The world’s best-known brand may be great at selling cola drinks, but running a virtual world is a different matter. Hence Coca-Cola has decided to hand off the operations of a five-year-old branded destination to a partner that specializes in it: Makena Technologies and its There.com virtual world.
As part of its many pronged branding efforts, Coke has been operating a 2D virtual world environment via its MyCoke.com site. Called Coke Studios, the site lets customers create avatars, listen to and share music with others, or purchase virtual goods through the My Coke Rewards online reward program. But starting today, Coke Studio users will find themselves transferred instead to a whole new Coke-sponsored area in the There.com 3D virtual world, called CC Metro.
Of Coca-Cola’s various marketing efforts, Coke Studios has proven to be one of the “stickiest,” as users would spend an average of 37 minutes per visit to the virtual world, according to Doug Rollins, director of digital platforms for Coca-Cola North America. However, Coke Studios had also seen a decline in users over the past year and a half, and Coca-Cola had had difficulty keeping the environment stable. Although he declined to give specific user numbers, Rollins said attendance of Coke Studios was “several million” when it started, but last month had only seen “half a million folks.”
“We know that 2D environments are not as compelling as they used to be,” Rollins said. “Coke Studios is not always stable. It goes down, and the ability to have partnership building the platform is a tremendous step for us. It will let us work more on not keeping it up and running, but on how to expand our brand experience.”
Coke Studio users will have to download and install a Coke branded client to access the There.com CC Metro area. Current There.com users will also have access to the CC Metro area of the virtual world, which will be shaped like a Coke bottle and will include activities including hoverboard riding games, music sharing areas or video theaters. My Coke Reward members will also have the option of “purchasing” virtual goods using their reward points within the CC Metro area. Ultimately, Coca-Cola chose There.com to host and manage its virtual environment based largely on its PG-13 policy of banning lewd conduct and speech, said Rollins.
“They are a safe environment for your younger members,” he said.
Coke isn’t known for shying away from digital branding efforts, as the company has recently launched its own Sprite branded social networking site, partnered with Joost and YouTube on consumer generated video branded submissions, and tackled numerous other projects. Nevertheless, having such a major brand as Coke make an investment of time, funds and brand reputation in a virtual world is not insignificant considering the generally poor response to marketing in virtual worlds over the past year, said Michael Wilson, CEO of Makena Technologies.
“This is not a one-off type brand experiment coming into There.com. This is a commitment from the Coke company managers. For us it’s great because of the engagement of the company,” said Wilson. “The virtual world has seen a backlash recently, and people are going to sit up and say ‘wait a minute, maybe this isn’t all hype and I want to understand it.'”
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