Coca-Cola, trademarks and brand advocacy

Coca-Cola, trademarks and brand advocacy. A story that has gained much coverage in recent weeks is the case involving Coca-Cola and a well-known Second Life content creator, Vint Falken.


The story relates to a Coke-themed outfit made by Vint. There’s been much discussion about the use of registered trademarks on an unauthorised basis – this being the most prominent to date. The outfit, available to buy in SL, was also promoted on SLexhange (a website for retailer in SL). The outfit was originally removed from this website in light of trademark infringement (apparently a decision made by SLexchange, not Coca-Cola). Then, SLexchange released the following:

‘We have spoken to Coca-Cola and they have released their trademark to SL Merchants. Therefore, any of your items that were disabled on June 7, 2007 have been retrieved.’

Quite a turn-around.

So, is this a sign that real-world brands are simply giving up trying to police their brands in virtual worlds? Not at all. There’s a far more strategic reason for adopting this strategy. The reason behind Coke’s decision was originally explained in the K Zero Luxury Brands case study back in March 2007. Here is an extract from this case study.

One critical factor to be considered by brand owners is the fact that their products probably already exist in Second Life.

A key characteristic residing within large numbers of Second Life residents is the high degree of brand advocacy. Explore a little into Second Life and you will find virtual shops selling unofficial but high quality versions of brands and products. These people in some some cases are generating revenue streams from this activity.

On the one hand, this activity is potential illegal but for now loosely explainable by the terms and conditions of the Linden Lab IP clause – all content is the property of its owner.
A more proactive approach here is to remember that the majority of residents doing this do not make a living out of it – they do it in the first place for their love of the brand. This has to be leveraged.

Embrace these people, get them involved in your brands and let them continue to be brand ambassadors, in an official way.

This is a smart move from Coca-Cola. They’ve realised that allowing residents to work with their brand will yield far greater opportunities than if they prevented brand usage. Coke works hard to leverage their brand in the real world and are now opening up the options for their brand to be extended virtually – an importantly – by other people. In a way, this is user-generated NPD.