Here’s something I wrote about how a soft drink giant creatively connected Indians and Pakistanis with ‘the other side’, with a three-minute video that was easily the most shared link on the Aman ki Asha facebook group last week (not that it’s going to get me to start drinking Coke, or any other soda); published in the Aman ki Asha page in The News, May 22, 2013
Quenching the thirst for peace
An innovative idea connects Indians and Pakistanis with ‘the other side’
“It saddens me that we have neighbours that we can’t even go visit.”
“The perception is that they’re the bad guy. But when you actually meet them you realise they’re just like me.”
These are just a few of the comments you hear at the beginning of the innovative new advertisement launched on May 20 by the global soft drink company Coca Cola. The three minute film, aimed at “creating a simple moment of happiness between two nations at odds – India and Pakistan”, is based on footage filmed over three days in March when two “vending machines” were placed in upscale shopping malls, one each in New Delhi and Lahore.
“In March 2013, we set out to show that what unites us is stronger than what divides us,” says the ad, which exudes a feel-good mood with catchy background music.
Mall-goers in Lahore looking at the glass-fronted “vending machine” were actually looking into a webcam that brought them face-to-face with people in front of the machine at a mall in New Delhi. Live video was streamed through the opaque glass that doubled as a touchscreen, allowing actions to be mirrored.
“Make a friend in India,” said animated lettering on the glass “Make a friend in Pakistan”. The lettering guided people to “Join hands”, “Trace together”, “Take a photo together” or “Wave Goodbye”.
Through this live communications portal – a kind of giant video chat – Indians and Pakistanis were able to interact with each other in real time, making friendly gestures that people on the other side could see and mirror. They waved, “touched” hands, traced peace signs, hearts, smiley faces together, through touchscreen animation. And they danced.
Completing the shared actions together triggered a celebration screen and a free Coke that the vending machine dispensed for each participant. According to a report, more than 10,000 cans of Coke were given away during the experiment (but is that a ‘good thing’?).
“That whole idea of touching hands, it’s like communicating with each other without words and that action speaks larger than words,” comments a male voice.
“This is what we’re supposed to do, right? We are going to take minor steps so that we are going to solve bigger issues,” says a woman.
These and other comments featured over footage of mall-goers gathering in front of the “vending machines” were real, not staged.
“Crews filmed through the night, capturing more than 100 interactions between people of all ages and from all walks of life. None of the people featured in the film are actors, and their reactions are completely natural,” according to an article on the Coca Cola website titled “Happiness Without Borders”.
At the end of the nearly 10-hour shoot, both audiences cranked up the music, danced and waved goodbye to the other side, joined by the camera crews and the corporate teams from Pakistan and India.
“The experience struck an especially emotional chord for the Coca-Cola teams from India and Pakistan, who collaborated on the project,” says the article. “Ajay Naqvi, general manager, creative excellence, Coca-Cola India, said he got goosebumps the first time he saw the film. And the universal message will resonate with people outside India and Pakistan, he explained, ‘because cultural and social tensions exist around the world, and they exist for selfish reasons. But deep down – as this film shows – humanity is about togetherness and happiness’.”
The film captures amazed, dazzling smiles as Indians and Pakistanis realise that they are seeing and connecting with people on the other side.
The ad agency Leo Burnett conceptualised and developed the “Small World Machines” in conjunction with Coke.
“Being on the ground in India during the Small World Machines experience is probably the highlight of my career so far,” said Andy DiLallo, chief creative officer Leo Burnett Sydney. “To be able to take two countries that have been divided and to unite them… and see the purity of the experience was amazing.”
“After spending a year on this project with all the challenges we encountered, when Small World Machines started it was massive relief for me. And then joy, and then just awe to see the people connecting,” he said. “Hopefully it works as a symbol of how people can overcome differences and come together with a simple act of joy.”
“The people of Pakistan and India share a lot of common passions and interests – from food and Bollywood movies, to Coke Studio music, to cricket,” said Saad Pall, Coke’s assistant brand manager in Pakistan. “What this project did was connect people who are not exposed to each other on a daily basis, enabling the common man in Lahore to see and interact with the common man in Delhi. It’s a small step we hope will signal what’s possible.”
“We wondered what would happen if people from these two countries came together, and the answer was clear: goodness and happiness,” said Wasim Basir, integrated marketing communications (IMC) director, Coca-Cola India.
Hearing people share their stories made the experience even more special, said DiLallo. “There was just a level of genuine joy and awe once the Small World Machines were activated. Seeing a little kid run up to the machine and try to high-five it was one. Another person came up to me and said he’d lived in India his entire life and had never ‘seen into’ Pakistan. It was amazing to him to see what they wore. That’s such a small thing you would never think about, particularly coming from the West.”
The Small World Machines have been sent back to their corporate headquarters. But the experience they contributed to is there on film, broadcast on television in both countries. And even beyond that, shared and re-shared through blogs, websites and the social media, moving and delighting millions around the world — whether or not you are into soft drinks.
— Beena Sarwar