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Coca-Cola campaign gives prizes, draws crowds

Taylor Snow/Collegian

Visitors to the University of Massachusetts Campus Center were met with a surprise Monday, as an interactive advertising campaign by Coca-Cola allowed some students to walk away with prizes.

Many students were taken aback when what appeared to be an encounter with an ordinary Coca-Cola machine in the Campus Center suddenly had a human hand bestowing gifts, including six-packs of Coca-Cola, UMass t-shirts, and other surprises emerging from its dispenser.

At 10 a.m. yesterday morning, Coca-Cola’s Open Happiness Campaign set up shop across from the University bookstore, with hopes of using unconventional advertising to spread excitement among UMass students and create viral buzz for the corporation.

Rich Levering, the campaign’s marketing and tour manager, helped to set up the mock-machine on Monday night, which was backed by three cut-out walls, placed against the interior walls of the building.

“It looks like just a regular Coke machine, but it’s not,” said Levering. “What happens is you go up, press the button, a hand comes out and gives you a prize.”

According to Levering, behind the walls was approximately $10,000 worth of merchandise, with products widely ranging in value. There were numerous grand prizes, including Nintendo Wiis, Beats by Dr. Dre headphones, flat-screen televisions and Kindles. There were also 20 sets of Red Sox tickets, 10 sets of Six Flags tickets and a $100 gift certificate to Ticket Master.

Senior Tachand Dubuisson and her friends won a Nintendo Wii gaming system, which caused Dubuisson to scream loud enough for anyone on the concourse level to hear.

“I prayed for a Kindle when I got up to the machine and had my friends pray for me too,” said Dubuisson, a music and accounting major. “I pulled out a Wii instead, but I’m just as happy with that.”

Inside the walled-in structure, three of the campaign’s employees were seated gathering prizes and handing them through the rectangular hole covered by a rubber flap.

The back of the machine was lined with special effects including strobe lights and applause sound effects.

Ethan Minott, a senior civil engineering major, was shocked when he pulled out an envelope containing a pair of Red Sox tickets.

“I don’t even know what I was expecting when I walked up to the machine,” said Minott. “I just pulled out the envelope and I don’t even know what to say.”

Some students returned to the line to receive multiple items, in hopes of obtaining a major prize.

Robert Lee was one of many who failed at this repetitive method.

“I’ve gone through five times now, and all I’ve gotten is three little notebooks and a couple of other small prizes,” said the senior kinesiology major.

Little did Lee know, the employees behind the machine prepared for those who came back repeatedly, as they observed the students on a hidden camera located near the top of the machine.

“Sometimes we have people who come up again and again and we recognize them so they might get a sticker, or something small like that,” said Levering. “But then if we see a crowd of people who are really excited, then we’ll hook them up and make sure they have an awesome time.”

The idea for the campaign came from Escalate Now, a promotional company located on Wall Street in Manhattan, which in 2009 came up with this method of advertising wherein free items are given away to passers-by.

There have been tours to schools throughout the country, beginning in 2009, and UMass is the first stop of the Northeast tour.

Levering loves the concept, because it is fast-spreading and effective.

“It creates a buzz around campus,” said Levering. “People can let other people know by means of Facebook and Twitter, so it becomes popular fast.”

Levering continued, “If you are a company, are you going to put your advertising into TV commercials, or are you going to go out there and really reach out to the public?”

Senior Christopher Greene had a similar outlook on the campaign method.

“It really is good advertising,” said Green. “You could pay millions of dollars on commercials, or you could spend thousands of dollars on merchandise. It’s the best form of advertisement.”

Levering and the rest of the crew packed up at around 2 p.m. yesterday, and will be off to Villanova for the next stop on their tour of the Northeast.

Taylor Snow can be reached at tsnow@student.umass.edu.

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