Coca Cola & McDonalds YouTube Channels: Where did it go wrong?

Hannah Smith, head of publishing at content agency Adjust Your Set, examines the failure of big brands' YouTube campaigns.

Coca Cola’s announcement in March that it was ditching its weekly UK YouTube shows was horribly reminiscent of September’s news of McDonald’s closing its ‘Channel Us’ YouTube initiative.

For those with a less charitable bent, the fact that two brand behemoths suffered epic YouTube fails will probably elicit a spot of schadenfreude that places them one dangerous, out-of-touch step away from the Kendall Jenner Pepsi fiasco. For others, it leaves them thinking: if two of the world’s most recognisable brands can’t get their YouTube content strategies right, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Content misconceptions

It would be easy to see these failures as a sign that YouTube simply isn’t an effective content marketing channel. But the weakness here is less about YouTube and more about wider misconceptions in the world of content marketing.

Hannah Smith, head of editorial and publishing at content agency Adjust Your Set

By committing to a new video being produced every week, Coca Cola didn’t give itself enough breathing space to speak only when it had something interesting to say. Yes, it makes sense to establish content output guidelines and schedules. But adhering to these too rigidly risks losing cultural relevance. Saying nothing is often better than saying something irrelevant.

But perhaps Coca Cola’s biggest mistake with CokeTV was being too singular in its outlook. By dedicating itself to YouTube, the brand focused too much on one platform. For brands to truly become publishers, they need a smarter publishing plan than using a lone platform as a one-stop-shop.

Interestingly, after the axe fell on CokeTV, the brand soon announced a Facebook video series for Diet Coke in which new brand ambassador, Holly Willoughby, interviews vloggers about fashion, friendship and travel. It’s no doubt a valiant new attempt at transforming the brand’s marketing into a ‘millennial magnet’, but with another narrow focus – albeit this time on Facebook – let’s hope history doesn’t have an excuse to repeat itself.

Using vloggers as the face of branded content can be an incredibly savvy and effective strategy. But the borrowed authenticity that comes from influencers is washed away if content is too heavy-handed with the branding.

CokeTV, alas, fell prey to this all-too-common mistake by placing a logo on screen for the entire duration of the content. The perma-logo is a shorthand way to say: “Hey guys, this series has been made by the marketing department over at Coke HQ!” It’s the kiss of death that instantly turns content into a one-dimensional marketing campaign.

And this is the root of the problem. Brands that are heavily dependent on millennial spending power, just like McDonalds and Coca Cola are, have to work even harder than others to bypass this generation’s highly sophisticated “bullshit detector” (to use the now famously colourful words of Vice’s Matt Elek).

So although McDonalds and Coca-Cola should be praised for recognising that content is the smart way to engage millennials and realise the marketer’s ultimate dream of turning entertainment into a marketing platform, we have to be permanently mindful of the pervasive and finely-tuned bullshit detector.

Let this awareness slip, even for a second, and your carefully-crafted content gets swiftly consigned to the overflowing dustbin of interruptive advertising.

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