Did Alka-Seltzer fizzle out at building community?

Great American Road Trip SignBayer Healthcare recently launched a summer-long online marketing campaign around their Alka-Seltzer brand called the “Great American Road Trip.” After coming across the micro-site that supports the campaign, I was pleasantly surprised by the much cooler and more “hip” brand presentation than you might expect from an antacid maker. The flash-based site does a great job blending together old-fashion diner and road-trip elements with several activities like flash games, printable (paper) stickers, and the ability to notify your friends about the site. These features compliment the main focus – which is a highly entertaining series of videos created by the east coast singing/comedy duo, Rhett and Link.

The traditional “plop, plop, fizz, fizz” messaging, while still present in the videos, takes a backseat to the iconic “Speedy” figurine and the antics of Rhett and Link. The trio have embarked on a nationwide road trip in a beat-up car (an AMC Gremlin?!) making stops at diners, dives and food events across the country. At each location, Rhett and Link engage with the general public, poke fun at them (and themselves) and create wonderfully fun videos that are being released each Monday and Wednesday throughout the summer. Overall, Bayer Healthcare scores high marks for creativity, presentation and for reaching out to “internetainers” like Rhett and Link for assistance in creating an entertaining experience. However, the campaign falls a bit short on the social media side, especially when it comes to the potential for building community.

Great American Road Trip Screenshot

After a closer look at the micro-site, it becomes apparent that the focus is on one-way messaging. The viewer is presented with the material that Bayer wants to show with no means of contributing back to the site and the other viewers. The Great American Road Trip is a theme that all of us can identify with in one way or another. That common thread would make the ideal platform around which to build a community. Give me a way to share my own funny road-trip story where I found the best little diner that served up a tasty burrito that nearly killed me. Let me tell my story via text or video or photos. Let me tell people how Alka-Seltzer saved me! Bayer is excepting photos as part of their “Dream Road Trip” contest, but the submissions probably vanish into a corporate email account after being submitted. Why not post the entries for all to view and engage the public vote for the finalists? Think of all the friends and family members that would be driven to the site using that method.

Minimally, there should be a way to leave comments about the videos directly on the micro-site without having to figure out that the video is embedded from YouTube. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with hosting videos like these on YouTube. That’s what it’s there for and will generally provide the most potential for exposure. In this case, who’s getting the exposure? It appears that all the videos are being hosted from Rhett and Link’s YouTube channel rather than a Bayer Healthcare or Alka-Seltzer-branded channel. Yes, there’s community building going on, and its all centered around Rhett and Link. That’s a big plus for them, but a lost opportunity for the Alka-Seltzer brand.

Lost opportunities aside, what might seem even more strange is my Google search that found the Speedy’s Road Trip photostream on Flickr. Kudos to the Bayer Healthcare employee who started the account, but why has the profile been left completely blank? That’s not very transparent. Why is there no link on the Speedy’s Road Trip micro-site to share all the great behind-the-scenes photos with the viewing community? Using Flickr to share this type of content is great way to compliment the efforts of the campaign, but it doesn’t work unless you tie it all together.

Obviously, a company the size of Bayer Healthcare would not roll out a campaign of this size and cost without a clear set of strategies and objectives. My observations of the missing pieces from a social media and community building perspective might be going beyond what they are trying to achieve.

What do you think? One thing is for sure. I’ll continue to watch content from Rhett and Link long after the summer is over.