brand ambassadors if we like what we hear.

By letting his music speak for itself through the power of live performance, AM does what Razorfish likes to do: build a brand through an experience.

Avenue A | Razorfish Unveils Top 10 Digital Brands

In a previous blog post, I mentioned that my Avenue A | Razorfish colleague Joe Crump was going to discuss “Digital Darwinism” at the Cannes International Advertising Festival on June 21. Today I’m making available to you his final presentation courtesy of SlideShare. Make sure you check out the top 10 digital brands, which Joe unveiled at Cannes using the Avenue A | Razorfish proprietary Brand Genes Scoreboard:

1. Google

2. Apple

3. YouTube

4. Flickr

5. Netflix

6. Nike

6. eBay

8. IKEA

9. Coca-Cola

10. Mercedes

These brands scored the highest when we measured them against atributes like immersion (how easy it is for a consumer to become engaged with your digital home), social (whether a consumer finds your brand worth sharing), and adaptive (how well a brand responds to a consumer’s digital environment), among other qualities. By contrast, the Interbrand top brands are as follows:

1. Coca-Cola

2. Mercedes

3. General Electric

4. Nokia

5. Microsoft

6. IBM

7. Disney

8. McDonald’s

9. Toyota

10. Intel

Coca-Cola and Mercedes are the only two Interbrand top brands that make the Avenue A | Razorfish top 10 list. So . . . do you agree or disagree with Avenue A | Razorfish? For more reading on Digital Darwinism, go here.

Avenue A | Razorfish Unveils Top 10 Digital Brands

In a previous blog post, I mentioned that my Avenue A | Razorfish colleague Joe Crump was going to discuss “Digital Darwinism” at the Cannes International Advertising Festival on June 21. Today I’m making available to you his final presentation courtesy of SlideShare. Make sure you check out the top 10 digital brands, which Joe unveiled at Cannes using the Avenue A | Razorfish proprietary Brand Genes Scoreboard:

1. Google

2. Apple

3. YouTube

4. Flickr

5. Netflix

6. Nike

6. eBay

8. IKEA

9. Coca-Cola

10. Mercedes

These brands scored the highest when we measured them against atributes like immersion (how easy it is for a consumer to become engaged with your digital home), social (whether a consumer finds your brand worth sharing), and adaptive (how well a brand responds to a consumer’s digital environment), among other qualities. By contrast, the Interbrand top brands are as follows:

1. Coca-Cola

2. Mercedes

3. General Electric

4. Nokia

5. Microsoft

6. IBM

7. Disney

8. McDonald’s

9. Toyota

10. Intel

Coca-Cola and Mercedes are the only two Interbrand top brands that make the Avenue A | Razorfish top 10 list. So . . . do you agree or disagree with Avenue A | Razorfish? For more reading on Digital Darwinism, go here.