I have no doubt that there are a few people who consider me a fool, and while I’d like to think they are wrong in that opinion, I fear some of them may be able to present fairly credible evidence to support their case. (I bought that Jack Johnson debut album—need I say more?)(I thought he sounded like an acoustic Red Hot Chili Peppers, which would be true, if the Chili Peppers sucked.) However, there are few who think less of me than the folks on Madison Avenue, and even among those advertising vultures, none show me more disdain than the folks at Coca Cola.
And this is not without some serious irony. As anyone who knows me well can attest, there are few greater aficionados of the beverage known as “cola” than yours truly. I love it, plain and simple.(To wit: I have agreed to go see bands at the Twilight Cafe even when I didn’t feel like going out because their on-tap cola is among the best tap cola I have ever had—bracingly crisp, almost brutally so.) While I am perpetually hoping to find the perfect, bitter bite in any obscure cola that appears on the shelves, RC (accurately described as having “a touch of cinnamon”) is my first choice among the common brands. Sadly, however, the days of Royal Crown are waning, no longer available at any of the mini-marts in my neck of NoPo. (“Cola” is fast becoming a two-party system.) Left to choose between the two major brands, I will more often choose Coke (fewer, bigger bubbles) over the slightly sweeter Pepsi (more, finer bubbles.)
Recently the folks at Coca Cola Bottling have launched an ad campaign that invokes the ghosts of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, portraying the infamously and perpetually pining lovers Rick and Elsa in Casablanca. The goal of this emotional conjure? To sell me Diet Coke.
Diet Coke?! Let me state clearly—Diet Coke is a carbonated beverage, but is related to “Cola” in name alone. I don’t know what it tastes like— mildly-diluted turpentine? A Weird-Science recreation of The Real Thing? Industrial furniture polish? Diet Coke is to Coke what Water is to Watermelon—the titles might share a word, but the similarities end there.
The essence of the ad: cute young girl watches Casablanca on the big screen. Cute young boy watches from another section of the theatre. He sees her speaking along to the parts, moves closer. More shots of cute girl talking, Ingrid smiling, Paris, joy, cute boy moves closer, begins speaking along with Humphrey’s part, more Paris, more joy, more Humphrey, more Ingrid, young girl and boy meet in an embrace as grandiose music plays, and the ad instructs me:
“Do what feels good.”
Now I understand, advertising is a subversive medium, and sometimes it’s about lifestyle and image, or even the power of suggestion. But what “feels good” here? Dancing with strangers in movie theaters? Ingesting a 12-ounce can of paint remover? Stalking a stranger at the movie theater? (“Wait, don’t run, it was cute in that Meg Ryan movie!”) Coca-Cola thinks that by associating an undrinkable product with my favorite movie, they can sell a few extra cans of their swill. (And apparently the irony is lost on the ad agency that the lovers depicted are fated to a life without each other.) Worse yet, they have chosen a movie that is at the opposite end of the cultural spectrum from their product. Diet Coke deserves to depict the kids mouthing along to “You’ve Got Mail” or “The Wedding Planner”. Casablanca, while it would ideally remain chastely buttoned against the groping hands of Madison Avenue, would be more suited to boosting sales on Pernod or a top shelf cognac, not some tasteless vehicle for caffeine. I am appalled that they have taken this wonderful thing (the movie, not the beverage) and thoughtlessly sullied it in their crass retail ploys. I wish someone at the meeting had said, “Hey, how about instead of paying a gazillion dollars to license the visage of Humphrey Bogart, we simply make a product that is good enough to sell itself?”
There I go again, being foolish.