Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola is a brand name product which is dually purposed in both its sales and those whom it is distributed to. Through this means of creating sales, the definition of the product does not rest on the brand itself, but the symbolic representation within the global marketplace. “To continue to thrive as a business over the next ten years […] we must […] understand the trends and forces that will shape our business in the future and […] prepare for what’s to come. […] [Our 2020 Vision] creates a long-term destination […] and provides us with a “Roadmap” for winning together with our bottler partners.”[i] The language used to express their statement of aim becomes reflective of the history and the brand’s influence in Latin America. Using the subject of Coca-Cola, many Latin Americans become united in the perceptions of the “asymmetrical power relations between the United States and Latin America.”[ii] The Coca-Cola brand is no longer defined by the products it produces but the means of producing, selling and outlasting their competitors. Known originally as a company creating ice-cold beverages, the brand has now become a symbol of consumer culture and capitalism within Latin America.[iii] Andy Warhol uses the Coke bottle in many of his silk screens to comment on mass-production and consumer culture, while also hinting at American history and tradition associated with the product.[iv] Warhol commented on consumerism through his ability to create endless multiples of his work which he referred to his studio as a ‘factory.’[v] The Coke bottle absorbs a trademark ‘Americanness’ which Latin American artists use to reflect upon the oppressive American consumer culture and the brand’s impact on Latin American history. Antonio Caro and Cildo Miereles are prominent Latin American artists who use the Coca-Cola name to shatter the myth of radical political, economic and cultural thinking through criticising culture and mocking the system.[vi]  Antonio Cardo is discussed in terms of the unconventionality portrayed within his works. Cardo, “issistently [creates works] which [are] critical of society as well as of the art market.”[vii] Within images such as Colombia, (1976), he uses the identifiable lettering of the Coca-Cola brand as a means of representing the influence of the brand in the creation of the Colombian identity. Cildo Miereles uses the coca-cola brand to comment on the transition of Latin American culture into a consumerist nation. He did this through the creation of one-of-a-kind silkscreened Coke bottles which he returned to bottling plants and put into circulation. The artist used white ink to match the traditional Coke logo making the alteration indistinguishable to the unaltered versions. Most who purchased these bottles only realised the changes when they began drinking the product. On the bottles, Miereles stamped “Yankees Go Home!” which acted to comment on the impact of American presence in Latin American society which he intended to politicise and correct.[viii] He acted to go against pop art which it’s “disregard of politics, and […] consumer products, other than those connected with religion, never inspired […] art of relevance in Latin America.”[ix] The addictive nature of Coca-Cola found its origins in their original recipe containing the drug cocaine. This became reflective of stereotypical associations to the ‘Colombian drug lord’ whose life is greatly tied to the drug. The strong connection of Coke to Latin America gains stigma as a means of perpetuating the stereotypical assimilations to their culture: “the current use and abuse of drugs in Latin America is the result of the city turning into a megalopolis, with large pockets of poverty resulting from the transition.”[x] Despite poverty in half of the population, products from global economy can be found in the most remote corners of Latin America, and the addictive and assimilative nature of the brand entices consumers who are the poorest of the poor to consume as a means to be ‘with it.’[xi]* This aspect became reflective of the popularisation of cocaine within Latin America (among many other nations) which people would often choose another ‘hit’ over a nutritious meal. Advertising became a key component of the success of the product in Latin America. Mexico faced the brunt of the marketing force which Coca-Cola infiltrated nationalistic activities such as the bullfight-ring displaying dancing signs and massive billboards in rural areas.[xii] This not only heightened the prevalence in these areas but also reduced consumption of local franchises. In Brazil, Getulio Varga, the president of Brazil at the time, was anxious to attract the company. Through tax breaks, the pressuring of retailers to sell only Coke and the selection of prominent citizens to indorse the product, Coca-Cola “led to the decline of domestically owned soft drink industry.”[xiii] The use of stereotypes such as the family-orientated Latin American and the use of prominent Latin Americans, Coke tailored its product and advertisements to suit the local market.[xiv] This is observed through the Mexican-American singer, Selena who was an icon for the Latin American people. In 1980, Coke elected Selena as a spokesperson for both commercial and poster advertisements. This created a symbiotic relationship as Coke depended on her face to sell to the Latin American market, while Selena was propelled into American culture through the promotion of the American brand.[xv] Selena was featured singing jingles in many of the Coca-Cola commercials shown in the 1980’s. Two versions of the commercial were created, one in her native tongue and the other in English while in both commercials she endorses the product in English.[xvi] This symbiosis is also observed in the promotion of VMLA awards in Mexico which Coca-Cola both sponsored and made half a million branded cans imprinted with VMLA along the side.[xvii]* Language becomes a significant factor in the increased sales of the product in a non-local area.[xviii]* The Coca-Cola name had to change in the Chinese markets due to the characters differentiated meaning. When Coca-Cola was translated into Chinese, the characters literally meant “bite the wax tadpole.”[xix] Many shopkeepers attempted to develop the correct phonetic sounding for the name; however these creations yielded even stranger translations such as “female horse fastened with wax.”[xx] Coke associates decided to take action, resulting in the 1928 trademark and change to “k’o k’ou k’o lé” which literally translated into “to allow mouth to be able to rejoice” which reflected their concept of “something palatable from which once receives pleasure” reflecting their intended meaning. Through this case study, language acts as a significant context to the development of the ‘right’ name. In the 1980 Spanish commercial with Selena, the end of the commercial displays text and song stating “El Sabor De Tu Vida” which translates roughly into “the flavour of your life.” Through the use of the Spanish language in connection to the Coke brand, the product assimilates Latin connections and appropriates it within their culture.[xxi]* Coke’s ability to enter into Latin America has been perceived as inherently negative. This aspect has then been utilised by competitors such as Pepsi-Cola, their leading competitor, to steal Coke’s sales. This is observed in Brazil which Pepsi increased their sales through the launch of the Pepsi-Revolution.[xxii] Now the young Brazilian generation could express their resentment by abandoning the ‘old’ beverage, Coke, for the ‘new’ beverage, Pepsi. The act of connecting the Pepsi name with the term revolution became a means to which Latin Americans “could now express social protest through product consumption,” which the consumption of Pepsi-Cola acted as an outlet for social protest.[xxiii]  In 1998, Coca-Cola held a competition in schools to create the best promotional strategy for their products which the winner would be awarded $500. Greenbriar high school took the competition extremely seriously, evoking a “Coke Day” which each student was required to wear a brand-named shirt, pose in a photo and attend lectures from Coca-Cola executives.[xxiv] A student of the school arrived in a Pepsi t-shirt on the day and as a result was suspended. The principal of the school commented that on any other day, this would not have been punishable, however due to the presence of the regional president the actions of the principal became justified. Pepsi acts as a rebellious and more appropriate alternative to Coke in the context of Latin American culture which has been cited to oppose American commercial influence. Lauren Crawford Fall 2009


[i] (Coca-Cola)
[ii] (Gilbert 552)
[iii] (O’Brien 144)
[iv] (Andy Warhol 9)
[v] (Kleiner 1001)
[vi] (Joseph Heath)
[vii] (Condeal 177)
[viii] (North Dakota Museum of Art)
[ix] *The Icons of consumption were derived from imported items, so when they appeared in Latin American art, they had a sarcastic or negative undertone. Latin artists would portray the consumer as a victim of fetish such as the Coca-Cola bottle as representation of the phallus of consumer culture. (Camnitzer 96)
[x] (Belen Boville 54)
[xi] * Coca-Cola became so popular and addictive that the aspect of being ‘with it’ became more important that proper nutrition. (Bauer 207)
[xii] (O’Brien 145)
[xiii] Ibid 146
[xiv] (Howes 183)
[xv] (Orizco)
[xvi] (Selena)
[xvii] *this not only acted to increase sales for Coke by connecting with Latin American people through their awards ceremony, but it also increased marketing and viewership for the VMLA’s. (Billboard)
[xviii] Chevy Nova’s sales failure in Spanish-Speaking countries of hubris of American corporations who fail to take cultural differences (specifically language use) into account while marketing becomes solved by latter American-made corporations such as Coca-Cola (Mooney)
[xix] (Howes 183)
[xx] (Mooney)
[xxi] “consumer demand for their product owed much to the growth of television in Latin America”(Orizco 145)
[xxii] (O’Brien 145)
[xxiii] Ibid 145-146
[xxiv] (Klein 95)     Works Cited Andy Warhol, Annette Michelson, B H D Buchloh. Andy Warhol. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001. Bauer, Arnold Jacob. Goods, Power, History: Latin America’s Material Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Belen Boville, Luca de Tena. The Cocaine War: In Context: Drugs and Politics. New York: Algora Publishing, 2004. Billboard. “VMLA’s.” Billboard 25 October 2003. Camnitzer, Luis. Conceptualism in Latin American Art: Didactics of Liberation. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007. Coca-Cola. Mission, Vision and Values. 2009. 23 November 2009 <http://www.thecoca-colacompany.com/ourcompany/mission_vision_values.html&gt;. Condeal, T.E. del. Latin American Art inf the Twentieth Century. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006. “Cross-Cultural Consumption: Global Markets, Local Realities.” Epilogue: Dynamics and Ethics. Ed. David Howes. London: Routledge, 1996. Gilbert, M. Joseph. Close Encounters of Empire: Writing the Cultural History of US- Latin American Relations. Durham: Duke University Press, 1998. Joseph Heath, Andrew Potter. The Rebel Sell: How the Counterculture became Consumer Culture. Chichester: Capstone, 2006. Klein, Naomi. No Space, No Choise, No Jobs, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2000. Kleiner, Fred S. Gardner’s Art Through the Ages: A Global History. Boston: Thomson Wadsworth, 2009. Mooney, Phil. “Bite the Was Tadpole?” 6 March 2008. Coca-Cola Conversations. 23 November 2009 <http://www.coca-colaconversations.com/my_weblog/2008/03/bite-the-wax-ta.html&gt;. North Dakota Museum of Art. “Cildo Meireles (Brazil).” 2000. North Dakota Museum of Art. 23 November 2009 <http://www.ndmoa.com/PastEx/Disappeared/Meireles/index.html&gt;. O’Brien, Thomas F. The Century of U.S. Capitalism in Latin America . Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1999. Orizco, Cynthia E. “The Handbook of Texas Online.” 11 November 2009. Quintanilla Perez, Selena [Selena]. 23 November 2009 <http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/QQ/fquxg.html&gt;.
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