Happiness Interventions c/o Coca-Cola

Public service advertising no longer belongs to the world of pro-bono work and free late-night media placements. With the opportunity presented by content marketing, brands are beginning to wear their values on their YouTube sleeve.

Take Coca-Cola, the soft drink empire found another way to spread happiness, and tie it to the emotion of Christmas. They achieved this by selecting three Overseas Filipino Workers, or OFWs (out of 11 million) and sending them home for the holidays.

The video is a tearjerker, and the tears were not fabricated in a script or on set. The tears and the joy at seeing family is real. But what about the sudden appearance of the 2-litre bottle of Coke near the end of the video? Is that also genuine? It feels forced to me.

But there is a larger question here than appropriate product placement. Does Coke’s effort to do good, and spread happiness — which is the brand’s overriding global strategy — cross a line here? Even when intentions are good, the danger is Coke may be accused of exploiting these OFWs for their own gain.

I have long held that a brand wishing to rub elbows with and open their checkbooks to good causes, ought to be encouraged to do so. I am happy to see Coca-Cola making a difference in peoples’ lives. I bring up the possible downside, because a delicate balance has to be realized here. We can’t let a few good deeds overshadow a company’s larger impact on society. And let’s not forget that the purpose here is to sell more Coke.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.