I don’t know when it began.
I’m not a close observer of merchandising ploys. I’ll notice an ad that is disturbing or awkward or uncommonly annoying. Sure, pastel bears shilling toilet paper is mildly arresting, and the degree to which they describe measures of butt pleasure is slightly off-putting, but their playful hygene hijinx seems fairly benign.
Speaking of bears, one of my best friends, Ken Stewart, a paragon of creative merchandising, came up with the idea of linking Christmas, polar bears, and Coca Cola. It is hard now to remember a time in which holidays did not include sledding bears, skating bears, caroling bears, luging bears, in which yodeling bears did not animate an Arctic wonderland, quaffing every polar bear’s favorite beverage.
So, I give credit to Coke for all sorts of handsome advertising, from jolly Santas at their ease, to turn-of-the-century Gibson girls. Who tried to teach the world to sing? Who softened Mean Joe Greene?
OK, but tonight I grabbed a can of Diet Coke, no longer knowing what to expect. I’m a customer of habit. Keep the same colors; keep the same logo. Don ‘t change the type face. Don’t mess around with my soda. But, in the last few years, Diet Coke has sold fashion cans (Marc Jacobs and Jean Paul G), swirls of color generated randomly by Hewlitt Packard, and, in an oddly conceived attempt to personaize the Diet Coke experience, slammed both first names and what someone presumably considers charming sobriquets on the sides of the cans. I’m still not sure why I would be especially moved to buy cans intended for Bobby, Heather, Prija, Cuppy, or Jenn. What does the run of the mill customer do with “BFF”, “Go Getter”, “Handsome”, or “Star”? I want a Coke. I’m no star, no one’s BFF. Can I fake it?
Look, I’ll still drink anything that fizzes, is roughly muddy brown in color, and has no calories. Tastes like copper tubing? OK with me. But tonight I grabbed a can, settled down to watch th NBA finals, and found myself looking at the words,
“You’re beautiful it’s true”.
Even with punctuation the message would have unnerved me. Affirmation goes a long way, and I endorse encoragement in almost any form, but unsolicited observation about my appearance is just creepy. I’ll admit to some sensitivity in that regard; I was stalked by an admirer/hunter in my college years. He left notes describing my appearance day-by-day. The notebook was found in a closet along with articles of clothing and personal effects he had lifted from my room. The Security Team thought it was a kindness to show me the notebook; it was not.
The issue, I think, is that my Diet Coke was remarking on my physical appearance. Had it only promised “You will meet a dangerous challenge,” as a fortune cookie once did, I’d be concerned but not aggrieved. As an aside, the fear of litigation must have changed the fortune cookie writng teams; I haven’t seen a fortune in years. “You are thoughtful and kind,” is not a prediction of any sort. To return to the subject under discussion, holding that can of Diet Coke, I felt slightly soiled, as if I had purchased a Fembot to compliment me on my manly good looks.
Perhaps I will find comfort in the next several iterations of can design. The first, an extension of the HP randomly generated patterns, now finds its way to a line of curved bottles. The next is a nod to “One Brand” advertising, placing increasingy large patches of red in the whole line of Coke products, as though we did not have the wit to connect Coke Zero, Coke Light, and Diet Coke with the grandaddy of Coke products, the somewhat original Coca Cola.
Only North Koreans and Cubans are denied access to the full range of beverages offered under the wider Coca Cola umbrella. Mexico drinks the most cola,approximately 745 Cokes a year per person. We lag behind, only averaging 401 Cokes per year, per person. Perhaps we can catch up with our southern neighbors, if we take the challenge seriously and spend just a few more hours a day hitting Coke products hard. It will take resolve and strength of will, and perhaps it is in this light that the curious nature of can graphics starts to make sense.
The new generation of cans and bottles are not simply designed, they are designed to be unique. This could be the first mass movement dedicated to the distinctive experience of each individual.
I’ll drink to that.