Saturday, September 16, 2017

Finally! American Horror Story Stretches Its Visual Storytelling Wings

Sometimes I wonder if Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy, the creators of the FX Network anthology, American Horror Story, had any idea that their creation would garner such an enthusiastic fan base. When taking a holistic look at the series, where characters appear from season to season, and where one story connects to another story in another season, it amazes me that it took the creators and the network so long to finally come to realize they could create an immersive, ultimate fan experience through the use of social media.

I mean, beyond a television show that already takes visual storytelling to the next level through dramatic shots, interesting characters, and amazing sets/locations, this series has always created incredible pieces of visual storytelling through ads in magazines, billboards, across their social media platforms, and websites that are visually stunning pieces of art (albeit very creepy). In the 8 to 10 weeks leading up to the premier of a new season, American Horror Story usually rolls out ads that looks like this:

From Season 4

From Season 7

As you can see, the ads use minimal words, allowing the picture to share some insight into what the upcoming season is about. This is the ultimate rule of visual storytelling: show, don't tell.  Doing this, and doing it well, has always paid off for the network, as these amazing visuals create anticipation and intrigue among fans of the show, and even serve to pull viewers in who may have never seen the show before.

For season 7, the FX Network took their visual storytelling game to the next level, by inviting fans and viewers to become a part of the "cult" of their show by going to the show's official website. For 8 weeks, American Horror Story (AHS), took fans on an interactive journey leading up to the season premier - a journey that was relevant to the content of the season, and that took viewers to a deeper interaction than they had ever experienced with the show. Every week on this journey unlocked clues and bonus content of the show.

This experience was presented at the San Diego Comic-Con, where the show and cast have usually participated in years past. As a part of creating the intrigue around season 7, this video teaser was the only presence the show had in the convention this year, which revealed "Cult" as the title of the season:

When viewers went to the website, they were greeted with this visual, inviting the user to "click here":

After entering the website, users began their journey, where the site then takes the user directly to Facebook Messenger, where it appears that the user is chatting with another member of the cult, promising that they will contact the user again soon (incredibly creepy, but brilliant transmedia concept):

When the user goes back to the AHS homepage (and by also giving AHS permission to link to your Facebook account), they will find that they've been assigned a "Cult ID number," and a widget to the right that indicates completed missions that will be unlocked on a weekly basis leading up to the season 7 premier:

Users were encouraged to come back, week after week, to the AHS website, and to follow AHS (and producer Ryan Murphy) across all social media platforms for the full experience and special clues that would help the user unlock the bonus content - there were mini-games, such as a word scramble that led to information about what cast members were returning to this season, and the connection of the storyline of the upcoming season to past seasons. Incredibly, AHS took this immersive experience into the real world, inviting "cult members" to head to Dilworth Park in Philadelphia on August 11th to unlock more clues (similar events were held in cities all across the U.S.). There, "cult members" were invited into a tent, where they could interact with promotional props and take photos that mimicked original promotional ads, and they also received prizes & had access to limited edition merchandise, such as these glasses featuring the logo for a restaurant featured in the show:

Another feature revealed in the weeks following in the journey, was a Snapchat filter, which transformed the users face into the face of an incredibly creepy clown.

This 8 week, promotional, immersive, transmedia, crowdsourced, visually amazing, storytelling experience was mind-blowing. Hands down, it is probably the most incredible use of social media, real-world experiences, and promotional marketing any business or franchise has ever done. It seems as if the showrunners read Henry Jenkins' work and decided to one-up him on every level. And AHS is a prime example of what Jenkins refers to when he speaks of "complex fictional worlds which can sustain multiple interrelated characters and their stories." That is why I am absolutely amazed that AHS and FX Network had not utilized this approach to marketing before now, because they absolutely knocked this experience out of the park. 

And, as expected, fans of the show are already anticipating what in the world AHS will come up with next season to top this experience. I must admit, I will now be anxiously awaiting what they have in store for the future, as well. 

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Coca-Cola Replaces Coke Zero with Coca-Cola Zero Sugar: Public Response on Twitter & Instagram

Coca-Cola Company:

On July 26th, 2017, your company announced that Coke Zero, a popular, zero calorie, diet version of Coca-Cola, would be replaced by a new version of the drink, called Coca-Cola Zero Sugar. The announcement came after a successful rollout of Coca-Cola Zero Sugar in other countries around the world, across 25 different markets. As a result, there has been a significant response across various social media networks, as the public responds to a new product taking the place of one of Coca-Cola's most popular products that has become "the most successful product launch since Diet Coke in 1982."

I have monitored and compared the public response to hashtag #CokeZeroSugar on two social media networks - Twitter and Instagram. A sample of 50 responses were measured on both social media networks, focusing on the week leading up to Labor Day weekend, a weekend in which beverage companies often see a spike in sales. The exact dates measured were from August 27th to September 1st, 2017, allowing a glimpse into consumer response following the one month mark since Coca-Cola's announcement and introduction of Coca-Cola Zero Sugar. On August 20th, 2017, Coca-Cola introduced the hashtag #CokeZeroSugar in the following Tweet:

My analysis measured the percentage of positive and negative feedback on Twitter, and compares those responses to positive, negative, and neutral feedback on Instagram. Along with this analysis, I was also able to identify noticeable themes consumers communicated along with their response to hashtag #CokeZeroSugar across both Twitter and Instagram.

Twitter Analysis:
Below, the findings of the 50 sample Twitter responses conclude that public response to #CokeZeroSugar is overwhelmingly negative. Of the 50 responses, a total of 38 were identified as negative in nature. This data suggests that consumers do not like Coca-Cola Zero Sugar in comparison to 12 of the 50 responses being favorable, or identified as positive. Interestingly, a number of negative responses on Twitter also indicated that the consumer believed that the product was "too sweet." What makes this interesting is that Coca-Cola's mission in re-formulating Coke Zero to become Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, was to create a drink that more closely resembled full-sugar Coca-Cola.

Instagram Analysis: 
In total contrast to the Twitter responses to hashtag #CokeZeroSugar, my analysis found that the sample of 50 Instagram responses were mostly positive in nature. My analysis of Instagram also included a measure of neutral responses, or responses that could not be determined to be clearly positive or negative. The analysis of Instagram responses showed that of the 50 samples, 21 (42%) were clearly positive in nature. There were 17 (34%) negative responses, and 12 (24%) neutral responses.
Pie Chart Credit:

Next, I was able to identify themes that the sample of 50 consumers generated as a part of their responses to hashtag #CokeZeroSugar. These findings will be helpful to Coca-Cola in determining how to steer the conversation surrounding a new product that is replacing an already popular product.
While it might be too early to determine if the rollout of Coca-Cola Zero Sugar has been successful, knowing what consumers are saying from the early implementation may serve to help Coca-Cola correct course or find a new way to market the re-formulated version of this popular alternative to full-sugar Coca-Cola. Right now, it appears as if Coca-Cola is not responding primarily to consumers voicing their opinion on social media. The strategy seems to be an actual "boots on the ground" campaign, where brand representatives of Coca-Cola are embarking on a national sampling tour kicking off in Atlanta on September 2nd, 2017, and making stops all over the country to give people samples of the new product. This "personal touch" approach to marketing could potentially result in growing positive responses across social media.

The lesson to take away from this analysis is that the personal touch factor is the key between positive and negative responses on social media. The noticeable difference between social media users on Twitter and Instagram is that since Instagram is a photo-based social media experience, where the users' primary focus is to share a photo, then provide commentary, is that users may tend to post more positive commentary on a product, because they can be seen using it. It could be deduced that few Instagram users want to be seen using a product that they hate, because it's just not as enjoyable. Twitter's power is held to a limited number of words, and while users can post photos, it counts against their character count. Thus, Twitter users may respond more negatively, just based on the nature and reputation of that particular social media site. If your company wants to harness positive reactions to Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, my analysis points to directing promotional campaigns that rely on consumers to post photos of them using the product.  Here are two recommendations I have developed as a result of the analysis I have conducted:

1. Appeal to the consumers' sense of nostalgia: If there is one thing that Coca-Cola has consistently done well, especially in marketing, it is appealing to nostalgia. Instead of highlighting Coca-Cola Zero Sugar as the replacement for Coke Zero, create the sense that Coca-Cola Zero Sugar is a "throwback" to regular Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola Zero Sugar has been re-formulated to taste more like original Coca-Cola - the drink we all remember enjoying as a part of our youth, as a part of summer cookouts, and during the Holidays when we enjoy cans decorated with the infamous Coca-Cola Santa and Polar Bears. Coca-Cola could develop a social media campaign using the hashtag #TBT (Throwback Thursday), where people often post photos from their childhood and past. Create the association that the new Coca-Cola Zero Sugar is a throwback to regular Coca-Cola by encouraging consumers to post #TBT photos on social media, and create some kind of sticker or "geotag" that would overlay on the photo that promoted Coca-Cola Zero Sugar. Let social media users vote on photos and assign a winner and a prize that includes Coca-Cola Zero Sugar or other merchandise promoting Coca-Cola Zero Sugar.

2. Appeal to the healthy lifestyle & athletic minded consumer: Coca-Cola has an opportunity to capitalize on a group of consumers who are athletic and health conscious, who are looking for a soda that tastes great but doesn't have calories or sugar. Nothing tastes better after a hike in the mountains than a cold soda without the guilt of sugar and high sodium content. Your company has an opportunity to appeal to a growing number of people who participate in events like The Color Run, Mud Runs, yoga events in large parks, and triathlons - people who lead healthy lifestyles and love a refreshing soda as a reward for their hard work. Coca-Cola can create a narrative to promote Coca-Cola Zero Sugar as that refreshing indulgence without the guilt. My analysis above points to more positive feedback when people post a photo of the product, as they do not want to take the time to take a photo of a product they do not enjoy. Instagram users seemed to have more positive feedback to #CokeZeroSugar, because they actually documented themselves consuming it. Encourage followers on social media to show off their athletic accomplishments while enjoying Coca-Cola Zero Sugar.

Thank you, and I look forward to Coca-Cola's review of this study of #CokeZeroSugar.