Coca-Cola Provides Virtual Response

Remember my previous post (reLink) on the topic of Coca-Cola’s “VirtualThirst” competition? Steve Coulson from event organizer and marketing consultant group Crayon commented today with a link to Coca-Cola representative Michael Donnelly’s response to the concerns of critics like me.

You can read Steve’s comment here – reLink.

You can watch the YouTube vid here – Link.

And here’s my response:

Well… that was terrible. If I were Coca-Cola, I’d yank it off YouTube before someone remixes that thing in the worst kind of way.

a) First off, in my opinion this video comment comes off as heavily scripted. It seems he’s reading from cue cards – probably placed around the camera based on some of his eye movements – and has been practicing. Not good. It comes off as being insincere. And there are better ways to do this in general. For starters, he should get out of that office. The dry erase board (among other things) is deadly. He’d be better off speaking as an avatar afaic.

b) His arguably flippant comment on the tax issue seems to assume all entrants are coming from within the IRS’s jurisdiction. I don’t recall the competition being limited to U.S. residents. Is it?

c) Furthermore, is Coca-Cola saying they’re unaware of any way to cover one person’s tax liability? I can think of a possible way (two, actually, but the second is a stretch): If the winner is treated as a consultant and travel is included under Coca-Cola’s accountable plan, then their expenses would be reimbursed by Coca-Cola who would then claim the expenses as part of doing business. The “consultant” wouldn’t have to claim anything (according to the IRS agent with whom I just spoke). Is there a legal reason this can’t be done?

FWIW, I’ve done this myself in previous years; my corporate client bought the plane tickets and paid the bills; I submitted receipts and an expense report to them, I was reimbursed and they claimed everything. I’d like to hear why this can’t be done for those entrants who are subject to IRS rules and regulations. And if this isn’t legal, then someone needs to inform both the IRS and the corporate accountants who instructed me.

d) The “submit via blog” comment doesn’t fly with me. “We thought long and hard about it…” – give me a break. As far as I’m concerned, this isn’t about protecting contestant rights. I’d submit this is most likely about ensuring that the idea isn’t published, because that probably has legal ramifications detrimental to Coca-Cola’s interests.

Just because someone submits an idea through one of the *approved* methods doesn’t certify that it wasn’t lifted from someone else. That’s just common sense. In fact, I can point to some online design discussions regarding future vending machines that are already out there and which might be used in someone’s submission. And I suspect Coca-Cola considered such a possibility. But they don’t necessarily know about those so they’re safe, in the legal sense. If someone rips off an idea, submits it, and it turns out to have been in the public domain because it was published on a blog or a design forum, at least the issue falls back on the person submitting the idea and not on Coca-Cola. Right?

e) Ideas for the year 3000? Please. This isn’t about 3000, or 2300 or even 2030, because that window is outside most everyone’s concern. I don’t believe Coca-Cola – like quite a lot of others – cares about anything outside of 3-5 years; 7 tops. This is, in my opinion, about owning the idea. Not the one’s for the year 3000, but the one’s they *might* be able to use now. Long shot? Sure. But it’s also easier to own everything and put all the risk on someone else than deal with all those legalities.

Sorry, Coke. You still don’t get it. But then after visiting the new Nissan effort in Second Life and reading all that pseudo-sales verbage (and yes, I’m making a distinction between that word and “verbiage”) stuck all over the place, you’re not alone.

5 thoughts on “Coca-Cola Provides Virtual Response

  1. Yes, that response to IP concerns was pretty bad to be honest – it just dismissed the whole issue as a joke, ha ha the year 3000, as well as using the “oh well we talked to our lawyers and we can’t do anything for unspecified reasons” line.

  2. Thanks for checking out the vlog response regarding the things we’re changing about Virtual Thirst and the things that we can’t change. A couple of quick replies to some of your points:

    – re: Submitting via blog … you’re correct that we didn’t go into a lot of depth on this in the video. For us, a key component of the submission process is being able to validate exactly when an entry was submitted. In the case of submissions attached to e-mails to us, YouTube’s internal messaging, MySpace’s internal messaging, and Second Life drop-boxes, we are able to associate a submission’s content with an exact day and time that they were submitted, applied by those systems. This is important if you and I happen (or “happen,”) to submit the same idea as each other. On the other hand, if someone sends us a link to a blog post today, I can’t validate in all cases that the date on the post they point us to is accurate. May seem like a small thing until two contestants dispute idea ownership, and then we have a problem because of how we structured our contest.

    – re: tax liability – we’ve been running international contests for a long time here at Coke – I myself have been a part of them for the last year, and for the 27 countries able to participate in this one, we are constrained in various cases by law, permit, and/or policy of government agencies in our ability to relieve the winner of the tax burden related to winning a prize. We can’t relieve it for some countries and not for others, or we’ve offered different prizes to different places … trouble re: fairness. Your proposed workaround of “consultant job as prize” is interesting, but opens up new questions of liability and worker relationship – again under the laws any/all of 27 different countries – which we are not likely to be able to solve consistently or explain concisely in our contest description.

    “Sorry, Coke. You still don’t get it.”
    We appreciate this conversation with you around our entry into Second Life. To reiterate the larger point of the video, the big idea here is for Coca-Cola to listen and learn from exactly this kind of dialog. We’ve seen a lot of brands show up in world, assert that they do “get it,” and flame out because they didn’t. One thing we do “get” is that that’s the wrong approach – so we’re doing this. For us, success in this new territory looks like, “Congratulations, Coke. You’re getting it.” Conversations with folks like yourself are helping us with that – thanks.

  3. Thanks for the comment.

    With regards to using blog posts as submissions, that makes *much* more sense to me than what’s offered as an explanation in the video. It still doesn’t address the issue I raised previously regarding placing all the IP risk on entrants, but at least it doesn’t come off as sounding like a poor excuse (which is what the video comment sounds like to me). And if Coca-Cola is cool with saying openly: “The risk is on you and that’s how it is“, then so be it. Just don’t shy away from that {and offer people lame reasons for the policy}. People who enter have to take some responsibility. Let them, but be open about {how much they’re getting}.

    Hopefully in the future Coca-Cola will move toward other options for dealing with entries; perhaps similar to how Staples handled their recent competition. Most people don’t expect corporations to change overnight.

    With regard to the tax liability issue, again, the video response wasn’t nearly as good as what you provide here. Why your explanation didn’t make it into that public response is something I find odd (and which seems to contradict the suggested level of thought that went into addressing these matters on video).

    While writing my post it was obvious to me that offering an IRS-specific excuse was glaringly insufficient. It also occurred to me that tax issues and liability could be amazingly complex when viewed globally. Now if someone on the outside – as I am – can figure that out (and it certainly wasn’t hard), it begs the question as to how that video response was considered appropriate.

    That initial response, in a nutshell, is why Coca-Cola doesn’t get it. Yet.

    The company shouldn’t try to talk around an issue; offering poor explanations as responses. That’s an insult to all of us, and an insinuation that the broader community isn’t sufficiently intelligent to see past the smokescreen. Such an assumption would be a mistake.

  4. By the way, the second solution… corporate jet. You want to get some amazing PR? That’d do it.

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