Monday, March 14, 2011

A Coke and A Smile (Part 1 of 2)

From 1971's Hilltop Song Commercial:
"It's the Real Thing" (Coca-Cola).

Poets are our original systems thinkers.  They contemplated the world in which we live and feel obliged to interpret and give expression to it in a way that makes the reader understand how that world turns.  Poets, those unheralded systems thinkers, are our true digital thinkers.”  Sidney Harman (Harman, as cited by Pink, 2006, p.143)

Since the days of ancient history, poetry has been one of the most powerful tools of translating our stories from generation to generation.  After all, rhymes are easier to remember and translate than traditional narratives, and through mnemonics, there is less room for error when being repeated.  Eventually, many poems were translated into song, making their stickiness even greater.  These poems and songs told tales of joy and sorrow, hope and promise, chances killed and dreams fulfilled.

When mulling over the correlation of this to pop culture, one particular commercial from the 1970s that sang about hope and peace leapt to mind.  It was a time of anti-war and civil rights movements, communal living and a longing for interracial, global harmony.  Originally a jingle for Coca-Cola (“I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke,”) the famous “1971 Hilltop” song was called “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” and its visuals, words and music married the idea of happiness and universal love with society’s profound yearning for community and human and spiritual connection (  The song, performed by a group called “New Seekers,” sold 12 million copies.

This song connected Coca-Cola with a positive social message that offered comfort and warmth during tumultuous times.  As one of the most successful commercials in television history, it attempted to open minds to the idea of accepting the differences in human beliefs and cultures.  Using a sunrise (or is a sunset?) setting on a hilltop in the “neutral” country of Italy, the visual display of men and women--defined through clothing, style and skin tone--nurtured the idea that we are all connected regardless of gender, race, religion or country.

As Daniel Pink says in his book, A Whole New Mind:  Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future, “Story exists where high concept and high touch intersect.  Story is high concept because it sharpens our understanding of one thing by showing it in the context of something else.” 

What made the “Hilltop” commercial so profound was its ability to convey a universal message of peace and acceptance in context and to deliver them with emotional impact that has since been carried on for four generations. 

In the part two of this blog, I will share how Coca-Cola created a refreshingly winning follow up commercial that aired only one time on broadcast television.  They not only “shared the love,” but placed its message into perfect context.

Pink, D. (2006). A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

"I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing"  (LYRICS - New Seekers, 1971)
I'd like to build the world a home
and furnish it with love
grow apple trees and honey bees
and snow white turtle doves

I'd like to teach the world to sing
in perfect harmony
I'd like to hold it in my arms
and keep it company

I'd like to see the world for once
all standing hand in hand
and hear them echo through the hills
for peace throughout the land

That’s the song I hear
Let the world sing today
a song of peace
that echoes on
and never goes away

I'd like to teach the world to sing
in perfect harmony

I'd like to teach the world to sing
in perfect harmony

I'd like to build the world a home
and furnish it with love
grow apple trees and honey bees
and snow white turtle doves

I'd like to teach the world to sing
in perfect harmony
I'd like to hold it in my arms
and keep it company 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Realities of Virtual Control

Last year, my teenage son and I were discussing the future of video games, including the impact of alternate reality (ARG), augmented reality, 3D, and gesture-based technology in videogame play. 

He appreciated the value of 3D, ARG and augmented reality.  However, when I explained how controller-free gaming systems using gesture recognition technology would allow him to serve as a “puppet master” and play as if he were actually a character in the game, he surprised me with his passionate frustration.  He is a heavy action game player, and he HATED the concept of playing if he were, in essence, the actual character in the game.  He much, much preferred the using a keyboard or game controller.

I immediately assumed he was balking because it meant he’d have to change and adapt to a new way of playing.

“Congratulations, son,” I quipped smugly.  “What you are experiencing is my generation’s version of the 8-track tape. I understand you want certain things to stay the same.  Looks like you are joining the ranks of the adult world, and starting to age out of certain technologies…you are just going to have to get used to it.”

I was jilted by his authentic response that I completely misunderstood what he was saying.  He meant he didn’t want to be any part of a war or action game that would make him feel like he was actually shooting someone, or physically kicking another, or swinging a punch at someone in a boxing game. I was stunned. 

“I like to play real time online action and fantasy games, mom, and sometimes they are violent. I would much rather play the game, not play in the game as if I were performing those actions in reality.  I don’t want to ‘hold” a gun,’ I’m not a violent person and don’t want to feel like one.  I just like to participate in strategic challenges with my friends. It shouldn’t feel that real, I don’t think it is right, and I don’t think other people should be able to do it either.”

He’s got a point. 

My son and his friends love to play videogames.  They have been playing them for endless hours for over half of their lives, and I have not. They are all very goal-oriented and prefer strategic, MPORGs (MultiPlayer Online Role Playing Games) that require them to experiment, hypothesize, try things out, work together collaboratively as they compete for wins and bragging rights.

Therefore, his perspective comes from being a firsthand consumer and provides a vivid example of how we must never lose sight of listening to the end user and never assume we already understand the true intent and purpose of their media usage.  As he points out, sometimes it is the very separation from the actuality of the action (i.e. with hand controllers) that keeps a player mindful that it is only a game and its story is really just that: it is fantasy and not real. 

In order to be socially responsible content providers of media, we need to never lose sight of the long term consequences of any product or message for the sake of glory and short-term goals.  It sounds exciting and sexy (and profitable) to convert popular mainstream games such as “Mortal Combat” or “Batman: Asylum” into wireless, gesture-based games, and it certainly has the potential to draw in a huge amount of devoted gaming consumers.  But at what price? 

I am not an action gamer, and I doubt the psychological impact of virtually holding a weapon in a puppet master fashion would have occurred to me until it was too late. 

My son’s concern over the meshing of the virtual world with the actual world accentuates the fact that transmedia content providers must always take context into consideration during the development process and do their best to envision and anticipate whatever consequences—good or bad—might occur as a result. 

As the technology of the Connected Age continues to evolve, so does our understanding of the pros and cons of its usage.  It is up to transmedia storytellers, as well as each of us individually and collectively, to activate its use with social responsibility in mind.  Let’s hope futuristic game developers do the same.

Great link to TED talk demonstration of one of the first gesture based games, “Milo the Virtual Boy”

Dark Horse Game Design: Into the Fray. (2009, February 11). Dark Horse Game Design. Retrieved April 26, 2011, from
Molyneux, P. (2010, July 1). Peter Molyneux demos Milo, the virtual boy | Video on TED: Ideas worth spreading. Retrieved April 26, 2011, from