If you weren’t already aware of the incredible, pervasive influence that large companies and advertising can have on society, then let’s just stop to think about the fact that The Coca-Cola Company invented Santa Claus as we know him. Haddon Sundblom’s rosy cheeked Santa first appeared in 1931, and he went on periodically refreshing himself with Coke until 1964, when he was found dead at the bottom of a pool; an autopsy noted that his liver and heart were heavily enlarged by drug and alcohol abuse. Don’t try to give me that “Saint Nicholas” is a real saint shit. Every year Christmas comes around and the fat guy with the beard, red suit, belt and reindeer becomes ubiquitous; in the 10 and a half months of every year when Christmas decorations are not socially acceptable, you see a pair of boots sticking out of a chimney, you don’t think, “Oh dear, a burglar,” but “Santa got stuck”; you see an albino with a full Ned Kelly / hipster beard and you wonder why a 20 year old would want to walk around looking like Santa; in the tradition of ‘the pause that refreshes’ Coke ads, every time I put on my red jacket because I’m sick to death of the people in Melbourne who wear black all of the time, I wonder if it is sage, or if I’m going to risk some jerk muttering something about Santa. The flow-on effect of the ‘everybody loves Santa’ thing is that old bearded fat guys who could be bikies or pedos for all anyone knows are automatically assumed to be jolly and kind. This is a great lesson in PR for pedos.
If you look over the history of companies like Coca-Cola you’ll know that they became the incredibly large, rich, powerful and influential companies that they are today due to visionary marketing and advertising techniques that positively associated them with the biggest ideas and events of the 20th century: Coke has sponsored sports events (including sailing and bullfighting) and the Olympic Games since ‘way back when’. Athleticism was a Nazi ideal and throughout the 1930’s Coca-Cola (GmbH) ‘cashed in heavily’ sponsoring events such as the annual Deutschlandrundfahrt (National Bycicle Championships) and the Soccer Cup. Coca Cola was one of three official beverage sponsors of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Here Hitler and the Nazis hoped to show the world a ‘resurgent Germany’ and depicted the German victories as proof of Aryan racial superiority; Coke’s advertising used the motto: Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Getrank (One People, One Nation, One Drink).
But other than Father Christmas and sports, Halloween and boy scouts, also consider Coke’s association with concepts such as youth, health and vigour; beautiful women and pin-up girls; parties; fun [in the abstract]; Summer [three months of a year]; music; being slim; Democracy and the American way of life itself.
Coke was almost an official sponsor of the American soldiers in World War Two: Robert Woodruff [president of the Coca Cola Company from 1923 -1954] decided that Coca Cola’s place was near the front line. ‘See that every man in uniform gets a bottle of Coca Cola for 5 cents wherever he is and whatever the cost to the company,’ he said.
So they did. In Brussels, in Italy, in Paris, while battle-seasoned Seabees piled ashore in the Admiralty’s, in recreation huts and air bases, somewhere in the Pacific area, ‘the phrase Have a Coke expresses the friendliness and hospitality that come second-nature to your Yankee fighting man. It’s his way of saying, Pardner, you belong: you’re a good Joe. Whenever they meet up with Coca-Cola they find… a flashback to their own way of living, friendliness and refreshment all wrapped up in one happy, home-like moment.’
Meantime due to the war the German bottlers could no longer get Coca Cola syrup from the States, so the CEO of Coca-Cola (GmbH), Max Keith, invented Fanta; it was made out of the ingredients he had available to him and produced specifically for the Nazi market and the Third Reich.
After establishing a fond, friendly, home-like, nostalgic place in the hearts of good Yankee Joes, and surfeiting the palates of the citizens of the Third Reich, Coke then went on to ingratiate itself with America’s international allies, and its advertising spruiked the drink as a universal symbol for friendliness and peace. Looking at these ads you can literally see the spread of an American cultural hegemony. When peace was declared, a little bit of America had been left behind everywhere those hearty chaps with their 5 cent bottles had been. In a similar way today empty coke bottles and lids are often left behind on beaches and by rivers and at bus shelters and indeed wherever Coca-Cola is sold in bottles, and good times have been had by all.
Continued Next: You Ought to Drink Less Coke Part 2