When Immersive Marketing Goes Too Far: I Was Almost Brainwashed by Coca-Cola
Atlanta’s World of Coca-Cola is an immersive attraction of all things soda with a solid 4.4-star rating and over 14,000 reviews on its Google My Business listing alone. While thousands have found the sticky soda covered floors and creepy blinking polar bear endearing, I found the World of Coca-Cola to be a frightening landscape of overbranding and forced consumer loyalty.
I left the World of Coca-Cola with my mind whirring about all the creepy marketing techniques the immersive marketing/brainwashing experience that is Atlanta’s World of Coca-Cola. While we’ve previously discussed the good marketing strategies America’s beloved soda behemoth has pulled off, such as Coca-Cola’s NeuroMarketing Strategy, or the return of Old New Coke with Stranger Things, The World of Coca-Cola is proof that even this long-standing brand can go completely off the rails in a dystopian novel kind of way. And I’m scared.
Marketing Gone Wrong – Overabundance of Branding
Ok, so I get it. If I’m visiting the World of Coca-Cola, I should expect to be greeted by red and white cursive branding everywhere. But seriously, nowhere was safe from the soda giant’s prying branding.
After getting your “free” soda, you’re ushered into a room that’s decorated by someone who obviously loves Americana bric-a-brac more than TGI Fridays, Applebee’s, and Cracker Barrel combined. The walls are covered in countless pieces of Coca-Cola memorabilia from all around the world.
From a marketing perspective, this is a great illustration of how the soda has spread to the entire world. There are signs in different languages and marketing items that span generations. Soon, a totally enthusiastic and caffeinated “guide” starts speaking the Gospel of Coca-Cola, even making everyone in the room do chants about the drink with her. No, I’m not kidding. This type of forced excitement for a brand is only the start of what made the World of Coca-Cola so damn creepy.
“I don’t really know how to explain this place, but I felt like I was being brainwashed, especially when the guides would get us to repeat chants to do with the Coca Cola product. Learnt absolutely nothing about the product, and more just a whole bunch of random stuff about the organization. I wouldn’t even really recommend this for young children.” – Jaslyn A, Tripadvisor Review
When Marketing Becomes Propaganda – Share a Coke!
After our forced chanting, we were huddled into a theater where we watched a movie about Coca-Cola’s involvement in any happy event that ever happened or will ever happen again. Or at least, that was the message I got.
Coca-Cola had put together a few different vignettes of life around the world for the movie we watched: a group of friends going on a hike, a married couple revealing their pregnancy to family, a granddaughter throwing her grandmother a surprise birthday party. At the end of every story, there was one thing hiding on the table, in the hands of the hikers, and in the background – a shiny glass bottle of Coke.
So, as a marketer, this was strange to me. While I think it’s a good approach Coke is taking, associating itself with the good times and becoming more of an experience than just a beverage, this was creepy given the context – we had to watch this movie before we could proceed, making the whole thing feel a little like propaganda brainwashing. I’m serious, the screen lowered over the exit to the theater. We could not move forward until the movie was done.
Visitors to The World of Coca-Cola likely aren’t disciples of the One True Soda that is Coke (I’m not brainwashed I swear), they’re just looking to learn about this product everyone recognizes. But the head honchos seemed to believe that instead of giving visitors some knowledge about the product, they’d give everyone a healthy dose of soda-centric propaganda.
When Branding Becomes Creepy – Coca-Cola is YOU
So, another movie in the attraction was one where two actors did their absolute best to pretend to be a knockoff Sherlock Holmes and Watson, hot on the trail of discovering the secret ingredient of Coca-Cola. Spoiler alert, the secret ingredient of coke is YOU. Yes, YOU. Start running, because Coca-Cola is looking for you.
Yeah, so that’s why this is so creepy. I see how they’re trying to play into their other propaganda film, saying how their soda is about the experiences you have when you’re drinking a Coke, it’s about the people who use the product, not the product itself.
Maybe I’d be more receptive to these marketing techniques if I hadn’t paid $17 plus tax to be sold the message that COCA-COLA IS AT THE FIBER OF HAPPINESS BUY COKE YOU LOVE COCA-COLA for 2ish hours.
“If you like paying money to wait in line to be stuck in a 2 hour Coca-Cola commercial, this is the place for you.” – Paul M., Google My Business Review
Coca-Cola Marketing Strategy Gone Wrong
So while Coke’s other marketing strategies may have been more successful, the World of Coca-Cola is a creepy exhibit of what happens if a brand is given free rein to create the perfect propaganda world all about overexertion of brand marketing. The customers come to the door, they choose to engage, and they are forced through a creepy maze of branded everything and forced experiences that verge on creepy due to the complete disconnect from the customer. The entire experience felt like Coca-Cola was shouting at me about how much I love their product (I don’t hate Coca-Cola, but I don’t love it either) without trying to make any form of a connection.
On a World of Coca-Cola review perspective, the experience did not deliver. I learned nothing about how the product is made (though there’s a fake ‘factory’ you can walk through with old bottles and a lonely robot named Fizzy Bot), the history of the soda (besides how I need to beware of False Idols who try to make Coke knock-offs), or anything about their marketing. Instead, I was fed ad after ad and pseudo experience after the next, all with the creepy Coca-Cola Polar Bear and the vintage Coke Sprite Boy staring at me with their lifeless all-knowing eyes.
How to Not Create a Propaganda Hellscape – Immersive Marketing Tips
There’s a lot we can learn about what not to do when it comes to creating an immersive marketing experience from my terrifying adventure at the World of Coca-Cola. These lessons are important, especially when marketing to millennials or other generations who are seeking authenticity above all else.
The overabundance of branding, forced chanting, and all-around oppressive marketing tools made the World of Coca-Cola a creepy rather than enjoyable experience. Because the brand didn’t have a conversation with the consumer, visitors to the center were force-fed a marketing narrative without any participation on their part or transparency from the brand. This created a totally inauthentic experience, made even creepier by the attraction’s attempts at authenticity that totally missed the mark.
So, if you’re looking to construct your own immersive marketing world or branded-land, here are some things you should keep in mind so it doesn’t become a dystopian propaganda-filled hellscape:
- Be authentic and transparent
- Consider what your customers want and give it to them
- Don’t make everyone chant your brand’s name, it’s really creepy
- Encourage the customer to participate and engage with your brand…of their own accord
- Offer experiences that interact with several types of consumers
- Give more than one message or have more than one conversation with consumers, a one-note message (like COCA COLA IS LOVE AND LIFE) delivered without break reads more like propaganda rather than branding, it crosses that fine carbonated line
If you’ve visited the World of Coca-Cola and loved the exhibit, congrats! You’re like the thousands of users who’ve left a great review for the attraction. But if you’re like me and the other 1-star reviewers (there are dozens of us!) who have found the attraction creepy and far-too apparent with its advertising pitches, watch out – SPRITE BOY IS BEHIND YOU!
Disclaimer: This satirical blog is intended for entertainment purposes only. The opinions expressed in this blog do not reflect those of Tandem Interactive.