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Coke's happy Internet campaign turns from nice to Nazi

Technically Incorrect: Auto-tweets are rarely a good idea, as Coca-Cola discovered when it suddenly found itself inadvertently trying to put a nice face on quotes from "Mein Kampf." It is forced to suspend the campaign.


Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


cokead5.jpg
A scene from Coke's #MakeItHappy ad. Did it come true? Coca-Cola/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

When you're Coca-Cola, you're bubbly all the time and you want everyone else to be.

It's possible, though, for that bubbliness to bubble over into "Oh, do please stop with that interminable world-be-happy garbage."

I was concerned last week that Coke's attempt to make the Internet a veritable love-in might be doomed to the garbage can of reality.

Should you have been too busy lately being lovelorn or merely trolling those you loathe (or both), you might not have been aware of the hashtag #MakeItHappy.

This was created specially for the lovefest known as the Super Bowl. Its goal was to turn all the hate on Twitter into lurve. It asked for anyone who saw a hateful tweet to hashtag it and Coke would turn it into a garden of blooming and fragrant roses.

I am stunned, therefore, to hear from Adweek that the campaign has been suspended. The problem, it seems, is that Coke didn't anticipate, well, the bile that someone might toss in order to subvert its Happyworld.

Gawker decided to experiment with Coke's goodness. It took a few quotes from "Mein Kampf." It hashtagged them MakeItHappy and then allowed Coke's ASCII lettering code to turn them into pretty pictures and auto-tweet them out.

Before Coke's artificially intelligent machines were aware of what they were doing, they had turned "we must secure the existence of our people and a future for White Children" into a pretty picture of a dog.

I have contacted Coke to ask, given its depiction of the Web as a place where evil lurks, whether it had taken any technical precautions to prevent its nice being turned to Nazi. I will update, should I hear.

The company did, though, offer these words to Adweek: "It's unfortunate that Gawker is trying to turn this campaign into something that it isn't. Building a bot that attempts to spread hate through #MakeItHappy is a perfect example of the pervasive online negativity Coca-Cola wanted to address with this campaign."

One can, indeed, describe it as negativity. However, one could also describe the ad Coke ran during the Super Bowl -- in which all it took for hate to be turned into love was pouring its fizzy, sticky drink onto your keyboard -- as an exercise in overcaffeinated delusion.

The problem with happiness is that it can't be forced. It's like a tipsy, red-faced party hostess wandering into a subdued room and trying to get everyone to dance.

You dance because you feel it, not because someone tells you to feel it.

If Coke had used a little more humor, rather than setting itself up as an official wing of the office of the Dalai Lama, it might have been able to puncture the sanctimonious tinge of its message.

Suspending the campaign, though, almost makes it worse. Doesn't it indicate that giving up against online bullies is the only option? Was there no way for Coke to show its mettle, its steeliness?

If, at the first sign of mischievousness, the happy run for cover, what hope is there for those of us who grumble nobly through our every day, in the hope that happy will finally come upon us?