Monday, November 26, 2007

Coke World - Part 1

While I was in Atlanta, GA over Thanksgiving, I visited the "NEW World of Coca-Cola" facility. Tens of thousands of visitors are herded through this place every day. Here is how the facility is described on the Coke World website:

How will the NEW World of Coca­Cola be different? Approximately twice the size of the previous World of Coca­Cola, the facility will feature more than 1,200 artifacts from around the world that have never been displayed to the public before. In fact, only about 50 artifacts from the previous World of Coca­Cola will be showcased at the NEW World of Coca­Cola. You can also expect to see great new interactive exhibits such as a thrilling 4-D movie and a gallery dedicated to Coke and pop culture. And of course, a World of Coca­Cola favorite—the tasting experience—will provide visitors with a refreshing opportunity to sample up to 70 different products from around the world. All this and much more make the NEW World of Coca­Cola a unique and must-see Atlanta experience!

Exhibits. Artifacts. Sounds like a museum. On one display in the "Milestones of Refreshment" gallery, it actually says that the advertisements are for "historical and educational purposes." Bah! Coke World is not a museum--it's a big advertisement for Coke. Despite the claim of Coke world to bring the history of Coca-Cola to life through displays of artifacts (mostly old advertisements), visitors learn virtually nothing about the history of Coke.

Instead, one learns about Coke's self-image and the image they want to sell to the world. The main message of the entire experience is that Coke tastes great, and it is the taste that has made the company such a global success. If you want to learn about the process by which Coke grew from a small experiment to a global icon, don't go to Coke World. There, Coke's history is construed as a natural, almost magical process: the formula for Coke was concocted, the name invented, and the famous Coca-Cola script put down on paper, and voila! the great taste of Coke naturally conquered the world. No mention of the use of cocaine in the early days. No mention of the failed attempt to sell New Coke. No mention of Pepsi. And so on. This is not history. It's propaganda.

The real story behind the Real Thing does not lie in its taste--after all, New Coke tasted better than original Coke in blind taste tests. No, the real story is about advertising and marketing, a story which I'll write about in Part 2.

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