Last year, Coke brought some laughter and joy to one of the most volatile and dangerous regions on earth, when it installed two Small World Machines in New Delhi, India, and Lahore, Pakistan. Long separated by a border that has seen a number of wars and much religiously inspired bloodletting, ordinary Indians and Pakistanis were able to use the machines’ live video feeds and large 3D touch screens to speak to and even “touch” the person on the other side. As a three-minute advertisement by Coca-Cola shows, “enemies” who had never met exchanged peace signs, touched hands, and even danced together.
The idea came about as Coke, which already has a strong market share in India, was looking to increase sales in Pakistan. But instead of addressing both nations as separate markets, the company decided to treat the two countries as one after its teams on the ground said that Indians and Pakistanis were open to more dialogue and communication. This ultimately led to the Small World Machines and the coming together of people of different faiths divided by a history of mistrust and violence
The project required months of extensive cooperation between company teams in India and Pakistan who, ironically, only met “in person” when the Small World Machines went live. Technological issues and even security threats caused delays. But in March 2013, the machines went live in two popular shopping malls, allowing over 100 participants to meet and interact with someone on the other side of one of the most heavily guarded borders in the world.
Coca-Cola’s global creative director said the idea behind the campaign was about “creating stories around shared experiences” in a way that “goes back to the roots of Coke as a brand that started at a soda fountain – itself a communal experience.” With this goal in mind, Coca-Cola asked ad agency Leo Burnett to find “new, open-hearted ways for people to come together, while highlighting the power of happiness.” Thinking of a way to show the positive role a brand can play in society, the Leo Burnett agency developed the idea of the Small World Machines. However, the technology did not yet exist for web camera communication where people at one machine could interact with those at another as if they were merely separated by a piece of glass. This led Leo Burnett to create innovative new technology that simulates this in-person experience.
While some have been skeptical that Coca-Cola’s campaign will have any long-term impact on relations between India and Pakistan, the company believes the campaign is a step in the right direction. Coke also plans to bring the Small World Machines to other nations to help bridge other conflicts. Jackie Jantos, Coke’s Global Creative Director, said that the positive reaction to the campaign shows that listening to the market’s desire for increased positivity and connectivity was the right move. “It was wonderful to have our teams validate that this was the time for this message,” she said, adding: “Waving hello to someone in a land that is not so far away, but feels like it, was amazing.”,
* This is the first in a series of case studies highlighting how companies – in their core business activities – can help reduce religious and cultural tensions, increase social understanding, and promote peace. This case study does not imply an endorsement of Coca-Cola or it’s products. The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation has no tie to the Coca-Cola company.