Ever wonder how associates three decades from now will be able to access all of the great content that is being produced for the Coke bottle 100th anniversary this year? Or consider what insights future leaders will get from campaigns like Share a Coke?
I personally think about these types of things on a daily basis.
Coca-Cola’s Archives contain the output of our well-oiled, 129-year-old marketing machine. We have posters, documents, films and a wealth of information about the connections consumers share with our brands.
There is one thing that keeps me up at night. It's the risk that the work our Archives department has performed for decades to capture and preserve classic advertising such as the Mean Joe Greene and Hilltop commercials may not be achievable in the future.
A chunk of work to build the Archives collection was done in an era with no smart phones, no email, no Internet and when the term “cloud” only referred to condensed water vapour.
The exponential growth of digital media and digital file types has presented a brand-new archival world with brand-new challenges to collect, preserve and make the materials available for research.
I can preserve most of our physical artifacts for hundreds of years by utilising some fairly straight-forward yet sophisticated techniques, including temperature and environmental controls. However, there are several issues with preserving digital media.
For one, the many proprietary file formats that exist are not guaranteed to be supported in the future. Case in point: At one time, Adobe Flash was a standard software platform. Coca-Cola marketers from around the world submitted material to the Archives in Flash.
As the relevancy of the platform continues to dwindle, so will support, leaving us with fewer methods to access creative items produced during the years Adobe Flash was a leader. Eventually, there could be virtually no methods (3.5” floppy disk, anyone?).
Now, multiply that issue with the number of file format flavours-of-the-month you can think of, and therein lays the challenge.
For scanned images of physical items found in our Archives, the preservation and access question is a bit less troubling because we have the physical artifacts and can always re-scan them if necessary. The thorniest issue is with assets we receive that are "born digital" – not existing in physical form.
There was a time less than 15 years ago when advertising materials came to us in physical booklets and the average resolution of digitised TV advert was about 12 megabytes. It’s now routine for us to receive video content over 12 gigabytes to manage – this is not your grandma’s archives!
We often tell new marketers at the company who visit the Archives, “If you want your work to live forever, make some creative worthy of the Archives!” As they go and create new and more advanced content, the digital age has made it a little more difficult for me to keep up my end of the bargain (the “make your work live forever” portion).
The good thing is that we are not alone in this fight – everyone in the archives profession faces this same conundrum. The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration is grappling with maintaining official, digital government records that were once paper documents.
Colleagues in other archival institutions that collect private manuscripts from famous authors, which would have been in paper form in the 19th and 20th centuries, now receive computer hard drives (external and internal) full of material.
We consider the research on file types and try to band together as a collective on accepted file formats in an effort to create a standard. An alternative solution is “forward migration,” which would involve, for instance, converting flash files to the current standard, only to convert that standard to the next once it is deemed obsolete.
In addition to partnering with industry efforts, we are also on the cutting edge in the Archives with our website archiving program, which you can read more about here. We capture select company ad brand websites with complete functionality to allow users in the future to experience websites as they were intended.
As the world has changed, we no longer receive many consumer letters in response to promotions or campaigns, such as we did in response to New Coke in the States. Virtually all of the conversations now occur in social media.
Capturing websites allows us to document the entire conversation and zeitgeist. For example, we have a complete capture of the commentary that took place on our Facebook page around our “America is Beautiful” Super Bowl spot.
A lot of associates may think of Archives as all of the “old stuff,” but it’s much more than that. If we didn’t capture today’s history, we would be doing an injustice to associates of the future. At the same time, we cannot save everything. More than just the next quarter, we preserve those items of legacy to continue to document the DNA of this great company and brand.
Jamal Booker is manager of Heritage Communications at The Coca-Cola Company.