I was in Meijer this past weekend on a Saturday night buying last-minute paraphernalia for a party the next day. Behind-the-scenes appurtenances whose presence goes unnoticed unless you desperately need them; like plastic wrap, matches, and toilet paper. And, in my last-minute-focused-on-the-details rush, I was stopped in my tracks. For at least five minutes – time I did not have to spend – searching for…Coke bottles.
Yes. Coke bottles.
Bottles printed with my name, the name of my husband, of my children (only one), then siblings, and friends I sought, too. As I walked around and around the kiosk, I checked off names on my list of acquaintances. And, in one wild moment, I almost bought them all. As my self-discipline triumphed over intemperance, I walked away, commending the Coke Company for an amazing marketing campaign.
But why should this strategy work beyond others? Because Coke-a-Cola has found a way to personalize your experience. Not just any experience – your Coke-drinking experience. Suddenly, the coke in your hand (if you drink pop at all) is not just a beverage; it is a specific beverage just for you.
Anyone speaking personally into our lives today carries a powerful tool. A tool which can hurt, deeply, if wielded in anger. It can encourage and exhort when spoken with positive intent. Think of this: We cover our most hurtful conversations and soften them by withholding the specific – the “You” only implied: “I’m not ready for a commitment. (to you)”; “I just can’t move that far. (for you)"; “I’ve never imagined being a parent. (with you).” But, turn thris around, and name one thing – just one – specifically that calls up a positive action, attribute or trait of another person, and the buoyant power of your words is magnified beyond all effort of recognition on your part. (try this with a child)
So, what does Coke and personalization have to do with bookbinding?
Last year, I produced a pair of books to celebrate the 60th birthdays of one set of parents. Children, who were at a loss to honor their parents who seemingly had anything they could want, chose to take a personal path. Each sibling, and their spouse, wrote a distinct letter. First, writing to their father and then, later to their mother, honoring and naming the individual impact of that predecessor in their own lives. Each set of those letters was bound into a book, whose design reflected the style and interests of that parent, creating a documented legacy – a specific reminder for each, of their intrinsic value and influence upon their own children.
In essence, this project brought words, spoken thoughtfully and intentionally out of the sphere of the general, and attached to them the specificity of identity. And so, simple paper and cloth transcended their own humble origins to become the gift for which we all long: to be known and valued by another human being.
So, what do you think? Has the Coke Company cheapened themselves by capitalizing on this intrinsic human need? Or are they geniuses to be congratulated? Please share your answer.