I’ve often wondered how COCA-COLA, whose product becomes less and less popular throughout the years, can still increase its value and remain the number one brand in the world.
I recently found the answer in a Wall Street Journal article titled, “Reading Hayek in Beijing,” which references the Hayek prize awarded to the journalist, writer and historian, Yang Jisheng, for his book, Tombstone. The work chronicles the appalling famines during the Mao era and the new generation’s idealization of the “Great Helmsman,” a man who ruled during an era where, “Cannibalism, including parents eating their own children, became commonplace.”
Despite its horrid past, modern day China is bursting with people who, says Mr. Yang, “abstract Mao as this symbol of social justice.” This Maoist nostalgia is yet another case in point of the power of branding; a power that has the capacity to distort reality.
The journalist explains, “Ten million workers get laid off in the state-owned enterprise reforms, so many people are dissatisfied with the reforms. Then they become nostalgic and think the Mao era was much better. Because they never experienced the Mao era!”
This phenomenon hasn’t just occurred in China with the brand MAO or in Europe with the brand CHE; it happens globally with brands such as COCA-COLA. What people admire is the ideology of the brand, not the product.
For decades, the COCA-COLA brand has been associated with 3 words: Authenticity (the real thing), Optimism (open happiness), and Lifestyle (the American way of life). For the past 100 or so years, we’ve seen smile after smile, accompanied by catchy jingles, which masterfully orchestrate how we should feel about the product (whether it’s true is irrelevant). This genius branding fabrication has left permanent marks on our unconscious. Despite the proven hazard of COCA-COLA, every time we see the brilliant red, the unmistakable cursive font or the iconic bottle, we have the sensation that they represent the three words mentioned above.
Like the Chinese, we idealize the brand’s values and forget about the product.
And this is what I call branding, which is not an art, but a business that can be measured in Profit and Loss statements.
I’ll end this post with a personal disclaimer: by no means is it my intention to liken Coke with Mao, nor any other government that has committed atrocities and abused their country. COCA-COLA is not poisonous…the problem lies in excess. Instead of an instant of happiness, some are now craving gallons of it, leading to obesity and poor health.
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