Coca-Cola sent a team to the food fair held in Cologne a few years ago. We were there to listen for new trends that might influence the world of carbonated soft drinks.
The fair itself was interesting. There were acres of innovations. Wine in a box, cheese on a stick, that kind of thing. But the best part of the trip was what happened over drinks back at the hotel.
Nick Hahn and Charlotte Oades were presiding and the conversation turned to Sophie, a creature invented for marketing purposes, and as a far as I know an unprecedented in this endlessly inventive field.
Sophie was designed for one audience: pre-teen and early teen girls. Our assumption was that there is no group of consumers in the world more curious, more inventive or more participatory than this group.
Sophie was designed to exist two places. The first was on-line. Sophie would have an apartment on-line. Anyone could visit. Sophie would never be home, but the apartment would be filled with cues. The visitor could look at look in Sophie’s cupboards, listen to her answer machine, look at the notes and postcards on her fridge. The visitor could examine her wardrobe, bathroom and bedroom. The visitor can start up Sophie’s computer, examine her desktop, read her email, examine other files. The visitor could stand by an open window and hear fragments of conversation coming up from the street.
Nothing escapes a twelve year old girl. That picture on the fridge: Sophie’s brother or boyfriend? Those voices coming up from the street: is that Spanish or Italian? And what about the "note to self" on the fridge, the one that reads "sboats bhd schd!"
But Sophie would also manifest herself in the real world. The strategy here was to stage events in the world. I think our unofficial motto here was that 90s bumber sticker that read "practice senseless acts of kindness and random acts of beauty." Corny, to be sure, but useful as pungent little phrases can be when you are in the thick of ideation.
We imagined a series of "acts." One was to light up a fountain in the middle of Mexico City, say, the Diana fountain there. Another was to moor sailboats in Sydney harbor so that they formed in a circle. A third was to return stolen art to the Hermitage. Always the press would be notified that something was going to happen, and always when something did happen, foodbanks and city services would fill to overflowing.
Our hope was that the press would begin to report these stories and that teen readers would begin to make connections. Our principle was always less is more. We wanted to give the press only as much as they needed to file a story and not a jot more. We knew that key word searches would allow the teen girls to find Sophie wherever she was manifesting herself. We guessed that they see patterns that the press would not.
Sophie had a calculated duality. Everytime you thought she was an ordinary girl living in her first apartment (Rome? Madrid?), you were lead to suspect she might in fact be a goddess. And just as you were beginning to suspect she was a indeed a creature of myth and fable, you would begin to see her as a girl again.
But most of all Sophie was a marketing creation. She would be funded by TCCC (the Coca-Cola Company) but she would have to be leveraged in the most delicate way possible. The moment that TCCC claimed her, she was over. The moment TCCC so much as labelled her, she was over. The best TCCC could hope for is to have Sophie sometimes smile in their direction. This meant, amongst other things, merely more Cokes in Sophie’s fridge than Pepsis. Not no Pepsi’s!
In effect, TCCC would have to treat Sophie with the same exquisite care and solicitude with which it now treats Santa Claus, another of its marketing creations. Marketing instruments and vehicles must grow more interesting and sophisticated. Pirates, jolly green giants, dough boys, these are no longer enough. What we want now are more fully realized creatures that invite the consumer to enter into acts of co-creation and self completion.
The funny thing is that if we do our jobs, the creature leaves the brand and enters the culture. Now marketers are like any other culture creators, except that, unlike the creators of the Simpsons, say, they seize the marketing opportunity at the beginning instead of the end of the creature’s life cycle.
The photo above, sorry about the quality, shows the Diana Fountain of Mexico City.
“The funny thing is that if we do our jobs, the creature leaves the brand and enters the culture.”
Would not Osama bin Laden say the same of his work? (No offence intended, Grant.)