Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Wartime Coke

From the Coca-Cola documentary I watched, one of the details about their history that struck me was what happened to Coca-Cola during WWII.  Letters from troops stationed overseas started mentioning fighting for the right to have Coca-Cola and how they missed being at home, on the front porch, drinking Coca-Cola.  So, on insistence from Eisenhower, Coke decided to make sure that all soldiers could have a Coca-Cola for 5¢, regardless of where they were stationed.  Since shipping Coca-Cola to Africa and Europe was tricky because of the priority of military shipments, Coke decided to ship small bottling plants instead.  This meant that Coke become an omnipresent icon in trenches.  In doing so, Coco-Cola became a morale booster for troops because it reminded them of better, happier times at home.

In one Coke ad I found, the connection between Coca-Cola being on the front becomes part of Coke's visual and verbal rhetoric. 

The image features several different type of soldiers, drinking Coca-Cola to escape the war around them.  The verbal rhetoric of the piece starts by saying, "The location . . . an airfield somewhere in the Pacific area," which reminds the viewer how Coke is wherever there are soldiers as "a global high-sign."  The ad continues to talk about how the soldier are served Coke "from its red dispenser just as at familiar fountains at home." This canteen ritual allows sharing Coke with fellow soldiers to be a "familiar pause that refreshes, a flashback to their own way of living . . . in one happy, home-like moment."  The patterns of the word choice--"happy," "home," "home-like," "own way of living," and "familiar"--make Coke a glass of refuge and comfort.   

Another ad makes the same connection between Coke as the "global high-sign" and being a soldier's connection to home.   In this ad, the sales text starts with "No matter where you go, somewhere near you is a big, friendly red sign with the trade-marked, 'Coca-Cola.'"  In this page, the ad places Coke in a position where it is literally looking out for soldiers, reminding them of home and the familiar. 

What is so fantastic about how Coke markets itself through these war time images is the two-fold meaning.  The first meaning is marketing to those at home who want to think about the little pleasures that their sons, husbands, and brothers are experiencing.  Although not in a way that demands thanks, Coca-Cola initiates that sense of gratitude from the family by showing how Coke gives soldiers a taste of home.  For the soldier, where they are at may not look like home and the situation is far from home-like, but the same, familiar taste and logo is what will take them back to the familiar. 

The second meaning goes beyond gratitude to Coke.  The ads circle the idea of Coke with home, friendliness, and thus peace.  In that way, drinking a Coke is more than refreshing from a hydration standpoint, it is refreshing for the soul.  To the soldiers, every Coke becomes a reminder of what they are fighting for, making Coke synonymous with America and home, better times and familiarity. 

Coke eventually profited greatly from stationing bottling factories around the world.  It gave Coke a foot-in-the-door to start selling globally.  As GI's shared Coke with people in other countries, they, too, developed a taste for it, thus creating demand.  So, the Coca-Cola campaign that worked so hard at making Coke synonymous with America resulted in making Coca-Cola a literal "global high-sign" across the world.   
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