Get a Glimpse into Coke Archives [Interview]

I recently sat down with Jamal Booker, Processing Archivist for The Coca-Cola Company, to talk about the virtual archives museum he helped build for Coca-Cola’s 125th anniversary.  Now the online experience has gone mobile, and he wants everyone to know that’s just the beginning for the very best of Coca-Cola.

What’s the best part of your job on a day-to-day basis?
Just the fact that there’s always something new. So, even this afternoon or tomorrow when I come in, there’s going to be a new request or something I discover that I’ve never seen before. You just never know where it’s going to come from. It could be Japan, it could be Brazil, it could be US, but there’s always something new. And there’s always a story behind every piece.

Artifact from the Archives

Do you enjoy trying to dig for those stories?
Absolutely – one of the coolest parts about having this job. I mean, we get a chance not just to capture the story so we have it, but to share it. We’ve got our blog, we’ve got the virtual archives online. It’s all about how we can share the story.

How did the idea of doing a virtual archives tour that was open to the public come about?
I think a key piece of the story here is that the archives had always been closed to the public. So in celebration of the 125th anniversary, we said: Why not give fans a glimpse into the archives, behind the scenes, and actually let them come in and share the archives experience?

The team from Coca-Cola Spain actually had the idea for a virtual museum. Atlanta is the only place where there are any physical Coca-Cola Company archives, and it would be impossible to open them to anyone who ever wanted a tour. So when they called us to see if we would be willing to open the archives up, we said yes, this is something we did want to do and this was a great time to do it.

What was the running theme throughout the planning of the virtual museum?
It was great because it was truly all about the fans of Coca-Cola – employees, consumers, everyone who loves our products. The other piece of creating the online archives was to allow consumers to upload their own personal archives as well to the digital archives that you can see online. So it was both sharing our collection with the world, but also asking the world to share their collection with us. Which I think is a key point of what we’re trying to do in the archives with the brand.

So how did you get involved?
Vice-President of Heritage Communications, Phil Mooney, put me as point on the project.  And it was a really fun project! It was like being on the set of a movie. We had about 17 people for a full week here. The people who were brought in to help us make this experience were people who actually work on movie sets. It was really cool. We basically shut down the archives for a whole week. There were people going every which way at all times. People were working on different parts of the project. It was awesome!

Virtual Archives team picture

How did you decide what to include?
There were a few main topics, and we wanted to hit the things that our Coke fans are most passionate about. So there’s a section about Coca-Cola and sports – you know, the Olympics, FIFA, baseball. So we pulled out the most popular sports items. Also, people love our products, so one aisle is the packaging with all our brands – the Sprite cans from the ‘60s, etc. Another one really focused on Coke collectibles – change trays, the toys, things people collect. And then the last piece was the artwork – the big, famous Coca-Cola artwork. So it all revolved around the things our fans were most passionate about.

Do you have a favorite piece?
One of my favorite pieces is an ad in there that features Mary Alexander. She was the first African-American non-celebrity model to be featured in Coca-Cola advertising in 1955. I discovered her in 2007, and we were able to bring her to the World of Coca-Cola to celebrate our history with the African-American market. She has a great story – she went on to become the first African-American principal in her region. She’s actually one of my heroes. That piece is in the front room of the archives.

Jamal with Mary Alexander at The World of Coca-Cola

So if you were going to steal anything, that would be it?
[laughs] Yeah, that would be it.

Have the virtual archives been updated?
We actually modified the online experience so it could be adapted to iPhones and iPads. We refer to that as Virtual Museum 2.0. It’s fully functional and it makes it feel as if you’re actually in the room.
[holds up iPhone] It’s almost like you’re holding up a camera to take a video of it yourself. And you can still click in the items to get more information, and you can move around with your finger too. We’re putting you in the archives in a way that hasn’t been done before.

To check it out, you can just add this URL in your phone’s web browser: www.theverybestofcoca-cola.com. It’s easiest if you add the link to your home screen. These shortened URLs can also be used to point to the site: www.cokeurl.com/Archives  or  http://CokeURL.com/VirtualMuseum

What’s next for the virtual archives?
I think that’s a major part of the story. The virtual museum is a cool idea, but there’s so much more that we can do. We’re exploring if there’s a way for us to add different items to the experience, or even beyond that, if consumers could add directly to the shelf. We have had over 130,000 unique visitors to the site already. People are definitely interested. Now we want to find a better way for them to tell us their own stories.
So right now they can add to the virtual tour but it’s a separate section. To have them actually add right onto the shelf, that would be our Virtual Museum 3.0.

What’s one thing that people would be surprised to know about the making of the virtual archives?
Maybe the most interesting thing is there were these cameras that were almost like a mini globe with something like nine lenses. It took pictures from every angle like you were standing in one spot, which allows you to turn around within the experience. The people we worked together with, we all bonded like a family and we still keep in touch with them.

You can check out the virtual archives on your computer, phone or iPad at any of the addresses listed below:

http://www.theverybestofcoca-cola.com
http://www.cokeurl.com/Archives
http://CokeURL.com/VirtualMuseum

Add the link to your home page on your mobile device for even easier access!

Interested in learning more about the Coke archives? Check out the archive blog here!

Alexa Kamm is the Worldwide Public Affairs and Communications Intern.