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How Coca-Cola's Happiness Machine Became a Viral Smash Success

Posted by Sheila Shayon on March 28, 2011 11:30 AM

At last week's BDI social media conference in New York, Paul Hernacki, CTO of Atlanta-based Definition 6, gave a techie's perspective on how brand marketers can coordinate their social and digital marketing for maximum effect — and used the agency's work with Coca-Cola's Happiness Machine viral as his example.

Setting the stage for his presentation, Hernacki’s tone was droll as he firmly stated that the IT guys must always start with a "Yes" answer when asked by marketing if they can make an idea happen technically. All departments in a company have to cooperate/collaborate, and just because social media has radically changed the landscape, it doesn’t obviate the marketing and technology precedents already in place. 

Companies should use their foundational DNA, brand and people, he added, to "build out" in social rather than reinvent.

Social media is about connecting with the end consumer but if you go rogue (in his view, not checking in properly with the IT department) you might end up with debilitating server error issues.

He believes long-term sustainable success for a global brand requires building on what is, and creating a collaborative foundation, and being kind to geeks —otherwise Watson will replace us all.

With an emphasis on marketing and technology working hand-in-hand, the crown jewel in Hernacki’s presentation was detailing the agency's work with Coca-Cola to launch what became a mammoth (and award-winning) viral hit, "The Happiness Machine" video.

Using real students at St. John’s University to create viral buzz (though he prefers "shareable" to "viral"), the video positioned Coke's Open Happiness campaign as organic to Coke’s social DNA, and has more than 3 million views to date.

As the campaign spread to the UK and other countries, the tools and platforms were firmly in place with a global activation kit and a playbook, so those countries and agencies could make their own spots to reflect local cultural nuance. Case in point, this winner from Brazil: 

The proof of the campaign, beyond clicks on YouTube — winning top honors at the 2010 Clio Awards.

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