Ads Feature Statue of Liberty, Astronauts and John Wayne : Coca-Cola Sales Campaign Stresses Patriotism
The first change in Coca-Cola’s 99-year-old secret recipe is being ballyhooed with a media blitz of major cities that links Coke with milestones of U.S. history and major personalities and events in American culture.
Coke is not alone, but its campaign is one of the biggest in the new swing of advertising toward patriotism--a trend that some advertising analysts believe cheapens and saps loftier virtues.
“In the end, when you use these patriotic symbols for commercial purposes, you diminish them,” says Amitai Etzioni, professor of sociology at George Washington University and an expert on contemporary American society.
“That’s why we don’t allow the flag or the eagle symbol as a commercial trademark. It’s prohibited by law.”
Mood of Renewal
Certain print symbols may be banned, but verbal hyperbole is not.
During an appearance at the Space Needle, at the site of Seattle’s 1962 World’s Fair, Brian G. Dyson, president of Coca-Cola, referred to the flavor change as “the new reality” and said, “Coke, in a certain sense, is America.”
A news release quotes Dyson as saying: “A new Coca-Cola . . . will tap the mood of renewal that is all around us, and people will stand up and cheer.”
Dyson’s buildup, part of a show repeated in other locations around the country, was followed by a video indicating Coke is as inseparable from America’s greatness as the Statue of Liberty and the moon walk of the astronauts.
Images of the nation’s past and present blaze across the screen set to orchestral Coca-Cola theme music: the aerial shot of the Statue of Liberty, John F. Kennedy with a Coke on his desk, Coke in a space ship blasting off its pad, in the locker rooms and duffel bags of the National Football League and, by implication, in John Wayne’s saddlebags as he rides up on the silver screen.
It is all underlined by the Coke commandment: “We are. We will always be.”
That’s a lot of message to be riding under the bottle caps and pull-tabs of a soft drink.
Such advertising makes “drinking a Coke a patriotic duty,” Etzioni said. “Another point is, if you can discharge your duty to the nation by having a Coke, why should you do any more.”
Sees a Danger
Patriotism as an advertising theme is resurgent, notes James Larson, assistant professor of communications research at the University of Washington.
“It’s been demonstrated in the post-Vietnam era that people like to hear good things said about this country. Coke’s appeal to basic values is probably very effective.
“I think the appeal to patriotism and America and the important values of this country is, personally, going a bit far for a product like Coca-Cola,” Larson said. “But I have to say it’s not all that far from what other manufacturers have done.
“The danger I see is, if that idea is translated into a campaign with frequent television exposure, you can start to have blurring between news and commercial entertainment. There’s a lot of discussion among media people about what happens when products and news or historical events are put side by side. It can be hard to tell one from the other.”
C. Samuel Craig, professor of marketing at New York University, says, “The fundamental question is whether drinking Coke makes you a better American.
“Coke is an old company and it’s part of Americana. It is a symbol all over the world of Americans. But can you go one step further and say Coke is also part of the American heritage. I don’t think people view Coke as a vehicle to achieve that.
“It’s clearly hype.”
99 Years of Loyalty
Coke officials adamantly deny that Coke changed its 99-year-old secret formula, sweetening it by five calories per can, in an attempt to regain sales lost to Pepsi in the $25-billion-a-year soft-drink industry.
The new Coke, according to Dyson, is “our way of saying, yes, we have enjoyed the heritage, the richness, the trust for 99 years of some very loyal consumers that have made us what we are. And we want to reach to the utmost level to return to you what we think is something more, something better.”
But Coke’s real strategy, contends Etzioni, “is to create a mood around Coke rather than an information link. They’re not telling you it’s good for you or contains vitamins. They’re saying drinking Coke is being an American.”