Coca-Cola has embraced social media with its Expedition 206 campaign, and the company has been getting lots of positive press from the likes of Advertising Age and Jaunted, for instance.
The idea behind the campaign is that three selected Happiness Ambassadors will galavant around the world to the 206 countries where Coca-Cola has a presence, and will tweet, blog and post videos and pics with the aim of presenting "that spirit of happiness, optimism and enthusiasm that we like to think is emblematic of Coca-Cola," says Adam Brown, the company's director of digital communications and social media.
So, this is the face of the new corporate social media marketing campaign and I applaud Coca-Cola for being smart enough to grasp the marketing requirements of the new era.
As Brown puts it: "One of our new philosophies here at Coca-Cola is to 'fish where the fish are' in the social media space. In other words, we're moving from building big online properties (websites) and driving fans to them to developing compelling content and putting it 'where the fish are.' This means creating great content on our Facebook Coca-Cola Fan Page and allowing our 3.7 million fans there to experience, discuss and share it."
Brown says the company seeks "genuine conversations" with consumers on Twitter and other online communities like Bebo, Orkut, hi5 and QQ.
But, Coca-Cola's effort to give us a global pour of brand happiness sort of reminds me of 2004 when Bob Dylan appeared and sang in a Victoria's Secret commercial.
Don't get me wrong. I love Bob Dylan, like Victoria's Secret and had a Diet Coke with lunch yesterday.
But, the whole Expedition 206 campaign strikes me as social media cooptation.
I won't prejudge the social media efforts of Coca-Cola ambassadors Kelly, Antonio and Tony.
But, if they merely tweet about happiness and positive vibes as they travel around the developing world guzzling Coca-Cola, then I -- and I suspect a lot of other folks -- will just gag.
When the ambassadors arrive in Zimbabwe, which is wracked by civil war, corruption and AIDS, will they use all of the various social media platforms to inform us that happiness and the way forward involve people bonding over Coca-Cola bottles?
I wonder if they will blog about the fact that the foreign currency crisis has at times been so acute in Zimbabwe that Coca-Cola bottling plants there ran out of syrup in 2006 and couldn't produce the soda. Food, incidentally, was hard to get, too.
It would be best for the ambassadors to address the country's problems in a forthright manner and perhaps focus on any job creation or healthcare efforts that Coca-Cola may be involved with in Zimbabwe or in the other 206 countries.
Maybe that is the angle that the ambassadors will take -- and we'll only be able to judge the social media angle on the Expedition 206 campaign once it is under way in early 2010.
But, a lot of Coca-Cola happy talk just won't be appropriate or effective.
My main point here is that major corporations' social media efforts can't be all Twitter bells and whistles.
These campaigns will also have to have substance.