Coca-Cola: If this is content, bring back editorial

Posted by: Paul Keers, White Light Media

When Coca-Cola announced their digital content project, Journey, they talked in terms of becoming "a quality publisher of compelling content", and providing a site where people "engage in stimulating debate". I'm sure they won't mind, therefore, if some of that debate is about Journey itself.

The people who have, to quote one publisher, "looked on with admiration", are largely... publishers, thrilled that a huge brand can make such a commitment to content. "Content is now mainstream," says that publisher. "One of the biggest brands in the world has made it so. And where Coke leads other brands will follow."

But that is to praise the concept rather than its execution. I can't help feeling that Coke's content marketing is like Dr Johnson's famous analogy for women preachers. Journey resembles a dog walking on its hind legs; you are surprised to find it done at all - but it is not done well.

While publishers remain in awe of Coke's commitment, and the amount it must have cost, let's take an editorial look at their content. (No doubt it's changed by the time you read this, but still.) There's lifestyle: Coca-Cola Collections: Four Steps to Create Your Own. There's music: Behind The Music: The Making of Coca-Cola's 2012 Holiday Song.There's video: Watch as Holiday Coca-Cola Cans Are Created.

There's even food: Simple Salad with a Coca-Cola Balsamic Dressing. Or French Toast with Vanilla Coke. Even their Mustard Herb Dressing contains - you guessed it - "1/2 cup Coca-Cola".

I'm afraid that Journey's content looks like little more than deeply old-fashioned marketing, with someone in the background constantly asking how each piece of content promotes the brand, and whether the product is mentioned.

One major problem is the site's lack of targeting. You'd anticipate that the content of a Lucozade site might be aimed at sports enthusiasts, a Red Bull site at thrill seekers, a British Airways site at travellers. But Journey's audience is...everyone. The brand is being promoted so universally that the site has no character at all.

Even an unchallenging read like your morning Metro makes certain audience assumptions in order to engage with its readers. Metro focusses on the city in which you live, and it assumes that by picking it up, you are mobile and not a stay-at-home, and probably of working age. Journey cannot make even such a basic audience segregation.

There is no activity, or age group, or lifestyle choice which typifies these Coke drinkers. And so the content revolves almost entirely around the one, frankly trivial activity which all of its readers do share - drinking Coke.

You only have to look at some award-winning content projects to see the difference. Land Rover Onelife is not about Land Rover - it's about epic adventure. Completely London is not about Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward, it's about London. But Journey is essentially about Coke.

Yes, there are some stories on Journey which do not actively promote Coke, but they appear carefully chosen to be positive, ideally celebrity-written, yet anodyne. Why Women are Essential for Economic Growth, or Delivering Powerful Drugs to HIV-Infected People are not going to be stories anyone will disagree with. Or, I'm afraid, engage with. There is not going to be any "stimulating debate" on these issues.

There are "debates", but not on any of the subjects I hear people debating, from racism in football to cars versus bicycles. No, the Most Debated story on Journey was... Fountain vs Bottle: What's the Better Way to Enjoy Coca-Cola.

As interactive agency CEO Adam Kleinberg puts it, in a post bravely hosted on Journey itself, "Is that the kind of blatantly self-serving content that is going to get me, Mr. Consumer, to come back?"

Coke talked in their announcement about "compelling content". Editorially, one has to wonder whether they understand what that means. No-one is going to feel "compelled" to watch a video of their cans being made.

If other brands do follow Coke down the content route, I hope they do not use this as a model for their own. There are two parts to the concept of brand journalism; sadly, Coca-Cola appear to have heard only the word "brand".

Paul Keers, White Light Media

Posted in CMA blog
8thJan 2013

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