Life looks small and strange

It is very strange. You're Coca-Cola. Maybe the oldest, richest, most celebrated and studied marketer in marketing history.

It is very strange. You’re Coca-Cola. Maybe the oldest, richest, most celebrated and studied marketer in marketing history.

You brought us the modern image of Santa Claus swilling Coke on Christmas Eve, for Pete’s sake.

You gave us the angelic international kid’s choir singing I want to buy the world a Coke on that long ago and far away hillside.

You brought a tear to our eye with that cute little boy giving his Coke to an injured and ferocious Mean Joe Green in a chilly stadium corridor, and getting a Steelers sweater flung to him in gratitude.

Your competitor, Pepsi-Cola, is spending about a kazillion dollars a second this summer on TV spots with massive neo-Michael Jackson dance numbers flaunting that hot little vixen my pre-teen daughters may consider slightly passé, but maybe they’re just fickle. Or jealous. Or I should be talking to my 14-year-old son instead. Note to self: Talk to son.

So you launch another new power tag, Life tastes good, with a massed attack of summer-flavoured spots. Okay, you’re Coca-Cola, maybe you can glom ownership of the concept of Life as we know it, having formerly done a passable grab of Things that went better with Coke, and staking out temporary ownership of the aforementioned World notion.

You can’t say Coca-Cola doesn’t dream big.

What I do not understand, exactly, is how come these new commercials, intended to support the rather large contention that Life tastes good because Coca-Cola is everywhere, are so, well, small.

When you’ve done this ad thing so long, you cannot muse upon a campaign without working up a fantasy scenario as to how the damn thing ever got sold to the client in the first place. For example:

Coca-Cola Client (incredulous): Four undersexed, overdressed little boys on a dinky beach somewhere long gone up in Maine have one surfboard between them?

Agency Person: Jack, Brittany wouldn’t go there. But America does.

Or, Agency Person: Jack, sometimes less is more. This is that time.

Or, Agency Person: Jack, only Coke is big enough to get down on our knees and look our customers in the eye.

Okay, maybe not. But they did it somehow. And viewing the resulting spots resembles walking into the living room at the exact moment the ’70s TV movie-of-the-week rerun is showing a product placement filler scene that saved the director from having to refinance his Plymouth Valiant to get the thing edited.

In the wedding dress-dressing spot, a bride is fussed over prior to the trip up the aisle, observed by one worshipful little flower girl and a stinko-hot roomful of elderly women frantically fanning themselves with Chinese fans. The flower girl has a Coke, and she worshipfully proffers Coke to bride, who gravely sips. Mean Joe Green she ain’t. This goes on for thirty seconds and that’s all that happens. Or doesn’t.

There are the little, unsexy boys and their pathetic little waves up in Maine.

There are five teens taking the subway back from a concert, sleeping in a pile on the empty subway car seats, except for The Hero who sips from a dreaming friend’s Coke and thinks out loud that this is the best night of his life, and how he wishes they could stay on that train forever.

There is a rock band leader, backstage, who I’ve heard is Bobby Zimmerman’s boy Jakob, but they don’t say. He’s sipping a Coke, waiting for exactly the right moment to go back on stage for the encore set. He waits. He goes. That’s it, folks.

There is the old black man with the lilting Island accent asking his grandson, How’s college? Kid’s not going to college anymore. Kid asks how’s grandma? She moved out, says the old boy. But he is just kidding, and they suck on their bottles of Coke and chuckle about the whole darn weirdness of the universe.

They’re not unwatchable. They’re not insensitive. They might even pass for real. But so do those clips from the small, 30-year-old Canadian films you never saw because they played at some obscure theatre and closed after five days. Now, they’re ads for Coca-Cola.


Barry Base creates advertising campaigns for a living. He creates this column for fun, and to test the unproven theory that clients who find the latter amusing may also like the former. Barry can be reached at the Toronto office of Barry Base & Partners, (416) 924-5533; fax (416) 960-5255.

Off-air dubs of tv spots reviewed for this column were supplied courtesy of AdWatch, a Toronto-based ad monitoring service.