In this episode, the guys talk about Coke and how they managed to marketing their product a very challenging market. Nico thinks back of his time in the Middle East and Chad get the “Hey Chad” right twice in a row.

Coca-Cola embodies the American dream so much that, according to Webster, during the Cold War, Coca-Cola became a symbol of capitalism and a fault line between capitalism and communism. Tom Standage, author of ‘A History of the World in Six Glasses’, explains that Coca-Cola wasn’t marketed in the former Soviet Union due to the fear that profits would go straight into communist government coffers. Standage also says, “Coca-Cola is the nearest thing to capitalism in a bottle.” In today’s episode we discuss how does something so..American..translate internationally?

The emotional appeal of Coca-Cola’s brand goes back farther than in the late 20th century. Coca-Cola is and has been understood as something so intrinsically American that during World War II, American troops that were overseas fighting in the war were provided with Coca Cola.

Because much of Coca-Cola’s first international contact came via interaction with soldiers, the brand quickly became associated with American patriotism and America in general.

One good example of how Coca-Cola took an active and creative role in connecting with their consumers came about in 2008 when Coca-Cola started Coke Studio. In all regions, Coca-Cola strives to be about bringing people together. To Coca-Cola, simply bringing people together in local communities in the Arab World was insufficient. Coca-Cola wanted to convince Arab consumers that they should embrace both each other and those from the West.

Coca-Cola’s marketing team wasn’t just determined to accomplish the goal set out by the company; they were creative. Coke Studio – a music television series that gained huge popularity. Originally piloted by Coca-Cola in Brazil, and subsequently, in Pakistan, this effort in the Arab world alone has been credited with increasing sales of Coca-Cola to levels higher than before the Arab Spring.

For Coca-Cola, the obvious reason that most people buy the product is the brand. But after campaigns like Coke Studio and Crazy for Good, what is Coca-Cola’s global brand? Webster claims that the company’s brand might not strictly be the American dream anymore but it’s still American or at the very least western. He also points out that, “America itself as a brand is more tarnished now. People are more ambiguous towards it.” This is unfortunate because, as Webster also says, “The whole strength of the brand is plugging into a way of life that so many people wanted. As an ideology, it polarises. And sometimes those associations become unattractive.” Coca-Cola’s brand may be about happiness, friendliness, and good times but associations with America and the West persist.

Intended to be as pejorative as it sounds, the term “Coca-Colonisation” came about in the 1950s. It was created by the French while they were overturning Coca-Cola trucks and smashing Coca-Cola bottles. Protestors, according to Standage, saw the drink as a threat to French society.  The French weren’t the last to publicly and physically denounce Coca-Cola. Half a century after “Coca-Colonisation” became a phrase, in 2003 in a wonderfully ironic protest reminiscent of the U.S.’s own Boston Tea Party, protesters in Thailand poured Coca-Cola onto the streets as a demonstration against the US-led invasion of Iraq. Coca-Cola sales were then temporarily suspended in Thailand. Coke didn’t invade Iraq.  The U.S. did.  But to the people of Thailand the two were synonymous enough that the pouring out of Coke sufficiently conveyed their message – and not on a local scale but a global one. 

For example, the 1968-1991 boycott in the middle east, created an inherent hostility towards the brand in the populations of middle eastern countries, something which Coca Cola has been battling ever since with campaigns like Coke Studio and Crazy for Good Furthermore, Coca-Cola’s association with the West, and particularly America persists — and when there is political tension between the Middle East and America, Coca-Cola’s brand suffers. Regardless of the success of its two marketing campaigns in the middle east, Coca-Cola still wasn’t exactly everyone’s favorite. 

Coke still tries its best. For example, Egypt is Coca-Cola’s largest market in the Arab world and serves as the headquarters for its North and West Africa Business Unit. One of Coca-Cola’s oldest operating sites, opened in 1942, is also in Egypt. All in spite of the fact that Egypt has witnessed some economic difficulties since the revolution of January 2011. 

Coca-Cola’s brand may be about happiness, friendliness, and good times but no matter what their intentions are, their intentions do not change the environment. Just because Coke wants to spread happiness, an admirable mission, it doesn’t mean they’re not doing so in war zones and torn countries. If Coca-Cola were a person, some might be tempted to look at them and say, ‘read the room.’
Coca-Cola Middle East 2017 ad Coca-Cola – Change Has A Taste | كوكاكولا – للتغيير طعم

What can be learned?

  • Don’t pigeonhole yourself. Coca-Cola’s marketing originally banked on the American dream. While some international consumers took no issue with it, plenty of others did, and it took Coca-Cola the better part of a century to mostly detach their brand from those associations. 
  • Be inclusive with your marketing and think ahead. Coke’s American dream branding served its purpose at the time, but it also seems indicative of planning that failed to include space for the brand on a global scale in the future . 
  • Make the best of a bad situation. Not only is making the best of a bad situation the most proactive approach but it is often mutually beneficial for everyone involved to at least some degree. After all, trying your best (usually) pays off.

Other podcast episodes mentioned in today’s episode:

The Brand That Went Back for Their Future (Discussing New Coke’s failure).
The Beer That Gave It’s Buzz Away (In this episode the guys chat about hipster subculture that emphasizes authenticity, and how that differs from influencers).

We talk about

[03:15] American Dream
[07:15] Coke Studio and the idea behind it
[11:00] coke’s emotional branding in the Arab world
[14:00] Coca-Colonisation
[19:15] Coke in Egypt
[29:50] Our insights about Coke’s marketing in the Middle East

Episode Script Writer: Grace Wall
Research Analyst: Gertruda Gilyte

Enjoy the show!

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments