"Today, Coke is the world's most widely distributed product, available in over 185 countries, more than the United Nations membership..."Coca-Cola" is the most universally recognized word on earth, and the drink it characterizes has become a symbol of the Western way of life. (Mark Pendergrast, Pg. 10)
Coca Cola is one of the most globally recognized brands.
"One researcher attempted to define the "global teenager by surveying a representation sampling of young people from Argentina, Brazil, China, Egypt, Britain, Guatemala, Indian, Israel, Kenya, the former Soviet Union, and Thailand. He discovered that while only 40 percent could correctly identify the United Nations logo, 82 percent knew Coke's symbol.)(Pendergrast Pg.407)
Brand Identity can be broadly defined as: "all the components related to a product, service, company, or person.
It was in one of my graphic design courses that I was introduced to the concept of brand identity. We were challenged by our professors on our mock campaigns with questions such as how are your campaigns cohesive? Who are you as a designer? The answers seemed like a challenge;So much so. that imagining that level of consistency and corporate success seemed a bit abstract to me. We were shown many examples to inspire and teach us about brand identity, the most famous being Coca Cola. From the iconic font, to the childhood nostalgia of the famous Coca Cola Santa, the fountain sodas in restaurants, diners and candy stores, it was then that I realized Coca Cola really has been around forever and they do have a charm about them that leaves customers to relate to their brand beyond soft drinks.
I have my own anecdotal stories about Coca Cola's cultural imprint. I had peers growing up in suburbia that collected old Coke bottles, Coca Cola coins (that seemed pretty useless beyond the bragging rights because you couldn't really use them to buy anything ), tee shirts and hats brandished with the iconic Coca cola name. Coke had been the only brand I knew as a child to become a natural substitute instead of the word "soda". But what exactly IS IT about Coca Cola that so many people identify with Coke, other than the fact that it been around a long time? Exactly what established this brand a classic? And it was through that internal inquiry that my interest in exploring this began.
"This lowly nickel soft drink became so much a part of national life that by 1938 it was called "the sublimated essence of America...It is a microcosm of American history. Coca-Cola grew up with the country, shaping and shaped by the times The drink not only helped to alter consumption patterns, but attitudes toward leisure, work advertising, sex, family life, and patriotism." -(Pendergrast, Page 11)
If a brand must appeal to the consumer, a conspicuous way to do so would be through collective identities. Shaping a brand identity to emulate association of American identity would not only appeal to the consumers of America, but anywhere that Coca Cola is sold where associations with that identity are favorable. (As introduced previously, it is through the codified associations within advertising or the brand, that a culture code is formed.)
"What Coca-Cola does with remarkable success-is to identify the commonalities of human experience without necessarily altering cultures fundamentally...Consequently, Coca-Cola is able to make its pattern advertising appeal to virtually all human beings." (Pendergrast p.407)
Whether its the warm feeling of diversity and globalization, counter culture, romance, or that feeling of personalization a person feels when they grab a personalized coke with their name on the bottle; Coke has mastered appealing to the reptilian mind of its consumers. Imprints become so commonplace that associations become unconscious, while brand loyalty of consumers remains consistent. It is through this global lens that one might recognize that aspects of codified Anti Indigenous and Anti Black tropes or archetypes, have been utilized within advertising strategy and continues to be profitable, whether or not the colonial paradigms and meanings associated are intentional.
I know some of my audience may be reading this thinking: But IS Coke really Anti Indigenous? Am I harming Indigenous people by continuing to support Coke?
An individual's intent may not be to support violence towards Indigenous peoples, and how can one be aware of the colonizer paradigms they have internalized if they have never been shown the larger picture? I hope to bring to light a new lens of perception in which readers will not fear questioning corporate investment in Anti Indigenous tropes; But I also seek to squelch the defense that every act of conglomerate imperialism, colonizer trope and branding through all elements of advertising and brand identity associated, are unintentional.
Everything about the formation of advertising strategy to the product is intentional. In comparison, when speaking of the formation of schema and identity in individuals, that is not always an intentional process. One of the infamous Tumblr quotes floating around social media philosophizes upon how identity is formed in ways that glorifies a hive mind: “Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I've ever known." -Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters.
Which again leads to the question of whether one intentionally or unintentionally identifies with brand conglomerates? Do they do so because they are attracted to design elements, the culture code or societal histories and associations with the brand, is it conspicuous consumption or a combination of all these things?
"People around the world are today connected to eachother by brand-name consumer products as much as by anything else." -Roberto Goizueta
"From infancy to adulthood...advertising is the air Americans breathe, the information we absorb, almost without knowing it. It floods our minds with pictures of perfection and goals of happiness easy to attain." (Pendergrast p.406)
One could further speculate on how identity is formed through copying or "sharing", politics of performativity, or unintentionally imposed through social conditioning through collective values or social constructs. Id like to elaborate on the toxic implications that intellectual property can be boiled down to the basic mindset that everything is shared; As implied by many championing this quote...but the overarching point to emphasize is the line between intentional and unintentional becomes difficult to draw when talking about the complexities of identity and schema. One's schema or identity, may have been influenced by social constructs informed by everyday dynamics and structural power, which is unintentional and may be very difficult to eradicate.
"Schemas are also self-sustaining, and will persist even in the face of dis confirming evidence...Some schema are easier to change than others, and some people are more open about changing any of their schemas than other people." (As was reaffirmed by the quote about schema in reinforcing stereotypes by Imani Perry in the introductory post.) However, Schema is not IMPOSSIBLE to change, especially if one is committed to interrogating personal schema that harbors sentiments that maintain conditions of structural oppression. Social conditioning that maintains colonialism is not always intentional, but we as individuals can be intentional in interrogating the social conditioning that we have been implicated by.
Simply put, "Settler Colonialism has Implicated us all"(@hood_biologist ) We can work within our means to individually divest from colonizer schemes and mindsets, in order to heal and form decolonial schemas and identities. Corporations have the responsibility to be intentional about the social conditioning they choose to enable in their marketing and advertisements, but being that they are inherently capitalistic, there is no sense of accountability for them outside of whether the public is receptive of their brand. It is up to us to interrogate.
"American" identity and otherization of the exotic
“Cultural, ethic, and racial differences will be continually commodified and offered up as new dishes to enhance the white palate- that the Other will be eaten, consumed, and forgotten” (pg 39). -Bell Hooks American identity cannot exist with the the exotic and the "other". Its the reason the tourism industry is so profitable. Its the reason you see little figurines of hula dancers in grass skirts and coconuts on car dashboards. The formation of identity through otherizing oneself to "the other" is linked to the gaze of fetishization. Colonizers profited on this gaze with Buffalo Bill Wild West shows and human zoos. Elementary school mythologies of Columbus day played on fetishization through fantasies of colonizer desire to travel to the "New World" to bring back mysterious treasures and spices. The same can be said of the founding of Coca Cola, where advertising in 1886 fixated on Cokes "unusual virtues" and "magic properties that grew high in the Peruvian mountains"(pg. 19) "Pemberton advertised an imitation of Mariani wine featuring African Cola Nuts. Kola nuts were the next "medicinal rage" after the coco leaf." (p.26)
The founder of Coca Cola John S. Pemberton also sold "Indian Queen Hair dye" as a side venture. I will expand upon gendered savage tropes on future Patreon post for now we can recognize that Pemberton had a history of profiting on the exotic.
The COKE in Coca Cola
Despite the "exotic" allure of the ingredients in Coca-Cola, the appeal died down when it became increasingly bought by Black customers. And much like the era of propaganda of Nixon's war on drugs, whites feared the increase of Black "coke fiends" (p.84) which led to reform of the formula. "A white Georgian complained to a New York Tribune reporter that "in Atlanta, cocaine sniffing has grown to such proportions that some of the keepers of saloons patronized by the colored people are going out of business" p.90 Another racist article from Atlantic Constitution in 1901 referenced the soda fountain drinks containing cocaine. It wouldnt be until the fifties that Coke began targeting Black Audiences in publications like ebony.
Despite the "exotic" allure of the ingredients in Coca-Cola, the appeal died down when Coke became increasingly bought by Black customers. Prohibition of the time was much like the era of propaganda of Nixon's war on drugs, where whites feared the increase of Black "coke fiends" (Pendergrast,p.84) which ultimately led to reform of the formula.
"A white Georgian complained to a New York Tribune reporter that "in Atlanta, cocaine sniffing has grown to such proportions that some of the keepers of saloons patronized by the colored people are going out of business"(Pendergrast, p.90)
It wouldn't be until the fifties that Coke began targeting Black Audiences in publications like ebony. And although racism induced hysteria called for reform of the drink, the iconic name was preserved and legal experts argued in favor of its alliterative, euphonious ring" (Pendergrast p.32).
The irony of the brand diverting to a more expensive image to stray from association with Black customers, was the fact that its accessibility to the working class had always been apart of its mass appeal.
"The Cuban CEO coined an alliterative slogan-availability, affordability, acceptability. Before the drink could be sold, it must be available, or as Woodruff always puts it, 'within arm's reach of desire." (Pendergrast 376)
Cokes originally cost a Nickel, up until the point that the price was no longer economically viable. But even with the switch to fountain sodas so Coke could monetize syrup, the drink remained known for its access to all classes while remaining a "classic".
Pemberton elaborated on the class juxtaposition (quoting Woodruff) "it was natural for the Reds to resent Coca-Cola, since it was 'the essence of capitalism.' Another executive explained that "with Coca-Cola, every shopkeeper makes a profit and becomes a member of the bourgeoisie. Thats why the commies are anti-Coke." (Pendergrast p.246) "The communist warned against 'the Coca-Colonization' of Europe". (Pendergrast, p.242) Coke salesmen broadened their ambition to sell and profit on a global scale and they benefited from the White gaze of exoticism. And it is this intersection between corporations and the military industrial complex, that ive been lead to coin corporations that partake in global resource extraction and industrialization as conglomerate imperialism. This aspect of global profiting is key in understanding the power dynamics of the subsequent examples.
Exotic Primitive Savage Tropes
"Coca-Cola men also discovered a potential market in more primitive cultures, joyfully reporting that Zulus, Bushmen, and Fijians relished the drink...their attitude was often racist, condescending, and ethnocentric, such as a New Guinea T.O.'s description of a native's first encounter with Coke which he downed too quickly." (Pendergrast p.213)
The excerpt continues to elaborate on racist "primitive" and "purity" tropes as well as the implied notion that non White is the "other" to the universal standard and desire whiteness.
"...They told him that if he washes frequently he will become white like us, and he certaintly tries hard." (Pendergrast p.213)
Notice that Coke continued to pander to purity tropes in later ads like below. "Cowboys and Indians" another frequent archetype of settlers is another appeal to deep seated childhood indoctrination. The codified implications within the quote above of the brown man "becoming white" also speaks to rhetoric of assimilation. (Kill the Indian, Save the man) However we know that one can never really truly assimilate into whiteness nor wash away their brown skin which makes this joke even more racist and despicable.
Although the formula had been changed, the "exotic" appeal had not yet wore off as shown in the 1945 Admiralty Isles Coke Ad (pictured below) which is one ad of a series of many juxtaposing White Coca Cola men against various cultures around the world. The White man shows the primitive Indigenous man how to use what appears to be a walkie talkie, while soldiers gaze upon the spectacle while drinking Coke.
Comfort with Imperialism
Along with the idea of juxtaposing Whiteness with the "other" Coke has increasingly made the presence US occupation comfortable.
"One American Essayist, writing recently about Coke's global availability, commented: "Somehow that is very, very comforting. In means we can go into much of the world and find our security blanket waiting."(Pendergrast p.407)
One Christmas Coke ad in 2015 aimed at Oaxaca Indigenous population, featured white hipsters bringing a Coke Christmas tee and Coke to a Indigenous community was criticized for perpetuating White Saviorism. Even into modern times the exotic gaze continues along with the normalization of America as an occupying force. American's ads like this make the idea of white saviorism and invasion even more comfortable and commonplace.
"Coca-Cola should elbow its way into every conceivable retail outlet, while vending machines dotted roadsides and invaded sports arenas, factories, offices, shopping malls. Because soda fountains had always remained a strictly American phenomenon...as McDonald's franchises spread throughout the world, fountain Coke tagged along." (Pendergrast p. 376)
It may seem innocent for an American to long for a brand that reminds them of home. The film "Outsourced" (a romantic comedy about an American novelty salesman who travels to India to train his replacement after his job has been outsourced.) plays on this when the main character longs for Mcdonalds and takes a cab all the way across town only to find that they only serve veggie burgers. The message I took from the film was for the viewer to think twice about the xenophobic attitudes that many Americans hold towards outsourcing. (Which is also very relevant to recent events regarding immigration, ICE and the border but I digress). So this scene was a lighthearted way of poking fun at American's discomfort outside of the US. In the context of the current conversation, corporate brands like McDonald's or Coca-Cola, offer comfort to Americans through that commonality of shared occupation, global presence and a brand identity that remains uniform no matter where in the world its placed. All these layers are significant in the discussion of the military industrial complex in Conglomerate Imperialism.
Another aspect of Coke's global ad campaigns which should not be overlooked, was the way Coca Cola benefited from the war and associations that Americans held of Coca Cola with the war, US military presence and occupation.
An important role of Coke in the war effort, was taking the soldier's mind off war and reminding them of home. Apparently Coke had been very symbolic of that. So much so, that the military was eager to ensure that coke be accessible to soldiers. "Shortly after Pearl Harbor Robert Woodruff issued an extraordinary order: We will see that every man in uniform gets a bottle of Coca-Cola for five cents, wherever he is and whatever it cost our company" (199) "Before Pearl Harbor, he had assigned George Downing to supply Coca-Cola to troops in the United States during war games/ during sweltering maneuvers in Lousiana, Coca-Cola proved predictably popular" (200)
Coca Cola had made such an influence during the war that it even impacted policy on sugar rationing until Coke was exempted, during a time when all Americans were rationing sugar to help with war efforts. The Coke brand became one that many know and recognize, promoting the US population to become more industrious and sacrificial for the war effort through sugar rationing, along with other famous iconography of the time, like Rosie the riveter. Something about all of this tells me that Coca Cola was about more than just being a soft drink.
"Request for Coca-Cola from the military were pathetically urgent". After sugar rationing, there was a push by Oehlert and D'Arcy agency titled "Importance of the Rest-Pause in Maximum War Effort" 1942 and Coca-Cola executive Ed Forio was appointed to the sugar rationing board and soon Coca Cola was exempted from sugar rationing. Its arguable that the encroachment of Coca Cola was more than just a corporate pursuit but largely about extending a global US presence. During the war, 64 bottling plants were established on every continent except Antartica, largely at the military's expense (Pemberton, p.202) An article about resource extraction and Coke's presence in Angola details the amount of wealth that had been accumulated. https://www.nytimes.com/2001/04/22/business/braving-war-and-graft-coke-goes-back-to-angola.html?src=pm
"This is, after all, a corner of the world unlike almost any other where Coca-Cola, the world's leading soft-drink purveyor, has operations. Yet the company is here, re-establishing itself in a country it quit 26 years ago."
"...The company's new $33 million plant on the banks of the Cuanza River has been up and running for a little more than a year. Another plant, costing nearly $6 million, is to open in a few months in the southern part of the country. The investment, already more than $40 million, is big by African standards." (Cauvin, 2001) "Outside of the oil and diamond industries, the next-largest industrial project in Angola is the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Luanda" (Marques 2004d) Chapter Notes of Crude Existence: Environment and the Politics of Oil in Northern Angola by Kristen Reed And further proof of Coca Cola's profit from Africa can be seen in the call for boycotts because of the Apartheid.
"Coca-Cola had reduced its actual ownership of bottling plants in South Africa since 1976 because of the politically unstable situation, and its divestment involved less than $50 million in assets. The Company had no intention of relinquishing its domination of the South African soft drink market, continuing to supply its independent bottlers with syrup and marketing advice."
While activist below are quoted and framed to have scapegoated Coke, the same was said of motivations of many activists, (like Jesse Jackson(Pemberton p. 344) who called for a boycott in 1981 and Martin Luther King . Some think pieces even commit historical revisionism by framing Coke as a hero as if all history of racism and civil rights occurred in a vacuum. The same tensions that exist today with Coke's long held sponsorship of the NFL slurskins until 2017 where they claimed neutrality on #changethename. In Mother Jones they were quoted stating: As sponsors, we do not play a role in decisions regarding NFL trademarks. Your questions can be better addressed by the team and the NFL.” While Coke claims neutrality and Rslur sponsorship has been transferred to Pepsi, there are still Coke collectible cans and pins found on sites like Ebay, which will be justified as expressions of Coke nostalgia.
Anti Native fraternal org "Order of the Redman" (which makes a rite of playing Indian) still has a sign advertising sponsorship by Sprite. McDonalds who has a history selling Coke products, has also been criticized for its shameless indoctrination normalizing the slurskins with children's toys. Interesting how a corporation that long profited on a history of Anti Black and Anti Indigenous racism and exotic tropes, can simply dissociate itself of responsibility and remain "neutral". Overall, its important to note the global presence and efficiency of Coke advertisements that is raised by activists as well as its history with racial tensions.
"A few hard-line anti-apartheid activists challenged Coke's disinvestment." Tandi Gcabashe, the daughter of former African National Congress leader Albert Luthuli, lived in Atlanta and persistently agitated for a boycott... She argued that for every 80 cent bottle of Coke sold in South Africa, 10 cents went as tax revenue to the government, and that Coke therefore supported the racist regime." (Pendergrast, p.379)
"They are so visible and so good with their advertisements,' she explained, 'that it works to our advantage. We can say, 'What company profits from the apatheid? Coke is it!" (Pendergrast, p.379)
War Goes Good With A Coke
Coca Cola men earned their own militaristic valor when they were successful in sales. Knowing how seriously patriotic individuals hold military valor, these men aligned with the military in a symbolic sense as well as an imperialistic sense, from the foreign policy accommodations to ensure shipping of Coke product to war zones, to the very act of expanding global sales. The reputation of "the Coca Cola Man" expanded beyond sales and leadership qualities.
"They hoped to make Coca-Cola an "Integral part of every community...woven into the pattern and customs of every land." (p.247 Pemberton) Each Coke man received military rank commensurate with his company salary, leading some to nickname them Coca-Cola Colonels. On the Front Lines of Coca Cola outlines the militaristic ad campaigns well with the slogan: "War goes good with a Coke"
But the romanticism of war wasn't just the family friendly based campaigns that boosted the war effort. Many remnants of the bloody nature of war exist as cheery coke testimonials. "That day I had seen men blown to shreds; I had seen white-faced nurses drag themselves from the bloody debris of a bombed hospital. All this paled and was forgotten before the miracle of a five-cent drink any American can buy at his corner store." - non U.S. Filipino General Carlos Romulo (Pemberton pg. 203) "In his best-seller God is My Co-Pilot, Colonel Robert L Scott explained his motivation to 'shoot down my first Jap" stemmed from throughs of "America, Democracy, Coca Colas." (Pemberton p. 211)
With the reminder of the nature of war, and imperialism being violence, one must face the fact that coke's bottling companies could not have existed without acts of colonialism and conglomerate imperialism.
" Paying only $6 Million, Coca-Cola suddenly owned an eighth of the entire land mass of tiny Belize. (Pendergrast p. 379)
After much protest the company donated 40,000 acres as a natural preserve and declared intent on selling most of its balance. Coke managed to overturn a public relations disaster with damage control, but this does not erase the original intent, nor the exploitation that has occurred in Africa, nor the ongoing acts of resource privatization or conglomerate imperialism that is occurring worldwide. In the linked thread I quote tweeted the screencapped image below as an expansion of my past research on privatization of streams and land by media billionaires in Montana. Other campaigns like #notinmyfridge criticize the complicity of Coke in Israel occupation, union organizers in Columbia and beyond organize against water pollution and privatization. On tumblr I have created several blogpost expanding upon global organizing against coke as well as other underlying themes of the "American Dream" and other notions of US globalization. http://izanzanwin.tumblr.com/tagged/coca-cola
Even more sinister is Coke's ability to distance themselves from this reputation through fuzzy polar bears and the charity industrial complex.
A Soda Bottle, A Symbol of Fetishization and Exploitation
One of the most iconic parts of Coca Cola's brand identity; The Coke bottle, was founded through acts of colonialism. Aside from the aforementioned of the Coke bottle plants spread out around the globe, the displacement, government policy reform and rivalries which occured there is much more to the Coke bottles violent origins and consumer associations to unpack. One of my first observations of Coke bottle and cup collectors was the prized green coke bottle or glass. On my internal inquiry of questioning these collectors loyalty for Coke I decided to look into the origins of the green bottle. To my surprise I found that the bottles initially were green because of the sandstone mineral. The Root company who designed the signature bottle took 20,000 tons of sandstone a year out of Shawnee Tribal territory. "Incidentally, the existence of Fern Cliffs has been traced backed nearly 200 million years with the geological formations there said to once be the shore of an inland sea. It was also known to have been the home of a Shawnee Indian tribe in the 1800s." Of course the tone of the text could be read with the assumption that it was so long ago, that this fact is irrelevant, but make no mistake this was an act of colonialism and that should be acknowledged.
The shape of the bottle is often credited to be the shape of the Kola pod. As explained in the same linked article above. Again we could credit this design as a result of the white gaze and the exotic, because it was the kola nut that was "founded" from Africa and considered to be the next exotic medicinal rage.
"The bottle itself was created by Root designer Earl R. Dean. He and his team decided to base their design on one of two ingredients in the soda -- the coca leaf or the kola nut -- and were inspired by an encyclopedia picture of the gourd-shaped cocoa pod." -https://www.bannergraphic.com/story/1786618.html Other accounts vary, Snopes and Pendergrast credit the design of the bottle to the Cacao Pod in Encyclopedia Britannica and the bottle has become an integral part of Coca Cola's brand identity. p 106 But less talked about is the way that the bottle was inspired by the gaze of fetishization. The same designer Earl Dean had designed what had been known as the "hobble skirt" bottle after the dress in 1914. (106) After later alterations to the bottle to fit standard bottling equipment industrial designer Raymond Loewy referred to the bottle as "aggressively female." And the bottle was nicknamed after Mae West. The Coca cola website which list 11 historical facts about the contour bottle confirms that the Hobble skirt bottle was patented December 25th 1923.
While some may think that suggesting the bottle design has its link to fetishization is a stretch, one who knows the history of fetishization inspired by Black Women's bodies could see the connection. It is said that bustle skirts were inspired by Saartjie Baartman so why would hobble skirts be any different? Especially when considering the past advertisements of Coke which featured the white gaze and tropes of savagery. The dynamics fit right in with the history of Saartjie Baartman, and the continued commodification of Black women's bodies that carries into pop culture today. The same is on display with Diet Coke's poster child Taylor Swift. On my tumblr post about Taylor as well as Selena Gomez, I explain the ways they remain complicit in dynamics of white fragility and cultural imperialism while representing the Coke Brand. Since that post Selena Gomez has faced criticisms for claiming that "hashtags dont save lives" in the context of BlackLivesMatter but later using hashtags to support #marchforourlives. Its interesting to note the ways that Gomez utilizes her Instagram platform to influence the public. Photos from the "share a coke and a song" campaign were praised as the most liked pictures on instagram ever. Take notice of the message on the label "You're the spark" a personable appeal to the audience, similar to the strategy of the personalized name labels campaign.
"Hollywood was even used as a tool to promote Coca Cola as a high-status product." (Pendergrast, p. 249, 250)
And once again we are reminded of the underlying messages of primitive peoples stereotypes juxtaposed with "western civilization". "The movie industry has always loved Coke as a convienant symbol of western civilization" (406 Pendergrast)
But is it any surprise that Coke would choose Taylor Swift as a spokes model for Diet Coke when she shares the same sentiments of western civilization occupying Africa as depicted in her Wildest Dream music video? Much like Coke's expertise on appealing to human emotions to sell a product, swift sells a colonizer filtered lens of romance. Whether or not these themes are intentional, is not of as much importance as their frequent occurrence and commodification.
Boot Strap mythology and Lifestyle
"Taylor's unmatched business savvy, talent and drive to succeed are an inspiration to everyone,"Katie Bayne, president of North America brands at The Coca-Cola Co., said in the release. "She's an extraordinary individual and a wonderful symbol of achievement. Taylor tells us that every day Diet Coke plays a small part in helping her stay extraordinary. It's one of the many reasons she's the ideal partner to represent our brand." -https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/taylor-swift-scores-long-term-416139
Gender Dynamics and Sex Appeal as a Sales Strategy
"Since 1891, the annual Coca-Cola calendar had featured attractive young women. 'Coca-Cola girls' would stir male fantasies for years to come." (Pendergrast 67)
"Coca Cola welcomed the post-war world with the 1946 "Yes" girl. Before the Freudian "depth boys" discovered phallic symbols in advertising, the Coke men were using them." (p.268)
"Since 1891, the annual Coca-Cola calendar had featured attractive young women. 'Coca-Cola girls' would stir male fantasies for years to come." (Pendergrast 67)
"Whitten's approach used overtly sexual advertising. One 1908 tray featured a bare-breasted young woman holding a Coca-Cola bottle. (p.92) Along with suggestive imagery was captions like "Coca-Cola High Balls" "Satisfied". "We used to call the Coca- Cola girls Atlanta Virgins...They were sexy only above the hips, offering sex without sweat." (pendergrast p.164)
1988 Dave Butz & Charles Mann: "Tackle a Mann-Sized Thirst" Because who knew thirst could be gendered?
The "curve" of the bottle suggestive of a woman's body and sexuality. As you can see with the above example, the reference is still used in modern ads. One 1995 Coke Ad was even recalled due to explicit art imagery. The ad was meant to tout the reintroduction of the contour bottle, featuring the slogan "feel the curves". Apparently the slogan wasn't suggestive enough to appeal to the sexual reptilian mind of consumers, as it was later revealed to have contained a graphic sexual image in the ice cubes. A simple google search reveals many more examples.
Although Coke has utilitzed sexualization as a marketing tool, they are no stranger to intentional market segmentation another important component of establishing brand identity. In 1907 they began recognition of women as major target consumers (pendergrast p. 100) Coke often brilliantly utilized contest to include consumers input through contest submissions, in an effort for more scientific advertising. As referenced in the introduction piece of #schemesbecomeschema, Clotaire Rapaille was majorly successful as a marketing consultant because of his use of focus groups. Coke using contest to shape advertising was like a focus group including anyone who participated, without the limiting constraints of conducting actual focus groups.
The Good Old Days of Coca Cola
The Good Old Day's of Coca-Cola In returning to key aspects of Coca Cola's brand identity, symbols like the famous Coke bottle symbol along with Norman Rockwell's All American art, hearken back to the "simpler times", or "the good old days" which can otherwise be interpreted through various codified meanings. One thread that I reference back to when talking about the romanticism of the 50s does a great job of simplifying the codified meanings of the fifties. While the linked thread is focusing on aspects of patriarchy, it touches upon the ideals of a symbol and a setting being representational of a simpler time, as well as the power that we have in imagining futurity which either includes or excludes particular groups.
When it comes to a brand that frequently references primitive savage tropes, a history of Jim Crow Racism and Exotic tropes at African/Black people, as well as vocalizing neutrality on a racial slur that impacts Native people, it can be fair to conclude that colonizer fantasies of settler futurity and corporate globalization, erase BIPOC. While White people sipped on milkshakes and fountain sodas (before black people boost the economy of brands like Coke making it an accessible drink and in turn were stigmatized for it), "colored people" water fountains and "no Indians or dogs allowed" signs hung and Black people were having sit ins for Civil Rights for the ability to even sit down and eat at diners.
As pointed out by Frank Waln (who you can also support on Patreon here) racism still exist in border towns today. These are the folks who are empowered by the idea of "the good old days".
It is often the collective dissonance of Americans to dissociate and distance themselves from those parts of history, cherry picking symbols to expand upon nostalgia of how things used to be pre segregation. Whether or not that is intentional bigotry, It can be fairly concluded that nostalgia for the "good old days" is often entrenched in flat out notions of racism and White Supremacy.
Some say that most who yearn for the good old days are missing the freedom that people used to have in being openly and comfortably xenophobic and racist.
"Only Coca-Cola stayed the same-the perky, fizzy social drink that made instant friends of strangers, gave a little jolt of energy, rewarded hot work on a summer day...many American consumers and veteran bottles sneered at the "Latin mafia"... Since they werent "real" Americans, how could they comprehend the nation's passion for good old Coke?" (Pendergrast p.370)
Between the rhetoric of "real Americans" and relating on the level that Coke would always be the common American treat that "remained the same", this excerpt echoes the same sentiments that drove Trump's campaign "Make America Great Again". While many voters of Trump argue that there is no ill intent behind supporting Trump, the policies speak for themselves. Where there is any ambiguity or passive acceptance of bigotry, the bully can amble their way into power. The motto of Trump's campaign demonstrates how simply a motto can carry codified meanings. The same can be said of corporate brand symbols and archetypes.
Returning to Coca-Cola's history with Jim Crow, there isn't any recognition in public knowlege of the Coca-Cola ads that appeared in the local Atlanta klan publications in the 1920s. In addition to the fact Ive already noted,that a Coke product has sponsored the Order of the Red Man who practices Anti Native Initiation rituals and at the least this leaves Coca-Cola morally guilty by association.
Coke also previously sponsored "Port Neches Groves Indians" who made waves in 2017 for their extremely racist #PNGProud #scalpem hashtag which featured an embarrassing highschool musical youtube video with a racist twist. Once again students argued in favor of nostalgia and "traditions" to ignore the fact they were partaking in acts of colonialism. One example that remains relevant to nostalgic colonialism and racism, was when "Fighting Sioux" fans demonstrated racism and hostility towards actual Oceti Sakowin people (as I experienced first hand on a personal level during my college activism against racist "siouxperdrunk" tee shirts and various other incidents of campus racism) and claimed that their celebration of the much contested "Fighting Sioux name and mascot, was an "honor" to Native people. The other popular rhetoric revolved around the fear of losing "Ralph Englestad" stadium and his legacy as the largest "Fighting Sioux fan" despite the largely ignored fact that he collected nazi memorabilia.
This may seem like extreme examples, but the parallel lies in the fact that for racist that upheld the fighting Sioux symbol, it represented many codified meanings of the "better times" of unfettered violence. It held a meaning of freedom to glorify nazis for Ralph, it held a meaning for college students who fostered anti Native sentiments to be free in upholding those racial tropes and stereotypes.
( Three Images above from: For God Country and Coca Cola by Mark Pendergrast)
Coke too has its history with continuing profits despite Nazi Germany and WW2 despite the take by Snopes, it cannot be denied that Coke still fiscally benefitted), and it cannot be ruled out that there are remnants of nostalgia attached to racist associations of collective US consciousness of all aspects that have been broken down in this Patreon post.
Modern Appeals to American Identity All American Sports (NFL) To counter the idea that Coke was unhealthy Coke began sponsoring sports. Football is as American as apple pie. Thanksgiving football is an american tradition, Thanksgiving itself being rooted in Anti Native mythologies and the rskns slur having its origins in boarding schools. Coca Cola has been smart in sponsoring the NFL where the superbowl centers advertising, so much so that some viewers watch the superbowl purely for the advertisements and half time performance.
How can one talk about enviornmentalism or "living positively" in the prescence of an Anti Native racial slur?
"Monumental Taste" Coca Cola has used Mount Rushmore in ads to appeal to the American Identity. Many glorify Mt. Rushmore as a famous tourist destination without any thoughts to its origins of conquest or the mistreatment of Lakota people in South Dakota. A representation of the violation of Ft. Laramie and Lakota sacred sites, it is representational of colonialism. You can read more about glorification of the founding fathers and Mount Rushmore as a symbol of settler nostalgia on my twitter moment here. Also notice the "South Dacola" pun in the ad above. Yet more attempts of settler corporations to make land grabs even if in the popular US subconscious.
Capitalizing on Holidays
It wouldnt be the first time that a corporation commercialized holidays. Valentines Day is often criticized as a creation for corporations to capitalize on love. (Which too fits into the concept of the culture code).
Coke showed that with their capitalization on Christmas, that nothing is held sacred and Coke actually succeeded in supplanting previous societal associations with the holiday and imprinting it with their own.
"While Coca Cola has had a subtle, pervasive influence on our culture, it has directly shaped the way we think of Santa. Prior to the Sundblom illustrations, the Christmas saint had been variously illustrated wearing blue, yellow, green, or red...After the soft drink ads, Santa would forever more be a huge, fat, relentlessly happy man with broad belt and black hip boots and he would wear Coca-Cola red." (Pendergrast p.181)
America the Beautiful
American anthems have long been utilized by corporations to sell products and have been criticized for the erasure of Native people. I often point out how during the boarding school era Native children were forced to sing American anthems as well as other songs about "enlightenment" which were meant to indoctrinate Native children to be grateful for dispossession and colonialism. Once again Coke utilizes elements of American Identity in their advertising to appeal to consumers with "America the Beautiful". The irony of this was when there was one attmept from Coke to be inclusive of Native languages there was an extreme backlash from angry Americans. "This is America speak english!" While Coke may have had the best intentions this goes to show how many associate American anthems and expressions of patriotism to perpetuate xenophobia.
In closing, It was very challenging to compile so much information in one comprehensive post, but showing examples of Coke's advertising strategy and history, along with emphasizing their global presence and overall success, provides many insights to their brand identity and success. I hope that this post will have you thinking twice about the advertising strategies we are exposed to on a regular basis which contribute to systems of power such as colonialism and imperialism. Perhaps you will think twice before ordering a Coke. Expect to see crossovers of relevant Coke factoids in future post in the #SchemesBecomeSchema series as I cover other conglomerates.
Wopila Tanka to @Katmarsch for helping me to obtain Mark Pendergrast's book, without which this post would not be so thorough!