Coca-Cola was really onto something when they launched their “Share a Coke” campaign in the summer of 2014. The premise was simple: produce a new label for their products that included a person’s name on it. Ranging from the common to the more obscure, the campaign provided consumers with a chance to personalize their beverage purchase. Our names are something we all hold dear to ourselves; they are our source of pride and identity. From custom engravings to monogrammed clothing to Bort name tags, we love our name and all that it represents about ourselves. Coca-Cola’s campaign cleverly exploited that area of pride and borderline narcissism and drove a sales increase for the first time in over a decade.
We’ve always been attached to our names and the effect that personalization has on a product we purchase, but historically, that was always offered at a premium. You have to pay extra to get your shirt or wallet monogrammed; a custom engraving on a piece of jewelry costs a little bit extra, and you can even get an engraving on something as trivial as an iPad nowadays. Why has this most recent foray into our attachment to our names proven so popular? Our desire for individuality and self-expression is higher than ever before.
Currently, I have 6 readily available methods of self-expression at my fingertips: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, SnapChat, and this website. I am connected to the world in 6 different ways and can broadcast a wide variety of content to all those who care enough to follow, like, or connect with me. For some people, they have less ways of doing this; for others, more. Humans operate in a tribe mentality at our core: we have certain rules and regulations for what is acceptable and what is not. This goes for our appearance, our vernacular, and our interests. Unfortunately, we also operate at a deeper level of individuality. Humans have the ultimate desire to be seen as special, and we yearn to be celebrated for it. Ironically, it is our commitment to tribe mentality and the fear of being shunned as an outcast or a “loser” that keeps us in line with what our tribe dictates. It also keeps us depressed as we struggle to keep up with whatever the acceptable practices and metrics of our tribe are, even if we do not necessarily desire to fully engage in them.
Social media is but a glimpse into our desire to be creative, humourous, and individual. Generally, the more active on social media we are, the greater desires we possess for self-expression, and the more prone to narcissism we are. Considering that almost 2 billion people use social media in some way now, it’s safe to say that worldwide narcissism is on the rise. Considering that narcissism was historically a trait more common in those who possessed a higher income and education level, it’s no wonder that in the past, an extra dose of narcissism with a product, such as monogramming, was also the more expensive option. Today, with the rampant spread of narcissism thanks to social media, companies are experiencing a great deal of success targeting the narcissism and desire for individuality of youth and adults alike.
Before Coke launched a widespread name campaign, Harvey’s, a Canadian fast food chain, launched a contest to name a burger after a lucky contestant. While this proved successful, it did not have the same impact as Coke’s campaign due to the fact that only 1 winner was to be chosen, but when you bought a Coke with your name on it, that felt like a small victory all in its own. The risk was simply not worth it compared to a guaranteed reward, albeit a less impactful one. Coca-Cola’s approach was just the beginning, but the name effect has trickled down. In the city of London, Ontario, a few examples of using name targeted advertising have emerged:
Stobie’s, a local pizza parlour, has been running a very successful social media advertising campaign that provides a free slice of pizza to anyone whose name matches the 4 randomly chosen names drawn each day. All that is required of the winners is that they make a post on their own social media outlets to give Stobie’s thanks.
To help encourage thirsty bar-goers to attend the establishment that they are promoting at, Lion’s Den U, a student lifestyle multimedia company based out of London and Toronto has started a campaign where they select a list of names. If your name is on the list, you get free cover to the establishment they are promoting for.
A very simple premise indeed, but the effect is powerful: these two companies have made their product personalized and in a way, “called out” their customers. The promotion has a limited time offer and a personal approach, and that is where the appeal and success of it lies: a free slice of pizza is nice, but a free slice of pizza just because of who you are is infinitely more appealing. I predict that it is only a matter of time before other larger companies follow suit and start to “personalize” their products.
Coke’s approach was manageable because a bottle of pop is not a significant investment on the part of the consumer, so food and beverage companies will have no problem adjusting their approach. Unlike a larger investment like a wrist watch, where paying a little extra for an engraving isn’t a lot to ask, very few people are going to pay to personalize an immediately consumable, inexpensive product. Coca-Cola has done a remarkable job manufacturing free additions of narcissism and sentimentalism for its customers. Product caused narcissism is no longer a frivolous pursuit; everyone wants to feel important. I await the day we starting seeing Mark (instead of Mars) and Henry bars (forget the Oh!) on our shelves.