While traveling in Europe last month, I noticed that Coca-cola bottles were being sold with different peoples' names on them. I was intrigued enough to take a few pictures, and then I started looking for coke advertisements to see if I could pick up on a broader campaign.
While it piqued my interest, I became disappointed because I never once found a "John" or the equivalent across 4 different countries in 3 weeks, which was odd because my name (or the equivalent) is common in all European languages. Then one of my cousins in Hungary suggested that the idea was not to find my own name, but to make a new friend with each bottle. I heard what he said but I didn't quite get it, but since he is a marketer at an agency in Budapest that works with American brands, I figured he'd know something that I didn't about this campaign.
When I returned back to the USA last week, I heeded the call to action from my new bottle friends Marcel and Andre to share my story on facebook.com/coca-cola, but I didn't find any stories there about people making friends with soda bottles. When I went to the Coke website, I discovered by surfing to the European Coca-cola web pages that the campaign was launched only in Europe this summer. It turns out their European web pages are alive with virtual cans of people who are able to post the name of a friend on a Coke can. The problem I find is that it's not clear if these are real friends or bottle friends getting the virtual refreshments. And maybe that's deliberate. (?)
Their web pages also have maps showing places where Coca-Cola events are being held and it even lets you schedule a meet-up, which is interesting. But I couldn't imagine planning an event around a beverage. Maybe it isn't "just a beverage" and it's just me.
This kind of bold campaign is one that only a handful of global brands could pull off. I found the concept interesting, but I don't think it holds up in execution. For one, many of the locations where these products are sold just don't have enough shelf space to enable me to choose a name I'd recognize or associate with one of my actual friends.
As for the idea of associating a named soda with friendship or the good times shared with friends, I can't fully appreciate it because I can't get over the fact that once I've finished with the product, my friend ends up unceremoniously pitched into a recycle bin. That's just not the way I want to treat my friends.
Further digging yielded a story in the Huffington Post about this personalization campaign and how it has resulted in a customer backlash in some places, and even a lawsuit in Israel alleging discimination because of the choices of names they're using in that country. Other issues focus on the fact that personalization just seems contrived when it's executed on a mass-market basis such as this. I do think there's a point in that perspective, but I think a bigger lesson is a related one in that personalization is usually about the customer experience being tailored closely to the customer and it's not about how the brand wants to engage with the audience. Maybe an iconic brand like Coke is an exception and the problem is that I am not a big enough Coke fan for this to resonate enough with me. But for the rest of the world of marketing, it's now about the customer and not your product. Period.
So if you can't sell your products with peoples' names printed on the packaging, don't give up! Working toward personalized customer experiences is not out of reach! For ideas on how you can drive toward personalization in the customer experience, please download this whitepaper, Leverage Marketing Analytics to Improve the Customer Experience. And as always, thank you for following and please share your favorite beverage story or friend story in a comment below.