5 missteps in Coca-Cola’s much acclaimed ‘2020’ video

The author takes issue with the choice of narrator, use of mixed metaphors and more in his critique.


This article first appeared on McMurry.com. We reprint it with its permission. -ed.

Coke’s Content 2020 video: If you haven’t seen it—what’s the matter with you?

More than 100,000 people have watched this elaborate video articulation of Coke’s content marketing vision, and just about every one of those people has written a blog item praising it as the definitive content marketing manifesto for our time and all time.

And what’s not to like? Here’s one of the world’s great brands explaining to everybody that content marketing is the way, the truth and the light—and doing so in a bold and elaborate video that we can show to all our clients with a one-word cover note: See?

But we must remember that not everyone is as invested in content marketing as we are. For instance, I emailed the video to my curmudgeonly friend Bill Sweetland, a longtime writer at Ragan Communications.

“Some ‘hyper-creative’ type on Coke’s Social Media Strategy Team thought of the phrase ‘linked liquid content’ and then promptly lost his mind,” he replied. “There are no concrete examples of the rarefied flummery in this spiel, and there never will be. You and I should write a YouTube parody of this, in which we spill phrases and words recklessly everywhere and set a young child to ‘illustrating’ the whole mess with ‘creative’ child art while our mouths run amok with glib, toney, senseless jibber-jabber. Now that would be fun.”

Sweetland’s view on Content 2020 made me giggle. And I must say, though I appreciated Coke’s effort to describe content marketing it in all of its potential glory, I was actually troubled by some aspects of the video, and I think you should be, too.

1. If one’s company is based in Atlanta, one oughtn’t use a British narrator to describe one’s communication philosophy. One should also be suspicious of a mixed metaphor, the first of which we get in “Chapter 1: How does content excellence approach ‘liquid and linked content development.'” Is it liquid, or is it linked? Liquid can’t be linked, and the only way to liquidate links is to hold a torch on them.

There are also some insane sentences in here. “Consumers can turn their demands on 24 hours a day.” As a consumer, when did last turn your demands on? “Data whisperers?” Marketer, please.

Then later in the video, the big-brained Brit says, “We need to ensure clarity in our thinking.” Yes, you do.

2. One should listen to what one says and make sure one is not creating a self-parody. “In a liquid world, we need multiple content,” says the narrator, “so we need a lot more stuff—without a lot more dollars. We need to plan for this in the outset. And we’ve developed a principle called ‘the dollar multiplier.'” This “dollar multiplier,” he doesn’t explain; but we imagine it looks something like a tree, with money growing on it.

3. One should not bury one’s lead. Well into the second half of the Coke video, we learn: “World class creative ideas need tension in order to make them thrive. So we need to all learn how to use conflict constructively, as conflict can truly be an enabler of outstanding creative thinking.”

Um: The Corporation’s aversion to conflict has always been, is now and always will be the great obstacle to compelling corporate communication. To blithely call for corporate marketers to learn how to embrace conflict is to invite suspicion that you are not quite serious about what you’re saying.

4. Sometimes one gets into the weeds in order to hide one’s garbage. After effortlessly dispatching impossible concepts like constructive conflict and “the dollar multiplier,” our content marketing chronicler then goes into excruciating detail in describing the various percentages and types of content and research.

In no marketing manifesto should the following sentence appear: “And finally, we spend about 20 percent of our budget on static, in-market testing, through the b-cubed and adtrack tools.”

5. One should not confuse one’s private plans with one’s public philosophy. Coke claims it will use content marketing to “earn a disproportionate share of popular culture.” Well, I guess that’s a good game plan for Coke to have. But what happens if all corporations—and nonprofits and government organizations and lobbying groups—see this video (as they’re well on their way to doing)? Can everyone earn a disproportionate share of popular culture, and can popular culture withstand the flood of all this liquid linked content?

If you’re gonna have a marketing strategy, have a strategy. If you’re gonna evangelize it as the one true marketing philosophy, you’d better make it universally applicable, and socially sustainable.

Look, people: Content marketing is a good idea. And no one has articulated that idea as clearly and succinctly and thoroughly as Coke has, in this video. We should be grateful for that.

But this statement could be much more clear in some areas, succinct in others and thorough in a few—and it’s up to us to hone this message, so our clients don’t nitpick our presentations, too.

David Murray is a longtime commentator on communication. The editor of Vital Speeches of the Day, he also writes for magazines and newspapers. And he blogs about his work and his life at Writing Boots.

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