How Big Brands Use Social Media to Reach Millennials

Coca-Cola is sending 3 ambassadors to 206 countries in search of happiness stories.

Coca-Cola is sending 3 ambassadors to 206 countries in search of happiness stories.

Ford’s social media success with its Ford Fiesta launch was bound to inspire other big brands. 

I first blogged about the Fiesta effort last February. One hundred agents (hand selected from 4000 applicants) performed monthly ‘missions’ and reported on them to their friends and to Ford for six months via social media. (See Ford Fiesta Movement site for more info on the program.)  The missions involved interesting combinations of adventure, technology and at the time, I didn’t know if it would work, but admired the strategy and felt the investment was worth the risk at just $10,000 a car. The program was wildly successful and made Scott Monty an SM hero.  No Ford is planning a similar effort for the Fusion, ‘with eight teams of people competing in a sort of relay race’. 

This week, Coca-Cola, often noted as the world’s most valuable brand, is announcing a year long effort involving a team of three young adults traveling to over 206 countries on a ‘happiness mission’ called ‘Expedition 206’. I was contacted yesterday by the PR firm handling the event in the hope that I would tell their story, so I have some knowledge of what they are planning. Here is what I know:

Auditions resulted in 9 candidates grouped into three teams. The final team will be selected by online vote at

The team will travel more than 150,000 miles (6 times the globe’s circumference).  As they visit each destination, the team members are ‘charged with finding happy young people and sharing their stories with the rest of the world.’

 My impression of the effort based on the web site and press materials is that it is very BIG. It feels like a ‘campaign’ that has been very carefully crafted to appeal to a Millennial target.  The team videos feel like they were written by a PR firm rather than the candidates themselves. The intro video feels more like an ad than a viral communication.

More fundamentally, the task of finding ‘happiness’ feels contrived. Are stories of happiness something you find? You can find stories of humanity, of adventure, of optimism, of social action, of making a difference, of family, of heartwarming gestures of humanity. But happiness?  (It reminds of a line in the play I saw last night, A Funny thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’:  Hero: For us there will never be happiness. Philia: We must learn to be happy without it.)

Most important, I am not sure why I am supposed to care about these three teams. It’s not clear who they are, where they came from, or how were they selected. I couldn’t decide which one I liked most, or even if I liked any of them enough to vote for one.  Why would I want to follow them around the world for a whole year? In the Fiesta campaign, I wanted to know about the car, would they like it? Ford was taking a risk, that made it inherently interesting. This campaign seems to be missing something essential in the way of dramatic tension or storyline. What is ‘at stake’ here other than three people on a cool adventure? What is their motitivation and most important, what is my motivation fo following them? 

In contrast, the new Ford Fusion effort has created  multiple reasons for me to care.  The team leaders, all owners of the 2010 Fusion,  will win gas for a year. They are selected based on their fit with the the Fusion mindset. Fans can direct their activities. Here is what Marketing Daily says about it:

“It’s not so much a demographic as a mindset,” he says. “What we are really looking for — particularly from the captain — is a person who fits the Fusion target mindset: ready for anything, loves a challenge, doesn’t just have their own beliefs but wants to prove to others that their beliefs are right.” Each of the eight Fusion owners will choose four people to join their team and each team will be given a 2010 Ford Fusion or Fusion Hybrid to drive in the relay, wherein each team member must do an assigned task within 41 hours while logging miles driven, stops made or the number of passengers picked up before handing the car to the next team member. The winning team will be chosen based on its ability to complete the activities and provide proof by uploading photos and videos to various social media sites, including Facebook. The Fusion owner of the winning team will be given the vehicle, and team members will get free gas for one year. He says that Ford will ask people following the teams on Facebook, etc. to submit ideas on which activities it should layer on top of all the others the teams are doing.

 I hope I am wrong about Expedition 206. I’d like to see Coke and other big brands get involved more deeply in social media. Coke is billing this effort as ‘ an unprecedented global expedition’ and ‘one of the world’s biggest social media experiments’. I fear that in their desire to create something ‘big’, they may have missed the point of social media, which is to be personal. Creating ‘fans’ requires facilitating a relationship, a lesson I expect Coca-Cola to have mastered.