On Wednesday, I went and made a Fool of myself at Coke's annual meeting in Wilmington, Delaware. I'm not sure I got the case right on the "F" while I was there, but I certainly had fun.

It turns out that the enormous inflatable Coke bottle out front wasn't an advertisement, but somebody attempting to protest something. Oh well, it helped me find the front door. Inside, my proudest moment was when I got to personally call CEO Douglas Daft a "Marketing Weasel," to his face. (In a good way, of course).

I also got to see the back of Warren Buffett's head, but at the end of the meeting he ran up on stage and was apparently whisked away by helicopter, so I didn't get an autograph. I did get a free can of Cherry Coke on the way in, but they wouldn't let me take it to my seat. (That didn't make any sense to me either.)

During the meeting itself, I learned to say "no" when the guy next to me asks if he can borrow my hat. (In the future, anyway.) And on the way out, they gave me a little hand-painted Coca-Cola night-light, which lasted most of the way back to my car before I accidentally dropped it on the sidewalk.

On the whole, a busy morning.

Altogether I'd guess somewhere around 200 people showed up, although it was hard to tell from the balcony. It might have been a bit more, but the place was a lot smaller than I expected. Twice, I got to step up to a microphone and tell the board what I thought on the issues being discussed, secure in the knowledge that they didn't have a CLUE who I was, and probably wouldn't even remember me.

The first topic that caught my attention was genetically engineered foods. Coke uses corn syrup, and a lot of the corn on the market is now genetically engineered to contain its own pesticides and such. The whole of Europe is currently boycotting genetically engineered foods. Remember that Mad Cow thing a couple years ago, and the various health scares Coke had over there last year? They're still a bit sensitive on the subject of being able to pronounce everything that goes into their food.

Douglas Daft kept repeating that refined corn syrup doesn't contain any protein or DNA left over from the corn, so it doesn't matter if it comes from genetically engineered corn or not. I got to tell him that as a marketing weasel, he should know that mere proof is not going to sway anybody's opinion when they've decided to get upset about something, and that from a marketing perspective, NOT using genetically engineered corn would be positive press for the company -- in a "we're organic" sort of way -- whereas using it would give lots of generally unhappy people a target to protest against. (I can only hope that when I actually said all of this, I used shorter sentences, but I honestly can't remember. There was too much adrenaline in my system at the time. Public speaking is not my forte.)

The other issue I got to bother them about was the whole Diversity thing. Coke is currently the subject of a racial discrimination lawsuit, and as a result Jesse Jackson was there, along with a bunch of people all wearing identical hats. They spent a full hour "discussing diversity," with everything but a church organ and background singers. My opinion as a "cold blooded capitalist bastard" (my exact words when I got to the microphone), was that Coke should be treating this whole mess as an opportunity to invest in their brand name rather than worrying about what they can and cannot successfully defend themselves against in court. Spending money on lawyers is wasteful, and although it may make sense to the bean counters who were in charge when this trial was set in motion, it does not help Coke's brand name. In Daft's opening remarks, he acknowledged that Coke was a marketing company. I got the chance to tell him to act like it.

There were several other items on the agenda, including recycling, which turned into a debate between using recyclable plastic or bottles that could be turned in for a deposit, plus four protesters trying to chant without being able to agree on a key to do it in. (Apparently, they were related to the enormous Coke bottle out front.) There were also some employee compensation issues on the ballot, and of course the election of board members. The environment was fairly friendly because the earnings results released the previous day (Tuesday) weren't too bad. (Here's a Reuter's story on those earnings.)

My participation in the annual meeting, including the opportunity to address the board twice, was made possible by the eight shares of stock in my Coca-Cola Dividend Re-Investment Plan (DRIP). Although I own more shares in my Datek account, and of course we own Coke in this portfolio, I didn't bring any of the paperwork for that with me. If you own even a single share of stock in a company, you have a ticket in to the annual meeting, and it's the one time you get to personally annoy the people running your company. You should try it sometime.

- Oak