x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Soft drink firm’s bottle-top operated phone video divides opinion

Entitled ‘Hello Happiness’, a 2m 49s advert shows the phones being set up at workers' accommodation, with the men paying for a three-minute call to their families using bottle caps.

A still from Coca-Cola’s “Hello Happiness” video, in which Dubai labour camp residents could make calls to their families at home using Coke bottle caps, which went viral after being posted on YouTube. Courtesy Coca-Cola
A still from Coca-Cola’s “Hello Happiness” video, in which Dubai labour camp residents could make calls to their families at home using Coke bottle caps, which went viral after being posted on YouTube. Courtesy Coca-Cola

DUBAI // An online video showing labour camps with Coca-Cola phone booths, into which bottle tops rather than coins are fed to pay for international calls, has gone viral.

But opinions on the video, posted on YouTube, have been mixed.

Hello Happiness, an almost three-minute advertisement, shows the phones being set up at a workers’ accommodation, with the men receiving three-minute calls to their families whenever they feed in the bottle tops.

A spokesman for Coca-Cola, the company behind the advert, said five call boxes operated 10 hours a day from March 21 to April 21 in unspecified labour camps in Dubai.

In that time 134,484 minutes of calls were logged.

“The Hello Happiness initiative pays tribute to the hard work and efforts of these labourers and serves as a gesture of goodwill and appreciation,” the company said.

“The objective was to cater to their needs both emotionally and in a functional manner. We taught the labourers how to utilise the booth, however no promotional or sales agenda was pushed.”

The video also features interviews in which the men praise the phone booths for giving them an affordable way of contacting their loved ones.

It has been viewed 168,730 times and has received close to 2,000 likes.

But more than 100 people have given it a thumbs down.

Iain Akerman, editor of advertising-industry magazine Campaign Middle East, said the fact the apparent corporate social responsibility initiative was promoted in the form of an advert could cause people to question the company’s motives.

“I’m cynical about most advertising that is charitable in nature,” Mr Akerman said. “Most brands and agencies benefit more from such work than the recipients. And if it’s genuinely charitable, why the need to promote it?

“Any form of corporate social responsibility should not be about making the brand look good but about making a genuine difference to people’s lives.

“It would, however, be unfair to pick solely on this campaign as it is part of a much wider issue that relates to the relationship between advertising, brands and charities.”

The advert says that labourers can sometimes pay Dh3.34 a minute for calls to the Indian subcontinent, making contact with their families infrequent.

The video suggests the average wage for labourers was about Dh22 a day. A 500ml bottle of Coke costs about Dh2.

“I’ve saved one more cap so I can call my wife again tomorrow,” one labourer says.

Most of the comments on YouTube praised the marketing campaign as creative, innovative and charitable.

“People from Coca-Cola are really so awesome to think of something like this that would make others so happy, even just a bit,” one user wrote.

But others criticised the company for effectively forcing labourers to pay to buy a Coke to use the phone.

“This isn’t charitable in any way. Just plain marketing,” one person wrote. “It would have been charitable if they made them call for free or used any bottle cap.”

Some users questioned the phone booth.

“This is outdated VoIP is free and they are using it – don’t be fooled,” one user wrote.

Others asked if encouraging labourers to buy Coke was a good idea, given the divided literature over the health impacts of excessive consumption.

“Would’ve been a good idea if Coca-Cola wasn’t such a health hazard,” one person wrote.

mcroucher@thenational.ae