Coca-Cola is taking its "Open Happiness" campaign on the road, as PSFK reports. With the global economy still in the doldrums, the brand is holding on to its upbeat positioning for dear life. In a new social media push, Coke is sending three bloggers on an around-the-world tour to "uncover what makes people happy."
With an itinerary that reads like a post-college backpacking trip on amphetamines, "Expedition 206" will send Coke's floggers ("flogging": corporate-sponsored blogging intended to flog a product or brand) to 206 countries in 365 days, meeting locals, attending special events, and writing online about their experiences. Along the way they'll use Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Flickr and a specially branded website to document their journey.
The concept is intriguing, but the pace is breakneck. Doing the math, it's about a day and a half per country, which begs the question: how much can you really expect to learn about a place if you're hardly there long enough to set your watch? You could be forgiven for thinking that this initiative will be long on advertising and short on insight.
Coke affirms that this is more about a brand-inspired narrative than moments of cross-cultural epiphany:
"Coca-Cola, enjoyed by people in more than 200 countries, has always tried to express a positive view of the world," said Shay Drohan, senior vice president of sparkling beverages, The Coca-Cola Company. "Expedition 206 gives us an opportunity to celebrate that optimism and happiness on a global scale in a very personal way. Sharing stories about what makes people happy is a unique way we are bringing our "Open Happiness" campaign to life."
But even if we learn very little about what makes people happy, it's still exciting to see Coke taking a risk on this experimental marketing initiative. The project's intention could stand to be more clearly defined, and the execution a bit less frenetic, but there's plenty of room for the unexpected here — the little surprises that make for magical (buzzworthy) stories. Though the context is contrived, the participants seem genuine, and their youthful energy may create a nice halo over the brand, similar to that generated for Ford by their Fiesta "agents."
The Expedition 206 "ambassadors" will be chosen by online vote, an attempt to get people invested in the project from the outset. Coke was smart to choose a set of experienced travelers as finalists for this journey — all nine finalists have lived in multiple countries and are bi- or tri-lingual — lest their blog posts come out sounding like they were written by contestants on The Amazing Race. Voting will be open until November 9, and the journey begins on January 1, 2010 in Madrid. It will be interesting to see how the story develops and whether Coke ambassadors manage to connect emotionally with such a diverse base of consumers around the globe.