Virtual Coke; Real Ideas; Virtual Reward {*Update*}


Okay, so I read yesterday about the competition to design Coca-Cola’s virtual dispensing machine over on Mashable (Link). Initially it sounded like something in which I’d participate, especially since I have what I think is a pretty good concept. Unfortunately, having just surfed through the competition site and read over the details, I’ve decided to keep my ideas to myself instead of volunteering them to a mega-corporation in exchange for … hold onto your drinks … a possible plane ride to someone’s office.

Read this and explain to me why I should reconsider:

By participating in this Contest each person making a submission irrevocably and in perpetuity assigns to Coca-Cola all worldwide right, title and interest in and to the submission and to all intellectual property created thereby and arising out of the submission, including without limitation the object created for Second Life from the winning entry. Ownership of the submission and that intellectual property vests totally in Coca-Cola. In respect of copyrights, the assignment shall be effective for the entire duration of the copyrights and shall include, but not be limited to, all rights to derivative works, digital and material. Each person making a submission waives, to the maximum extent permitted by applicable law, all rights of attribution and integrity for specific works created in respect of all marketing, advertising and commercial uses thereof.

From where I sit, that bit adds a whole new level to being “pwn’d” and reminds me of other competitions (recall my thoughts about those – reLink).

And this next part certainly sounds… well… like old school business as usual:

Prizes will not be redeemed in cash; no recourse to the law is permitted. The winner is responsible for all taxes, charges and levies that may be due on the prize.

Gee. You’d think Coca-Cola could afford to cover the whole ball of wax, wouldn’t you? It’s not like a plane ticket is too much to pay for a good idea, is it?

And btw, are Crayon, A Simple Theory (whoever that is), and Millions of Us… and their respective agencies… being paid for their services with a couple of airline tickets? Are Coca-Cola employees working for cab rides? If so, I guess times must be tough in the sugar-water industry. If not, then why does it seem to me that they’re sticking it to the people whose ideas they want to appropriate through this competition? Has nobody at these agencies grokked what’s going on? Or is this Big Corp’s idea of how to engage consumers in meaningful Web 2.0 fashion? I certainly hope not.

Considering I’m currently getting paid decent money to generate designs and CAD for some comparatively boring, real-world constrained point-of-purchase units, the lack of a compelling prize (no offense to whoever cleans the MOU offices) means I’ll be passing this… opportunity… by. After all, I still have to eat and I’m no fan of airline food.

Actually, that’s not true. Even if I weren’t being paid to design real kiosks, I’d still not volunteer my ideas in exchange for what they’re offering.

That said, don’t let my position on this stop you. If you think Coca-Cola desperately needs and deserves both your time and your ideas in exchange for maybe winning a trip to San Francisco (and a tax bill), knock yourself out. I mean, they only have a market cap of $10,210,000,000.00. I guess they need some charity.

(P.S. Let’s see if my trackbacks get censored:

MOU blog entry {Edit: 25 April – MOU added trackback. Good for them.}

Greg Verdino’s back scratch entry

– more?)

{Update: The marketing world is apparently all impressed with this effort (e.g. read Greg Verdino’s blog gush – Link). Others with perhaps a more objective perspective are as unimpressed as I am (e.g. read Stefan Kolle’s post on the Business and Games blog – Link).

Verdino said it: they’re *leveraging* the community. What a terrible word when used in this way.

In my opinion it’s not just enough to be cross-platform, viral, and all those other relatively easy things. They also have to be above reproach and fair in their dealings with the people whose creations they intend to use for their own profitable purposes. I don’t believe they’re doing that.

I’d suggest the general marketing community take off their “How to make money using a community of uncompensated people to leverage their brands” hats. It’s self-serving and hardly what Web 2.0 business is about, imo. And I suspect it will, at some point, backfire.}

12 thoughts on “Virtual Coke; Real Ideas; Virtual Reward {*Update*}

  1. I am always sceptical of this sort of thing, in whichever world – it always seems to be an opportunity for someone to get an awful lot of ideas, as well as publicity, for not much money.

    While I imagine that when people do this in RL they end up with enormous amounts of rubbish to sift through, in SL I suspect that the average quality of submissions will be higher, as well, it being a place which attracts creative types.

    Of course it would be good publicity for the person winning, which is valuable for them if they have any business ambitions in the field, but it does feel cheeky when they’d be paying a “proper” creative far more for the same idea – and note that good ideas which don’t win may still be used without any credit or attribution or aeroplane rides, I’ve seen that happen in other contexts.

  2. What if we held our own competition? I can imagine a way to do something that would make this thing look as self-serving as I believe it to be. Interested?

  3. Hello, Steve Coulson from crayon, the company working with Coca-Cola on this project.

    I just left a longer response on your next article (“Virtual Architecture; Real Prize Money”) about some of the great points you raise, and Coca-Cola themselves will be answering some of these next week, to talk about why some of the decisions we made were made that way.

    Coca-Cola is seeing this very much as an experiment into working with residents of virtual communities, so feedback like yours is critical to help them “grokk what’s going on” as you say, and improve future ideas.

    I’d love to chat to you more about your suggestions on how this could have been improved, either here on your blog, via email, or inworld (And the same offer is extended to all residents – Ordinal, I even think I’m on your Twitter feed – look for me in world as Gideon Television).


  4. Feel free to continue the conversation here, Steve.

    I, for one, would be interested in hearing what options were considered by, and what constraints prevented, Coca-Cola from doing little more than cutting and pasting what I consider to be rules dating from the mid-20th century.

    I’m not entirely ignorant of the complexities, but I’m also not blind to the possibilities.

    Explain away.

  5. Hey csven

    I am going to ask Coca-cola to respond directly on the rules, but for now, my own personal perspective…

    One of the things we found challenging was to design a competition that was global. Every country seems to have a different set of rules and regulations, and is possibly why you often see the “Open to US resdients only” on so many of them. By the time you factor all those in, you get a lengthy set of conditions, but we felt it was important to try to make it as global as possible.

    Another aim was to create a competition where all you needed was an idea, and it was easy to submit your idea – just an email, or a notecard, or a link. There’s the old story about movie companies not even reading unsolicited scripts in case somewhere down the line they produce something similar, inadvertantly, and get sued. Large companies (such as Coca-cola, I expect) are often the target of exactly this kind of lawsuit. It becomes especially difficult due to the nature of regional marketing initiatives. A marketing team in Brazil may put out a viral video that includes a plot idea that was submitted to an Australian competition 2 years prior – it’s the kind of thing that gives marketing departments nightmares. So the result is some kind of release, some assignation of rights as a condition of entry.

    It’s not a perfect solution, and if you have worked with large corporations before you’ll find that interactive and new media specialists who are driving initiatives can be more progressive than the legal teams, and so compromises are reached.

    I’m not sure if we could have done this by using a Creative Commons license, where the submitters would grant some kind of usage. But it would probably still have come down to the same thing – if you want your idea to be considered, you have to somehow indemnify us against inadvertantly coming up with something similar in the future.

    It’s easy to look at large corporations and see ulterior motives, but in the case I can tell you Coca-cola really want to empower people to be creative and celebrate that creativity.

    let’s keep the conversation going. This is an experiment for us all, and we’re listening to reaction so that we can learn and improve our efforts in the future, as well as tweaking this competition along the way wherever we can.

  6. I’m familiar with some of the issues regarding the restriction of competitions to certain nationalities. I’ve been told and have read a number of different reasons for them; some due to the varying legal issues to which you seem to refer, and some due mostly to the protective interests of the company involved. I’d certainly be interested in hearing Coca-Cola’s official reasoning since it would give me an opportunity to further investigate the veracity of not only their claims, but of the others. Now’s as good a time as any, so I look forward to hearing those reasons.

    As for your film script example, I’ve worked in corporate R&D departments and so I am all too familiar with the reasoning. However, Coca-Cola *is* soliciting ideas for their own potential benefit. And this *isn’t* the first time a corporation has done so.

    The problem that I see is that corporations are usually more concerned with protecting themselves via blanket ownership than with playing fair. You said it:

    …if you want your idea to be considered, you have to somehow indemnify us against inadvertantly coming up with something similar in the future.


    C’mon. What are the real chances of some kid in Africa (or anyone, for that matter) successfully suing a huge multi-national for damages that amount to more than one senior executive’s membership in an exclusive country club? Not much, I’d venture. Companies take bigger risks in the stock market. They can’t take a risk here?

    Yes, there are people out there who will cry “They stole my idea”, even though Coca-Cola will have documents to prove they’d been considering it for a decade before that person was even born. Yes, those losers will try to sue even if they know their idea isn’t worth a damn. It happens.

    However, that doesn’t, in my opinion, give a company the ethical high ground allowing them to simply appropriate every idea that comes their way. That way of thinking is a vestige of a time when consumers had little or no voice. That’s changed.

    Staples didn’t do it. They offered an excellent cash prize, a well thought-out royalty package should they wish to produce and sell a submitted idea, and… and… returned the rights to those ideas that didn’t win a prize or pique their interest for future development. Is Coca-Cola incapable of coming up with a system that is equally fair?

    If Coca-Cola – with all its money and consultants and lawyers – can’t come up with something better than what I read in that Rules and Guidelines mess, then they desperately need ideas.

    Pre-emptive attack strategies haven’t worked out very well lately. I’d suggest Coca-Cola lose the Big Stick stance and try something radical: give consumers and participants the benefit of their legitimate doubt.

    In other words: suck it up and take a chance. They can afford it. And they just might be surprised.

  7. See, the problem with the theory of future lawsuits against Coca Cola is this: if they take an idea out of this competition (a horde of them, looks like), with all rights in perpetuity, then use it down the line, *there should be a clause that guarantees the originator of that idea a payment of some kind.* Just like a film studio would do. It’s called an “option”, and it happens all the time without lots of hassle. I buy your idea to try and produce it, say, for a year, and if I can’t do that I *give the idea back*.
    The real question is “why didn’t Coca Cola come up with something other than a scorched-earth tactic? Was there no sort of middle ‘if we use this later, then we will pay you’ ground” Even film studios have a legit process to submit ideas. Sure it’s hairy, but boy I would choose them any day over two ad firms and Coke taking away my ideas and paying me nothing in either case (I mean a plane ride to see people who should be paying me in the first place? Come on now.)
    PS I would *love* to see what you do in response to this campaign.

  8. “I give the idea back” means, in the case of films, “I give the script back for option to another studio or producer”

  9. And don’t you think a corporation that can find chains of distribution into, say, th heart of Afghanistan can figure out a pesky problem like paying people for ideas?

  10. Agree. Staples seemed to find a way to work out the intellectual property issue, so why can’t Coca-Cola? And personally, I still think open source options are worth pursuing if the intent is to connect on a “Web 2.0” level.

    But hey, it’s Coca-Cola. Does anyone really expect them to change their SOP?

    As for my own plans, I’ve traded emails with a few people and none of us really have the time for this; not in order to beat a 25 May deadline which is what I’d chase. We’ll see. Maybe someone will drop me a line and something will materialize… uh… rez.

  11. Hi Csven

    I’m letting you know that Coca-cola have tried to address some of the comments that you and others have brought up in the last week.

    I realize it may fall short of all the changes you wanted to see, but I wanted you to know we listened to what you and others had to say, and it’s provided some great learnings for the future.

    Happy to talk to you more inworld about it – IM me @ Gideon Television


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