Here’s a few things I learnt from the Coca Cola Experience.
1. Real People
I went to the World of Coca Cola by myself, I was a bit jetlagged and confused and lets face it lonely. Ushered into a room with unfamiliar people normally fills me with dread, im socially awkward, I fully admit that. So I was a bit anxious about what to expect, just in case it was some kind of all American (no offense) singing and dancing theme park. Within two minutes of entering the museum/attraction/experience I’m not quite sure what to call it, I was immediately put at ease by a person. A real person. Kendra. She introduced herself, told us that we were in the Coca Cola loft, where she would be our guide through the rich heritage of coca cola. Some would have cringed at this, but for me, this was a really welcoming, engaging experience. She spoke to each of us, welcomed us, informed us and engaged us. No mean feat for the very first experience inside the building. Real people! Who are friendly and don’t tut, and tell you not to touch stuff, or frown if you happen to carry a bag or an umbrella, but a real person, whose sole purpose is to inspire visitors about big brand and its history. I know this is the ideal for every museum, to put a real person next to the objects so they can enthuse and inject knowledge and discussion into the visitor experience. This happens to some extent with some absolutely outstanding explainers, museum assistants, pro active curators and learning team members, but not every visitor gets to experience this. I know putting a real person who knows there stuff can’t be done in every museum gallery, or if funding cuts continue, it won’t be able to be done in even a small way ever. But Kendra made me realise just how important a personal, friendly touch is, particularly to a lone visitor. Within minutes I was an advocate for Coke and its history. 125 years old you know. Do not underestimate the power of a real person explaining stuff.
2. Don’t take yourself too seriously
After the coca cola loft I was escorted into the Happiness Factory theatre. One might Cringe again. Especially when the next guide, Sam (i think?), mentioned the dreaded words ‘sing-a-long’. But then came a brilliant animation, including quite possibly the cutest fluffiest uglyst thing that fell in love with a dandelion. This was all in aid of learning the five lessons of happyfication (basically be healthy and nice to people and of course, drink a coke every now and again, will make you a happier person). This may sound somewhat childish, but it was an overwhelming experience that you can’t help engage with and smile at. Although I didn’t sing along, that I don’t do. But I did bop along quite merrily. What has this got to do with a museum experience? Firstly it’s a theatre, there are seats. Sitting down to pay attention to information is much easier for visitors than it is to stand up. A good museum takes seating seriously. Secondly, make visitors happy, laugh at yourself. Ok so its Coke, its massive, they know you know its massive, they know you expect corporate spiel and will ultimately be disappointed. Flip that on its head. Surprise the visitor; do the unexpected make them laugh with you, not cringe. If a visitor is comfortable and happy they are more open to information and more likely to have a positive experience.
3. Mixed media interpretation
Again, its coke, it is a very focused themed experience, but it is done really well. It uses a good range of different interpretative methods. A good mixture of objects, art, text labels, videos, sounds, touchscreen interactives, video overlays, hands on stations, but not one thing which overwhelms the other methods of interpretation. It is balanced; it was easy to understand, to consume, and to consider. It is actually very smooth. There is no uncertainly, you feel at ease as you walk round, and take everything in. Getting the right balance of interpretation is hard, I’m not too sure the world of Coke have it quite right, but they’ve given it a good go.
4. All the senses
The world of Coca Cola is a very tactile museum, not in the way a childrens or a science museum is, it isn’t run amuck with ‘push me’ buttons or twiddly knobs but it does engage you in a multitude of ways. Sight, sound, touch, movement and of course taste all have a place. There is even a 4D show where you try to discover the secret ingredient. One aspect I really liked was the end of the Happiness factory theatre. The screen lifts to reveal a walkway to the rest of the museum. It was a pleasant surprise, and makes you look forward to moving into the next gallery. Again the experience is balanced. It feels very grown up in its attitude to visitors.
5. Clarity of focus
This was fascinating to see how powerful focusing on a single object can be for the visitor. The world of coca cola knows the essence of its object and shares it with its visitors. By paying attention to all the facets of a single object, the visitor gets a real sense of the objects biography. I was particularly fascinated by the advertising collection, to be able to see how coca cola’s imagery changed over the years but still used the same familiar concepts, unique taste, enjoyment, and lifestyle. They fully embrace their identity. Every museum should do that.
Again it goes back to the real people. Be nice and the visitors will have a better time. Be honest, and the visitors will love you.
Oh and if you give even the biggest sceptic over 60 types of coke and then put the exit via the shop you will get a hyper, excitable, jittery person buying every small and shiny thing in sight. But uttermost, sending them out of the experience with a massive smile and skipping down the road.
Many a museum could learn from this. You might thing The World of Coca Cola, is a corporate, branded, money making big business. But it provides excellent visitor experience. If only more museums thought this way, I don’t think it is a bad thing to stand up and be counted, to be honest and say yes, this is the museum; it has a clear brand, clear focus, balance of interpretation, real people and a sense of humour. Come and visit. Not sickly sweet. Just honest.