Thursday, February 16, 2006

Dude! My marketing campaign is sooo, like, you know, rad!

For those of you wondering why Jay and I have been a bit quiet of late, blame Byron Bay. With Jay crunching numbers in Melbourne and me juggling bricks in Sydney, we decided it was time to catch up, soak in some Vitamin D and possibly even bump into Rex Hunt. But after a few weeks off we've returned with healthy glows and complaining livers to mop up the mess that is Coke's Zero Movement and take this baby into the home strech.

Hi my name’s Zed, your Australian media floosie

So it seems that during our little Queensland sojourn the Zero Movement backlash hit the Australian media big time. Tim Longhurst over at has a neat wrap up of these, but some choice cuts include:
  • Advertising industry rag B&T ran a very defensive interview with the Marketing Director of Coca Cola South Pacific.
  • Our traffic skyrocketed when The Sydney Morning Herald ran a story headlined 'Coke gets a zero for effort' which was syndicated by The Age and a few international sites.
  • Another ad-rag, AdNews, published an editorial, which hopes that "the irony of being burned by a grass-roots movement for creating a false grass roots movement is not lost on Coke"
  • Seven’s Sunrise news program ran a story about public disquiet over the Coke Zero ‘Bus-rider’ TVC, which viewers thought might encourage the sort of bus / train surfing that has resulted in quite a few teen deaths in Australia (thanks for the heads up, Russell).
Coke, you just don't get it, do you?

We've been approached by a few publications, both in Australia and overseas for interviews about why Jay and I launched this site. The only we've agreed to so far is for the Packer-mouthpiece and all-round loveable nice guy of Australian news weeklies, The Bulletin. They recently ran an incisive story on The Zero Movement, perhaps made especially incisive by the numerous quotes from Jay sprinkled through it:
"What really struck us was just how cynical it was. Everything about the campaign, from the teaser ads to the hijacking of counter-culture credibility and even the characterisation of its target market, is contrived and insulting,” says Jay, a 27- year-old financial systems analyst who started a counterblog called The Zero Movement Sucks. Jay didn’t want his surname used, for fear his boss would read it. He also insisted on conducting the interview via instant messenger.

“The whole point of grassroots campaigns is that they’re driven by passionate people who spread the message. Coke simply launched a website, created backdated content and even hired PR hacks to fill their site with supportive comments. In essence, they’re attempting to buy credibility and buzz.”
But what amazes me most of all is that despite all the criticism that's been levelled at Coke for attempting to manufacture cool by checking things off from a "Connecting with the Kids" 101 textbook--Blogs? Check. Graffiti? Check. Podcasts? Check.--a statement issued in response to this site and others shows that Coke just doesn't get the point. As The Bulletin reports:
Coke told The Bulletin in a written response that in its pre-campaign polling the strategy was given the thumbs up by its target market. “In the early stages of the campaign we contacted 1000 ‘influentials’ – people who are within the target audience for the product and are influential within their social groups. We gave them an opportunity to taste the product and shared some of our marketing plans, to ensure the campaign creative would resonate with this group. They had an overwhelmingly positive response to the product.”
Focus groups? Marketing plan preview sessions? Pre-campaign polling? 'Influentials'? For the love of God, Coke, that's exactly our point! As long as you let the guy with the silver pony tail dream up and test your marketing strategies according to formulae, focus groups and a complete dearth of creativity, sincerity or passion you are going to end up with lame campaigns like The Zero Movement. According to Coca Cola's Managing Director Gareth Edgecome:
We wanted to connect with the target audience in a novel way … to create ‘talkability’ before the product started hitting the shelves. To do that we had to deliver an irreverent and highly engaging campaign to drive word of mouth.
This man uses the words "novel", "talkability" and "irreverant" in conversation, without the slightest hint of irony, and thinks he can speak my language? That's bodaciously gnarly, dude!

Monday, January 23, 2006

Why can't half-baked cola launch campaigns come with zero sackings?

The Australian media seems to have finally caught a whiff of the not-quite-right pong emanating from The Zero Movement HQ. According to their blog, the marketing mag B&T will be running a story on The Zero Movement (and the subsequent backlash) in their next issue.

But of even greater interest was this little snippet of info that appeared in today’s Crikey subscribers mailout. (For non-Australians or non-media/politics-types out there, Crikey is to Down Under what the Drudge Report is to the US: good reporting and industry gossip that more often than not hits the mark). According to an anonymous informer at Coca-Cola:
The launch of Coke Zero is causing major problems within Coke. We started with a viral teaser campaign called the zero movement which has totally backfired – consumer backlash may cost the PR firm and the marketing personnel responsible dearly. All you have to do is Google it to find all the reactions. Also the trade is lukewarm to the product after the disaster of Coke Lime and also after finding out Coke Zero failed in the US. We have forcibly allocated massive amounts of stock (supermarkets say too much) and there are some nervous store managers out there. We are also scared that our marketing dept and ad agencies have lost the plot after a string of below average ads and terrible program sponsorship decisions (eg X factor). There is no confidence that the Zero launch will get any better. And forward orders for regular Coke and Diet Coke are more than 50% down leading alot of us to believe that we are just going to cannabilise our own sales, instead of going after Pepsi who are doing very well at the moment stealing our share with great advertising but Coke head office does nothing!
Many thanks to the Crikey subscriber who tipped us off about this tidbit via email at (We're lowly squatters ourselves, but are desperately saving up for a full-blown subscription, promise!) If you see any other references to Coke Zero in the media, or you work at Coke or one its agencies and want to unburden yourself of gossip, support or venom, drop us a line! We'd love to hear from you.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

It was bound to happen sooner or later ... get your TZMSucks t-shirts!

If you've been seduced by the siren song of instant-mix rebellious cred and joined Coca Cola's Zero Movement, why not tell the world? Now you too can have your very own bit of The Zero Movement Sucks merchandise. (Note: there's no markup on these tees, so we're not making any money from them whatsoever. We just got a kick out of making them and all the fulillment is done by the wonderful folks at CafePress who don't even know us).

I joined the zero movement and all I got was this lousy brain tumour.
Black t-shirt (buy now)

This saucy little number is the perfect accompaniment to your first Coke Zero. Don't forget that Coke Zero has zero calories because it has lots of aspartame and the little sweetener know to its friends as acesulfame potassium. These artificial sweeteners should be OK to drink, just so long as you don't mind depression and brain tumours.

I joined the zero movement and wasted some Colombians.
Black t-shirt (buy now)

Coca-Cola may be all smiles and sunshine Down Under, but in Colombia they've been implicated in hundreds of kidnappings, murders and good ol' fashioned murder. Why would they do this? Because factory workers in their underpaid bottling plants have the audacity to form (shock, horror!) unions to seek fairer wages and working conditions.

I joined the zero movement and now I'm cool.
Black t-shirt (buy now)

Just in case your friends don't understand how cool being a member of an ad-agency created multi-million dollar mass-market underground movement can be, you can always remind them with these smashing tees. You'll surely be the talk of the town.

If you buy one of these lovely tees, take a photo with it on and email it in to and we'll be sure to "ooh" and "aah" appreciatively.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

If you buy Coke Zero, you're not just a pathetic loser, you're a pathetic loser in denial

Great article in The Age on the new trend of big multi-nationals employing guerilla tactics their attempts at appealing to to Gen Y "neos". What caught our eye was this spot-on tidbit:

Ron Barnacle, chairman of one of Melbourne's largest advertising agencies, CHE, agrees the days of mass-marketing campaigns are over. Research conducted for CHE last year found that 87 per cent of young people surveyed said they wanted to be different - but not so different that they stood out and didn't belong.

In other words, big corporations and their ad agencies want to help all the soul dead, 9-to-5 working, house-deposit-saving, boat-shoe wearing, Country Road addicted sheep of the world feel like the renegade, socially-aware pioneers of the counter-culture they so desperately aspire to be ... just so long as they don't have to delete the Celine Dion Greatest Hits collection from their iPods. These guys use green enviro bags (they're a bit dorky, but at least everyone's doing it now so that's OK), or donate some change to those whacky Greenpeace dudes (those poor whales!) and perhaps, if they're feeling really rebellious, go out and buy a Green Day album (man, those guys are so crazy with their green hair and rock guitars and controversy and stuff).

But try asking the same 'neos' to stop buying Coke in response to gross human rights violations in Colombia or environmental and public health catastrophes in India. Or to pass on the latest Nikes because you'd rather have your shoes made by somebody who'd at least hit puberty, or wasn't being beaten up at work. Suddenly the 20-40 year old target market that try to read street press (but think it's a little too hardcore) and will only spike their hair if they get to use a $20 bottle of Garnier Fructis product is a little more coy. "We can't save the world." "One pair of Nikes won't matter." "I'm not some kind of crazy Commie or anything like that."

But they might buy into the Coke Zero campaign, because it provides a sanitized notion of rebellious cred that only a slick, multi-million dollar advertising blitz could produce. It's rebellion without the effort. Activism without a cause. Anti-establishmentarianism without the smelly hippies. Counter-culture without the culture.

Every time you don your $80 Che Guevera t-shirt and pick up a Coke Zero not only will everybody watching know that you're a sugar-fearing sissy who doesn't want to look like one, but that you're also a lifeless shill who not only knows you'll spend the rest of your life in Caroline Springs or Springfield Lakes, but that you're relying on a black bottle of Aspartame to convince the world, and yourself, otherwise.

Now that's sad.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

How many ad agencies does it take to patronise a demographic?

Only one, apparently

Have you seen the The Zero Movement? The blog of a group of activists who aims to to "rid the world of all the negative consequences that limit us all"[1]. If you believe their slick website, they want you to help them solve the world's biggest crises, namely: "Why can't new years come with zero resolutions?"[2] and "Why don't women consider everything small "soooooo cute"?" [3].

Yes, earth shattering stuff.

In care you hadn't sniffed a lame marketing attempt two miles away, a check of their domain's ownership details shows that the whole thing is owned by Coca Cola South Pacific (see the screen grab below).

The Zero Movement, it would seem, is the launch campaign for Coca Cola's latest offering, Coke Zero, a product designed to appeal to the male 'yoof' demographic who avoid Coca Cola because of its dangerously high sugar content, but don't want to look like Diet Coke swilling sissies.

So why are we bothering to point this out to the world? After all, guerilla marketing and multinationals posing as rebellious groups is by no means a new tactic, just check out the latest rash of campaigns for Sony and Microsoft's games consoles. In fact this kind of advertising has almost become a trademark of uncreative advertising agencies desperate to gain cut-through to an increasingly apathetic market.

"If we look cool and act like a fringe outfit that deserves their respect," you can see the agency's Creative Director's pitch to Coca Cola's marketing team going, "maybe they'll give it to us!"

"What's cool among the kids these days?" he booms to the market researcher.

"Um, well," market research gimp stammers while consulting the latest Sputnik or Look-Look report."Well, blogs, and stuff. Like graffiti. And rebellion. And sticking it to the, you know, man."

"Well let's do a bit of all of that! Let's have a blog, do some graffiti and write about how provocative we are."

But in co-opting the trademarks of the counter-culture--blogs, street art and a passionate cause--to promote an artifically sweetened cocktail of chemicals and flavourings, Coca Cola is demeaning its target market. We don't want an ad agency forming our life philosophy. We don't want a group of soft drink executives trying to tell us how to live our lives. We just want Coca Cola to 'fess up to the fact that it's a profit-driven multinational whose only interest in culture change is the carefully researched chord it might strike into its consumer base.

Coca Cola, welcome to the underground. As others have found out, it's not always comfortable.