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  Was Coke’s ‘Second Life’ Venture Really a Success?  
Posted 2007-08-27 by Tony Walsh
The Electric Sheep Company's Joel Greenberg reports on the results from Coke's "Virtual Thirst" campaign in Second Life as presented by Coke's Mike Donnelly and representatives from campaign co-creator Crayon. The short story is that Coke reportedly feels the campaign, which was a call-out for consumer-generated media, was a success based on the following metrics:
  • 300 blog posts about the contest
  • 33,000 links
  • 150+ photos in Flickr
  • 31,000 Youtube views with 160,000+ comments

Here are some metrics Coke didn't seem to mention:Frankly, Coke's stated metrics aren't that impressive (for the biggest brand in the world), but the ones I've been tracking seem especially lame--not only because the numbers are low, but because activity around these Virtual Thirst web destinations has barely increased since I last checked back in early June. Crayon's own blog tells a story of lackluster participation:
  • May 21, 2007: "...we hope you are all still thinking of more great ideas to submit."
  • May 22, 2007: "The Virtual Thirst campaign has been going strong and you have submitted some amazing ideas, but we are hoping for more."
  • May 25, 2007 (deadline for entries): "Still time for imagination"
  • And then... nothing. No mention of the fact that the contest judging was delayed by over a month. No major Virtual Thirst site updates, just an announcement of the winning entry two months after submissions were closed. At the time of this writing, the official Virtual Thirst site doesn't even acknowledge the winner.
Here's what I think: Hardly anyone entered the Virtual Thirst contest, which is why Crayon kept asking for submissions, why Coke didn't mention how many entries the contest got, and why the official site now rots before us. If the contest did receive an impressive number of entries, where's the evidence on Flickr, YouTube, MySpace, or the official Virtual Thirst site?
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Comment posted by JoelG
August 27, 2007 @ 7:27 pm
As with almost every other marketing case study out there, only Coke knows for sure if it was a success because we don't have all the data. However, the important parts of the story are:

- Donnelly stated in public that he considered this a success and I have to tell you, he sounds like a genuine guy. They defined the success criteria, they did the campaign (actually, it's not finished yet), and they compared the results to their success criteria. Isn't that how it's supposed to work?

- "Myths" was his word, not mine. So, he feels that the press is not representing the whole story. He wanted to set the record straight.

He said he listens to critics. Maybe you'll see changes based upon your post.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
August 27, 2007 @ 10:52 pm
I appreciate what you think are the most important parts of the story. I happen to think the important part is how Coke considers this rather weak showing a success--I guess if you set your expectations low enough, every lemon tastes like lemonade.

I think it's telling what metrics Coke talked about: all external buzz. As far as I can tell, Coke didn't talk about actual participation in the contest, or in-world participation (such as event traffic or whatever the hell people are using to measure avatar eyeballs these days).

The contest was a bust. It was basically abandoned--due to lack of interest, is my guess. I had to remind Crayon that their judging deadline had passed, then it was extended to something vaguer, and as far as I recall, that deadline was passed as well.

So, one story is definitely how Coke is happy with the out-world buzz it generated. Another story is how Coke came to Second Life and nobody in-world cared. Yet another story is how Coke asked for contributions but didn't give anything back. In all seriousness, where are the multitudes of contest entries on the Virtual Thirst YouTube channel? Why were important social media outlets basically abandoned? How did the participants in the contest (and lurkers like myself) benefit if the results of the contest weren't shared?

Lastly (I'm sure you're relieved to hear), what media outlets besides Wired were calling Coke's Second Life venture a failure? Coke's "myth"-busting seemed pretty hollow. As if we're all talking about Virtual Thirst so much that we've created myths about the campaign. Balderdash, I say.
Comment posted by Doubledown
August 28, 2007 @ 11:07 am
I would think it's quite easy to see if Coke is happy or not.... If they continue to pay Crayon.

If Coke is still a client of Crayon's, then Coke is happy.

Here's some other metrics not obtained:

1) How many SLers read or heard about Coke entering SL?
2) How many SLers read or heard about the contest?
3) How many SLers have now used the Coke logo since they decided to allow free open use of it?

My opinion is that the Virtual Thirst contest may have been a bust, but Coke clearly states they are continuinig to stay within SL. And Coke has proven that even as the #1 company in the world, it doesn't take money to bypass the newbie learning process. No matter what, it will take a company time to learn SL. They may pay big bucks to a virtual worlds marketing/idea firm, but after several months of being inworld, they will find a better service provider than the one they originally contracted.
Comment posted by Lucius Nesterov
August 29, 2007 @ 6:08 am
I'm sure if Coke released the number of entries they received it wouldn't look too impressive, but it never could have been. They were asking for creative ideas, limited to their brand, and sourced from a relatively small community. By RL standards it was pretty abysmal, but compared to other corporate ventures in SL they did well. What they might be asking is if that's as good as it gets, is it worth it?

More importantly, as JoelG said, the 'campaign' isn't over. The winner's blog ( describes how they're working on her entry:

"figuring out some of the dynamics of the object and how we want to distribute it"

Which suggests it's going to be some object that is passed around in SL. Perhaps this leg of the campaign - whether the object is any good, and how many people want it/show it off - will dictate whether it was ultimately a success or not.
Comment posted by Doubledown
August 29, 2007 @ 1:20 pm
I'm not sure why everyone is focusing on contest entry numbers... that's obviously not high, and it's also not what Coke is focusing on.
They have their winner; I would think the most important part to this contest is releasing the winner's design into SL.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
August 29, 2007 @ 4:38 pm
Doubledown, from my outsider's perspective, it seems the chief reason Coke wouldn't even mention the number of entries is because the numbers are embarrassing. If Coke had gotten lots of entries, it would surely have boasted about it.

A contest like Virtual Thirst is only as significant as the quality and quantity of submissions. We don't know much about the quality of entries because Coke hasn't made them public. We don't know how many people entered. Therefore, we have no way of judging for ourselves the worthiness of the winning entry. Did the winner beat 300 quality entries, or was it simply the best of 3?

If the number of entrants was as bad as appears to be the case, it suggests some or all of the following are true:
1. Coke came to Second Life and nobody cared.
2. Coke overestimated the level of participation the contest would inspire.
3. The contest itself was poorly designed. We already know it was poorly executed.

This Virtual Thirst campaign isn't about giving something to Second Life residents, it's about latching on to the New Hotness and milking as much buzz as possible, as evidenced by the stats Coke cited.

If Coke's main interest was releasing the winner's design into SL, it would not only have already done so, but made as much of a big deal about it as the contest's launch. As it stands, the winner was quietly announced... but not even on the official contest site.

What I want to know is why everyone is making excuses for the biggest brand in the real (not virtual) world.
Comment posted by Reuben Steiger
August 29, 2007 @ 5:43 pm
Hey Tony:

Millions of Us is Crayon's partner on the Coke project so I thought I'd weigh in with our perspective. I completely understand and respect where you're coming from and I'd probably feel the same way given the same facts to look at.

I was actually one of the judges for the contest and was pretty impressed at the # and quality of the over 100 entries. That said, the composition of the entries was interesting. Some were extremely extensive (think 6 written pages of a design brief with professionally executed schematic drawings), while others were only a couple of sentences. In some ways, this was completely what we expected because of the broad variety of channels through which people could submit entries.

The idea that Coke did this to "milk as much buzz as possible" is just not true. Had that been the case, we'd have done things rather differently. Instead, the goal was to enlist as many entries as possible to design something really cool. We're currently working on translating the winning vision into a product for release, and as a whole, I think the project's been a very cool one.

The only data I have to judge our success in enlisting ideas comes from my days at Linden Lab where I ran the annual Game Developer competition. Back then, we had the advantage of being able to directly message all the SL residents, though of course it was a much smaller population. That said, we'd typically get 40 - 60 entries from which we'd choose 8 teams to participate.

At the end of the day, I think Coke's done a really great job and should be commended for taking risks and executing a project that deviates radically from typical brand marketing. BTW, next time we hang out, the Coke's are on me.

Comment posted by Tony Walsh
August 29, 2007 @ 6:35 pm
Reuben, thanks very much for the inside information. I actually think 100 entries is respectable (although compared to the number of SL Game Developer entries, it's not so hot), it's really a shame we on the outside didn't get a chance to see the entries as they came in.

Definitely yay for Coke taking risks, but boo for how it handled the contest and surrounding PR.

I'll take you up on that glass of Coke, provided it has rum in it :)
Comment posted by Doubledown
August 29, 2007 @ 9:11 pm
If Coke ever partnered up with Captain Morgans, that be a 1000x better campaign than anything any company could ever do in secondlife
Comment posted by Urizenus
August 29, 2007 @ 9:39 pm
Tony, I'm mostly going to repeat what Reuben said, but maybe that in itself says something. I was a judge too, and from the perspective of having to evaluate the entries 100 looks like a lot (although I didn't see all of them). I'll also say that most of the entries I saw (and all of the entries that made it into the second round) showed a lot of thought and effort. So these aren't exactly entries written on napkins for the most part.

I also think that Doubledown makes a good point here. One key point of the contest was to generate some form of (viral) marketing for Coke inside of SL. So one measure of success would be what kind of campaign they get on the back end of this. Whatever they get, one supposes it will be better than a vacant island.

Finally, if I were Coke (and Crayon) I guess I would be most interested in what I had learned by this experiment. There will be other virtual worlds, and some may actually stick around, so Coke probably doesn't care if they fail in SL if they get experience in marketing in virtual worlds.

All that having been said, yeah, those numbers they are tossing around are meaningless more or less.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
August 30, 2007 @ 11:11 am
Thanks for the supplementary comments, Uri. Sounds like you were impressed with the contest results, and I can see why Coke says it was satisfied.

However, for a campaign involving various popular social media sites (SL, Flickr, MySpace, YouTube), it was rather closed, opaque, and unsociable. Again, it's a real shame things weren't opened up for discussion and review, I think the contestants and those merely standing on the sidelines could have benefited greatly. This might have been a success for Coke, but I think it could have given tons more back to the participants.

I will post a follow-up to this story ASAP, but I'm moving house this weekend and start teaching classes next week, so it might not be for several days.
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