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Avatars for Advertising Soft Drinks

The Super Bowl in the USA was last night — and it is the time when new commercials are tested out on what is the largest national television audience amassable.

Here’s one of the commercials that saw air time — found as part of YouTube’s Super Bowl Collection.  In this commercial, people walk around the physical world and suddenly transform into some avatar as they engage with their handheld wireless devices for internet access or video game playing. At the end of the ad, two physical people find themselves as a male ogre gets transformed back into a young woman, allowing her to meet the male protagonist of the commercial and, ostensibly, form a new romantic relationship in the physical world.

Thus, Coca-Cola is using avatars, and the people behind them, to sell their drinks — saying that their drink is able to bring people back to “reality”, aka the physical world, and reality is a lovely place because there you can find true love.

The advertisement is an interesting commentary on modern Western and wired/wireless society.  First the use of avatars assumes that people know what avatars are and what it means to go into a virtual world to be them.  Without this knowledge, one would be left wondering why people are turning into cartoon and fantasy characters.  Second, this assumption would have to be based on the notion and/or fact that more and more people are using avatars in their daily lives in virtual worlds, virtual environments, and virtual communities to represent themselves, either who they are or who they want to be or who they do not want to be.

Third, it can also be read as part of the discourse that is concerned about the increasing use of avatars, or “falsified representations of self”, to mediate social exchanges.  Otherwise, why would the end gag be a male ogre turning into a lovely young woman and the chance for romantic love?  Everyone else who turned into an avatar was tuning out the physical world.  But this potential couple found themselves, their “real selves”, because they shared a love of Coca-Cola.

So, on the one hand, the advertisement can be read as an co-optation of avatars for the purposes of selling a product — the utilization of a common knowledge base, of being seen as hip and with it for knowing what avatars are and how prevalent they are.  On the other hand, the advertisement can also be read as a reaction against the prevalence of avatars and the negatives associated with hiding your “real self” online and from the physical world.

Perhaps the most important question not yet addressed — how successful was it?  Well, amongst the YouTube crowd voting on it, it was not the least successful, receiving just over 4 out of 5 stars.  As these are the more digitally tuned in segment of the audience, and thus most likely Coca-Cola’s true target with a commericial featuring an insider joke like the male ogre played by fangirl, then it appears to have done well.

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