Sprite Yard: A Mobile-Social-Soda Hangout?

sprite.jpgIs this a sweet spot for marketers targeting teens’ sticky eyeballs or just a bunch of fizz and buzz from desperate soft drink companies?

As soda giants start pouring into the mobile platform, get ready for some commando branding gimmicks, as seen in this New York Times article, Promoting a Thirst for Sprite in Teenage Cellphone Users.

Shaping Youth wrote about soda and snack companies infiltrating middle schools with pseudo-anonymity to get on the step with fitness curriculum. (swig the stuff, then we’ll show you how to work it off, we’re all about ‘energy balance’ folks)

We also wrote about the interactive “Sprite Refreshing Wall” where kids graffiti an entire city online instead of using the local freeway overpass. (Tagging the town online saves my tax dollars from scrubbing defaced property, but reinforcing a gangsta-thug modality under the guise of urbane, ‘self-expression’ is not exactly an embraceable behavioral cue, despite the fun thumpa-thumpa dance funk, colorful spraypaint and cool site design)

Now, as Ad Age Digital reports, in a couple of weeks we’ll have (drum roll please) Sprite Yard. (note the hipster-homey-chill-spot sound of the über-urban name as soda giants target teens on cellphones) Color me incredulous in “lymon” yellow and green.

PLEASE tell me kids are WAY too smart to fall for this ‘platform’ as a way to connect.

Sprite Yard is akin to a “mobile MySpace sponsored by soda” platform to lure teens into brand-bonding via Sprite avatars, community content and photo swapping. Kids can send “Shouts” to their friends, “Scribbles” to a discussion board, and plan events on a shared calendar.

Am I missing the ‘value-add’ here?

Facebook, Helio & Virgin Mobile have already tapped mobile social teens with entertainment content…Seems sugary soda companies are really working overtime to dial into social media and pour more freebies down teen gullets with their junk food.

This Reuters news article confirmed Sprite’s “third screen” strategy, “The Coca-Cola Company needs to continue to recruit future generations of consumers…Mobile marketing is absolutely where it’s at for us going forward.”

And MediaPost reported a “full scale” multi-layered mobile media program in the works, “We have some 10 billion bottles of Sprite single-serve worldwide…By giving users access to ever-changing content, the bottle itself becomes part of the experience.”

Ah, the “experience.”

Yessirrreee Bob, we need an “experience” with our soda pop!

Just like Sprite’s parent company came out with the Coke Fridge Euro-vending machine with ringtones, music downloads, games, and a Coke Cam for kids to take digital photographs against a soda logo and zap their mugs to mobile pals…

Or…the recent brand integration into the hit massively multiplayer online role playing game, WoW via this new TV ad launched in China. Or my favorite UGC ploy of all…Second Life’s “Virtual Thirst.”

Yep. You heard it right. Amidst the virtual world of pool parties, dancing and entertainment pavillions via Coke’s Second Life presence, users give it a go designing “the essence” of Coke.

Uh-huh. That’s right. The “essence.”

Quite lofty for brown sugar water if you ask me. Trust me, it gets better…

The ad agency touts it’s all about “being able to take the whole concept of thirst and position it as a thirst for meaning, knowledge, love, self-expression and a thirst for an experience.”

Socrates and Plato would roll over in their graves if they knew a bunch of hot shot creatives were philosophically waxing poetic over a bubbly soda pop “experience” as part of a “thirst for knowledge and meaning.”

Here’s how Sprite’s mobile social hub works…

After texting the word “YARD” to 59666 (LYMON, of course), kids are invited to register–create a tag name, a profile, and yep, an avatar. Text-happy (pre)teens can enter a PIN to unlock coded content under bottle caps (yes, kids still love the secret decoder stuff) and access exclusive downloadable mobisodes, cartoon clips, ringtones, and ‘partner’ content.

Gosh…far cry from MY preteen days slathering on 7-Up-flavored lip balm.

Back then they didn’t try to fully “engage” me with my soft drink…plop my photo in a Sprite DunkFace game, or chat, text, or communicate with my bubbly through any of the other elaborate interactive sales drivers from coded pop tops to UGC contests. I had a few random notebook stickers, if that.

Now, advergames and branded entertainment range from global sites to regional specialization, like this goofy SpriteBall Lithuanian advergame, complete with requisite positioning of sports-n-soda. (an everpresent combo to make any REAL athlete cringe; along with exporting American health habits to corrupt teen adolescent health on a global scale. Sweet.

Sprite Yard’s mobile entry sounds like invasive corporate commando tactics not ‘premium partnerships for content’ to me.

Kids aren’t wild about being used as viral shills, so if they feel this is just another back door deal to “get ‘em on the go” via cell phones, they’ll pop the fizz right out of the bottle and give ‘em the ol’ dialtone due to the disconnect.

Guess mobile-social-soda was bound to ping teen cells in the corporate capitol where ‘freedom rings’…after all Asia and Europe have been paving the way on the portable technology front for quite some time, the USA is just ‘catching up.’

Soon, kids will be enticed to swig the sweet stuff paying via cellphone, since interactive kiosks are the darling d’jour. There’s already brand buzz about using biometrics and radio frequency (RFID) to make vending purchases easier and keep you from rumbling in your pocket for quarters.

As this blog notes, a Coca-Cola executive quoted in StorefrontBackTalk said, “The United States is rapidly becoming a ‘plastic nation’ with fast food restaurants and convenience stores accepting credit and debit cards…it feel[s] the time is right to begin providing these same payment options to our customers.”

Wow. I guess one’s opportunity is another’s canary in the coal mine of cultural demise.

That one quote has so many sad phrases in it I can barely keep from grabbing my passport…but short of my eco-cabana in Roatan, there’s really nowhere to hide from this level of media and marketing ‘user experience.’

Even my Shell filling station started yapping at me on screen with PUMP TV built into the fueling tank that startled me out of my morning stupor.

Nothing like blathering ad promos and celebrity absurdities to become part of my gas-filling “experience” chock full of “partner entertainment.”

And would you like a Sprite to go with your fuel? No problem…

Plenty of soda-n-snack signage to remind obese Americans to tank up their bodies on junk food as they’re filling up with petrol…wouldn’t want to miss that “engagement” opportunity, no sirreeee Bob!

Dang machine even snagged my zipcode in order to track me before it would dispense my gas! I kept shoving the nozzle in as if I’d toggled it wrong…nope, just didn’t see the LCD screen in the sunshine imploring me to give them all my personal information.

Likewise, soda giants will continue to expand their brands and media WAY outside the beverage aisle and online worlds…

This summer, they’ll be licensing their names to food items and restaurant chains to keep their brands top of mind…Marinades like A & W Rootbeer, Dr. Pepper BBQ sauce…7-Up & Orange Crush Bundt Cakes…Mountain Dew smoothies and a huge ‘extreme sports and gaming’ push…And Pepsi’s Aquafina will soon have a ‘flavor splash’ water along with a line of “hydrating skin care products.”

Desperate times call for desperate measures…as soda starts popping up in unexpected places. As for the new mobile Sprite Yard?

OnlineMediaDaily offers this soda exec’s rationale, “The Sprite Yard is not an in and out promotion…It’s a campaign that we will build and enhance over time. Coca-Cola is pioneering the mobile marketing landscape with Sprite, and ultimately through other efforts with our entire suite of brands.”

Sigh. Consider yourself warned…

I’m hoping this will be a lemon. Lymon. Whatever…

And that kids won’t be suckers on this one.

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