Tuesday, December 27, 2016

MLK and Coca Coca...Atlanta impacts the world (Day 1)

For this year's winter vacation, we decided to head south and visit Atlanta.

Day 1 took us to two places of worldwide significance.

The birthplace and now National Historic Site of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the "World of Coca Cola" experience.

I am going to leave aside the observation that the number of people at Coke dwarfed the number of people at the MLK site and try to avoid reflecting on what that means for humanity.

The MLK site was powerful. It's not just one building, rather a complex of buildings that houses a museum that you would expect and then a walking tour of the Auburn Ave. area of Atlanta which, at one time, was the center of African-American life in the city.

It was on that street that MLK was born and lived until age 12 (the house is there though, we couldn't enter it as it's undergoing renovation), the Ebenezer Baptist Church where MLK Sr. was the minister, and the reflecting pool/eternal flame area where MLK and Coretta Scott King are buried.

The museum portion has a compelling exhibit that traces the history of segregation and the civil rights movement and presents the cold, hard truth in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable and inspired.

Uncomfortable because you have to come face to face with the legacy and implication of the institutions of slavery and segregation and you can't help but acknowledge the impact. The pictures of lynchings, cross-burnings, etc. are nothing short of horrific.

Inspired because you yearn for the calm, determined leadership and commitment to non-violence based on the righteousness of a position and the passion for justice that MLK represented and, which at least for me, feels sadly lacking these days.

 We went into the nearly empty church where a recording of a Christmas service was playing and we heard Mahalia Jackson signing hymns.  The music reverberated through the structure and you could feel the sense of history in this place.  For me, the combination was powerful.

Finally, having the two Kings buried on an island within a pool of water across from an eternal flame (which has special significance in Judaism so it hit doubly home) seemed appropriate.  Together, creating a sea of tranquility, looking out towards an eternal idea.

I've been to Atlanta maybe 25 times but had never been to this site and I'm sad that it took so long, but thrilled that we made it.

The kids liked it as well. For them, there probably could have been a bit more on the interactive side, but as they have read a ton about MLK and civil rights (and we are planning on going to the new Civil Rights museum on Day 2), they got a lot out of it.

The film about MLK was great because it took a unique twist...it focused on his childhood and what he was like growing up (apparently he wasn't so organized in keeping his room neat-which made some of my kids thrilled since it proved that even though your father keeps telling you that you need to clean your room, you can still be destined for greatness!)

As for the World of Coca Cola, I have to say that I didn't really like it.

I may be in the minority overall and within my family and perhaps the juxtaposition of going from something that is so profound as MLK to something that is so commercial was too jarring, but I felt there was something missing.

I know that I am passionate about marketing. I really enjoy the art and science of it and I admire great marketing. There was some of that. The introductory movie was all about "Coca Cola moments" and it was very emotional, saying how people create emotional connections and Coke is part of it.  The "4D" movie was a fun sensory experience and the tour of pop culture influenced by Coke was also a tour through history.

Obviously, the tasting room with 100 flavors from around the world was a big winner and considering that Tonka (13) had never had a Coke until this trip and the other 2 had only had it once before, the NFO and I had rare feeling of being world-class parents, for once ;-)

But, here's the thing...

It was too much. For me, it was SO focused on making everyone think "Coke is a part of life" and "Coke makes moments special," that it lost its authenticity.

I walked away feeling sad that we had paid to get so overtly marketed to.

I prefer to hear the story of how and why Coke came into being. How did they make the decisions they made? How did Coke, for example, impact civil rights by being the first company to use African-Americans as spokesmen or whatever?

Instead, I felt a story of a company that said, "ok, let's just always figure out how to make the most amount of money and go from there."

Now, we all KNOW that's what is happening, but I didn't get that feeling.

Now, it's possible all of that could have been averted if the mere process of getting into and around the exhibit had any sort of real professionalism associated with it.

Truth be told, that's probably what did it in for me.

For a brand that is world-class and cares about "moments," the mere act of buying a ticket, getting in line, getting into the exhibit was just poor.
I said at one point, "if Disney were running this, there would be signs in 20 languages and clear instructions."

None of that was present.

We would wait in line and then, for reasons no one understood, another line of people would go ahead of us.

There would be muffled loudspeaker announcements telling us what to do, but no one really could hear them.

It wasn't total chaos, but it wasn't organized and it wasn't about "feelings" or "moments" and I think that was the dissonance.  It was inconsistent.

You can throw up a ton of advertising and super slick videos about how you care about feelings but the feelings of the people who are paying to watch the ad are somehow irrelevant.

Add to all this that the vast distribution network that Coca Cola touts as an accomplishment made me feel like "wow, there are probably plastic Coke bottles and bottle caps all over the world" (and there are).

I have infinite admiration for Coke's marketing power. I got choked up during parts of the video and loved how they evoked that in me.  They really, really think about being more than just sugar + water.  I just was disappointed that the World of Coke experience was less about the things they supposedly care about as eternal human values (connection, memory, feelings, etc.) and more about "Coke is good for your life. You should buy more Coke stuff."

You can reach the same outcome with a different path.

I suppose there was a positive outcome as it solidified my mind-frame that I don't intend to drink any soda again ever.

On Day 2, we hope to hit CNN and the Civil Rights Museum.

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