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When “Documentary” Means “Glorification”: CNBC on Coca-Cola

Posted Jul 05 2010 5:19pm

Coca-Cola_Logo_2003Earlier this week, I caught a rerun of a CNBC documentary (which premiered last November) titled “Coca-Cola: The Real Story Behind The Real Thing”.

It comes as no surprise that a channel devoted to business and marketing essentially made an aspirational “how-to” piece targeted to MBA students, heaping endless praise on the soft drink giant (buzzwords like “global presence” and “brand loyalty” abounded) for its world dominance.

Alas, the documentary still contained a few gems, detailed below:

1. Chief Financial Officer Gary Fayard, responding to his company’s obesity and health-related backlash:

There’s nothing bad in this bottle [of Coca Cola].  It’s pretty much all-natural.  It’s the original energy drink.”

While there are certainly no lethal ingredients in Coca-Cola, there are questionable inclusions.  Firstly, there are copious amounts of sweetener (whether cane sugar or high fructose corn syrup, a beverage containing 40 grams of sugar is far from healthful).  Then, there’s phosphoric acid (which leaches calcium from bones ).

The “all-natural” moniker is meaningless.  Poisonous mushrooms are natural; that doesn’t mean they are edible and/or healthful.  Poison ivy is also “all-natural,” but certainly not a plant you want to cuddle with.

Coca-Cola (which has been around since the late 19th century) is the original energy drink?  News to me.  I award coffee with that moniker, which has been consumed worldwide for thousands of years.

2. Coca-Cola executives prefer to refer to their sodas as “sparkling beverages”.  Sad thing is, you know some advertising executive was able to pay off his mortgage in one fell swoop simply because they came up with that euphemism.

3. Coca-Cola executives apparently believe that if “people want to have a little moment of joy,” all they have to do is reach for a bottle of Coca-Cola.

4. Coca-Cola has an official historian an employed staff member who, since 1977, has been safekeeping $60 million worth of print ads, bottles, and other memorabilia. Alas, Coca Cola’s secret formula is locked in the vault of an Atlanta bank.

5. Coca-Cola claims to have created “the modern image of Santa Claus”.  As the ever-trusty folks at Snopes.com inform us, that is not true .  Unfortunately, the claim was presented as undisputed fact in the documentary.

6. A Coca-Cola executive gleefully recalls that Coca-Cola was the only soda available to soldiers in World War II.  Consequently, “11 million GIs came back with a keen loyalty to Coke.”  Sure, they also came back with severe cases of PTSD, but, hey, Coca-Cola picked up 11 million loyal customers!

This particularly disturbed me.  Here is a Coca-Cola executive attempting to tug at heartstrings by associating his product with patriotism and support of the troops, all while ultimately caring about “consumer loyalty” and heightened collective awareness of his brand.

7. A good third of the documentary focused on Coca-Cola’s presence in South Africa.  We witness one shopkeeper (whose shop is his front porch in the slums) travel many miles to pick up a supply of Coca-Cola off of a distribution truck, which he then places in a wheelbarrow before heading back through raw sewage and muddy roads to his store.

The President of Coca Cola’s South Africa Business Unit manages to keep a straight face while stating that given the problems that these economically disadvantaged people face, they “need an extra dose of optimism” in the form of Coca Cola.  Insert sound of needle scratching record HERE.

He also claims that “everybody who touches the product” makes money.  We are then treated to images of local residents buying Coca Cola, and testimony from shopkeepers that one of the first things people in this small community do when they earn money is buy the ubiquitous fizzy brown soda.

An extremely rosy picture, but one that I am sure has a kernel of truth in it.  However, the documentary completely glosses over the fact that Coca Cola’s ubiquitousness around the world often comes at a price for local farmers and the economy in third world countries.

Towards the end of the documentary, we hear from more Jurassic executives who giddily talk about the 900 million “potential customers” around the world who they have yet to introduce to their product, and their desire to “make sure [Coca Cola] is within reach.”

As the credits roll, it becomes perfectly clear that CNBC’s promise to “pull back the curtain on the planet’s most recognizable brand” fell flat.

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