Let us just take a refreshing pause as we consider this Valkyrie on her modern-day horse; she is gorgeously pink and pleasantly dimpled and in so many ways a Titian vision of blonde loveliness ‘that could make a bishop kick in a stained-glass window’. Coke has crow-barred itself into this picture of joy and with its official stamp positioned itself as the preeminent consideration in the entirely spurious “Coke + beautiful woman = happiness” equation. Unfortunately adorning a product with a woman is no new trick and a marketing technique unlikely to lose its attraction any time soon; sidebar this lowest-common-denominator approach to advertising has also inflamed various kinds of terrible social problems by unintentionally reinforcing the equally spurious “woman = product” idea. While we take another refreshing pause in order to allow time for the blood to return to your brain I would like to casually suggest that advertising works by coupling the product it is trying to sell with something (abstract) that you actually want; and that the repetition of the same message over time establishes what seems like a ‘natural’ link between the two. Eventually we start thinking in shorthand; from “Coke + fantastically beautiful woman + fairground + holiday = happiness”, we collapse the equation:
“Coke […] = happiness.”
Sex, love, youth, happiness, friendship, freedom, Victory, (“one people, one nation,” if you live in Nazi Germany) and the “Carry On” motto of the British in WW2; Coke has corralled all of these magnificent, abstract things in order to peddle its sombre draught. Of all of these evidently desirable things, a bottle of Coke is the only one that you can actually buy; and so we do. This is exactly the public relations technique that Edward Bernays (a nephew of Freud) theorised and was an expert of: appealing to irrational, unconscious desires in order to direct and control the behaviour of the masses.
The point I am eventually going to make if I ever stop getting distracted by the pictures (notice pretty fraulein with proffered face, breasts and tray in order of consideration) is that while companies like Coke are in the end only trying to sell us 5 cent bottles of syrupy carbonated water, with over a century’s worth of relentless propaganda it’s fair to say that we have not only been irretrievably charmed by their witch’s brew but also allowed them to define for us incredibly important concepts such as: “happiness”; “friendship” (Share a Coke with…) ; “the good things in life”; “quality family time” and indeed all “sunny and pleasant things”; that which is “home-like”; “purity and quality”; “leisure” and “refreshment” — even “health” (Coca-Cola revives and sustains, apparently; it has some undeniable yet indefinable connection to sports in any case) — in the same way that we allowed Coke to determine the way that we picture Saint Nicholas.
Coke has even bought shares in “democracy”. In the twenties and thirties Coke and all kinds of mass-manufactured products came to be thought of as a truly democratic thing: the standardisation and modern, effective methods of distribution meant any one and everyone, born high and low, from movie stars and fashionable sophisticates to okies in their old jalopy and young drifters like Bonnie and Clyde, from Fatty Arbuckle and his unfortunate paramour to the King of England — anyone could enjoy a bottle of delicious, refreshing Coca-Cola for 5 cents and know it was the same purity and quality as the one the other fellow was drinking. It was even possible for the refreshment of 5 cent Cokes to follow American soldiers around the globe during WWII — same as the Betty Grable pin-up. It is precisely this popular, ‘democratic’ appeal (and one-size-fits-all approach to international relations) which made the Coca-Cola Company extraordinarily successful and awesomely rich, and terrifyingly powerful, a lot like omniscient Santa with his ever-watchful twinkling eyes and comprehensive list of children who have been naughty or nice; those good children he leaves Coke-bottle-shaped presents for and those bad ones he brings litigation against.
Read Next: You Ought To Drink Less Coke, QED (Part Four)