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Previously Published Works

Robert J. Foster

Materializing the Nation: Commodities, Consumption, and Media in Papua New

Nation Making: Emergent Identities in Postcolonial Melanesia. Edited Volume.
(paper edition)

Social Reproduction and History in Melanesia: Mortuary Ritual, Gift Exchange,
and Custom in the Tanga Islands.

Following Soft Drinks from

New York to New Guinea

Robert J. Foster
Copyright © Robert J. Foster, 2008.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any
manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quo-
tations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

First published in 2008 by

175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010 and
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Companies and representatives throughout the world.

PALGRAVE MACMILLAN is the global academic imprint of the Palgrave

Macmillan division of St. Martin’s Press, LLC and of Palgrave Macmillan Ltd.
Macmillan® is a registered trademark in the United States, United Kingdom
and other countries. Palgrave is a registered trademark in the European Union
and other countries.

ISBN-13: 978-0-230-60386-8
ISBN-10: 0-230-60386-6

ISBN-13: 978-0-312-23871-1
ISBN-10: 0-312-23871-1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Foster, Robert John, 1957–

Coca-globalization : following soft drinks from New York to New Guinea / by
Robert J. Foster.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN 0-312-23871-1 — ISBN 0-230-60386-6
1. Commerce—Social aspects. 2. Cola drinks—Social aspects. 3. Con-
sumers—Social aspects. 4. Culture and globalization. I. Title.

GN450.F67 2008
306.4—dc22 2007026773

A catalogue record of the book is available from the British Library.

Design by Scribe Inc.

First edition: February 2008

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Printed in the United States of America.

To my father and the memory of my mother
This page intentionally left blank
List of Figures viii
Introduction: Cola Connections and Worldly Things ix

Part 1
Soft Drinks and the Economy of Qualities
Chapter 1 The Social Life of Worldly Things: Commodity 3
Consumption and Globalization
Chapter 2 Glocalizing Coca-Cola: The Multilocal Multinational 33
Chapter 3 Qualifying Products: Trademarks, Brands, and 75
Value Creation
Chapter 4 A Network of Perspectives: The Meanings of Soft 99
Drinks in Papua New Guinea

Part 2
Globalization, Citizenship, and
the Politics of Consumption
Chapter 5 Corporations, Consumers, and New Strategies 149
of Citizenship
Chapter 6 Shareholder Activism: Consumer Citizenship 187
inside the Corporation
Chapter 7 Pouring Rights: Politics, Products, Agency, 211
and Change
Conclusion: Product Networks and the Politics of Knowledge 229
Notes 241
References 251
Index 269
I.1. Partui Bonaventura, Tanga Islands, Papua New Guinea
(PNG), April 2000 xi
I.2. Bottle shop, Tanga Islands, Papua
New Guinea, April 2000 xii
1.1. Agnes, Southern Highlands, Papua New Guinea 9
1.2. Kaipel Ka, Western Highlands, Papua New Guinea 15
2.1 Postcard image of a Huli dancer at the
1987 Port Moresby Show 45
2.2 Dancers at the 2006 Goroka Show 45
2.3. Cover of Time, May 15, 1950 48
2.4. Bottling plant, Lae, Papua New Guinea, April 2000 54
3.1. Atlanta, GA: Exhibits and galleries
at the old World of Coca-Cola 82
4.1. Alphonse Hega’s winning entry for the
1998 Coca-Cola PNG national calendar competition 132
4.2. Alphonse Hega’s second entry for the
1998 Coca-Cola PNG national calendar competition 133
5.1. New York, NY: Protestors at annual shareholder
meeting of The Coca-Cola Company, 2002 151
5.2. New York, NY: Protestors at annual shareholder
meeting of The Coca-Cola Company, 2002 152
5.3. Antiwar protest, Anglet, France, March 2003 172
5.4. Insertions into Ideological Circuits,
Coca-Cola Project, 1970, by Cildo Meireles 177
5.5. Carpenters and coffin, Teshie, a suburb
of Accra (Ghana), January 2004 179
5.6. Lighthouse II by Chris Woods 181
5.7. Album cover of Dispepsi, by Negativland™ 183
6.1. Student protest, Yale University, March 31, 2004 203
C.1. Chennai, India, June 2005:
Billboard with picture by Sharad Haksar 230

Cola Connections and

Worldly Things
n May 3, 2000, Douglas Daft, then freshly appointed chairman and
O CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, delivered an address to the Chief
Executives’ Club of Boston titled “Globalization: Connecting with Con-
sumers.” In his address, Daft outlined the company’s plan for riding what
he called “the second wave of globalization” (2000, 606). This second wave
formed in the mid-1990s; it followed a wave of consolidation, centraliza-
tion, and standardization in which The Coca-Cola Company, under the
leadership of CEO Roberto Goizueta from 1981 to 1997, aggressively pro-
moted its flagship product as a universal beverage. According to Daft, “The
very forces making the world more connected and more homogeneous are
simultaneously triggering a desire to withdraw, pull the shades and safe-
guard whatever is uniquely local” (2000, 606). The necessary response to
this backlash, Daft pronounced, is to think locally and to act locally—to
develop new regional brands customized to local tastes and to push mar-
keting decisions and managerial accountability down to the local level.
Such a general program, specifically enhanced by a marketing alliance with
America Online (AOL), the ubiquitous Internet content provider, would
allow The Coca-Cola Company to revitalize its traditional mission of “con-
necting with consumers one at a time,” virtually or otherwise, around
the world.
On May 3, 2000, I visited my friends in Tanga, a cluster of small islands
in the far eastern part of Papua New Guinea (PNG). I started fieldwork in
Tanga in 1984 as a graduate student in cultural anthropology. New Guinea
inhabits a place in the Western imagination as the last unknown; it is what
Clifford Geertz (1988, 75) once called “the paradigm elsewhere.” The arti-
cle I read en route to Tanga in Paradise, the in-flight magazine of Air Niug-
ini, was thus characteristic. The author described the elaborate mortuary
rituals performed in the Tabar islands, located just to the northeast of
Tanga. He extolled the virtues of this hard-to-reach place for venturesome
tourists seeking escape from the hallmark features of modern civilization:
“There are no phones here, no electricity, no running water, no Coke and
x Introduction

no Pepsi.” The underlying fiction was familiar enough: increasing distance

from “modern civilization” can be measured by decreasing availability of
creature comforts, including brand-name cola-flavored soft drinks. But the
claim would not in any case pertain to Tanga, the colonial history of which
had thoroughly entangled the approximately 6,500 people who call the
islands home in a local version of global modernity (Foster 1995). I stayed,
after all, in the area of the islands known as Taonsip, named after the Aus-
tralian city of Townsville in Queensland, where Tangan men worked on
sugar plantations in the 1880s.
Returning for the first time since 1992, I was met at the bumpy grass
airstrip by Partui Bonaventura, my longtime host and patron, and led back
to his hamlet for a meal of welcome (see Figure I.1). Somanil Funil, my
close friend and collaborator, was absent, attending a feast held to
acknowledge his work as a carpenter in building a trade store and bottle
shop for one of Tanga’s few small business operators (see Figure I.2). Later
that night, Somanil appeared, apologetic and somewhat inebriated from
the party held in his honor. He greeted me with visible emotion, and
invited me and the other men present to continue celebrating with him. He
pulled a pint-sized bottle of dark rum from a net bag and carefully placed
it on the table; then, one by one, he pulled out three 300-milliliter glass bot-
tles of Coca-Cola: mixers.
I do not mean to suggest that the presence of soft drinks in Tanga was
new; in 1984, I used to buy cold Cokes from a now defunct trade store run
by the Catholic mission. However, on the last night of my brief visit in
2000, I did witness something that I had never before seen in these islands:
a Pepsi commercial. As a fundraising event for the local community school,
a video night had been organized. Dozens of school age children and a
smaller contingent of adults of all ages poured into a gated enclosure on a
perfect moonlit evening to watch a motley assortment of offerings—Space
Hunter, Jeremiah Johnson, Moses and Michael Jackson’s Greatest Hits
(deliberately shown late in the program, after the younger children had
fallen asleep). The worn cassettes were played on a television monitor
hooked to a VCR and powered by a noisy diesel generator. The dusk to
dawn marathon began with a compilation of music videos by Papua New
Guinean pop bands, a stream of highly stylized song and dance routines
almost invariably staged on a beach. Just before the tape ended, a brief
promo for Pepsi-Cola, a sponsor of the recording company that produced
the music, filled the monitor. Attractive young Papua New Guinean men
and women cavorted together on screen in a speeding motorboat. In the
audience, the adults clucked and the teenagers whistled at the spectacle. As
the commercial’s upbeat jingle finished, the warm night air moved to the
Introduction xi

hissed sounds of children enunciating the word “Pepsi” or practicing their

English by reading aloud the mellifluous slogan, “It’s Pepsi in PNG.”
What is to be gained by juxtaposing Douglas Daft in Boston and myself
in Tanga, by bringing the corporate agenda of a transnational soft drink
company into the same frame of reference as the social lives of rural Papua
New Guineans? Two conceits must be recognized from the start. First,
many popular accounts of globalization now begin with an anecdote about
American media icons such as Madonna or Rambo appearing on T-shirts
in strange, faraway places—a gently shocking combination of us and them,
modernity and tradition; a piece of the center washed up in the periphery.
These anecdotes, demonstrations of the global reach of contemporary
communication networks, sometimes ominously portend a homogenous
global culture, and sometimes coyly celebrate the cultural capacity of peo-
ple to domesticate foreign imports. My point is neither to predict cultural
homogenization nor to defend local distinctiveness; it is merely and more
modestly to observe connections, to admit that Douglas Daft is indeed
connected to me and my Tangan friends by a particular economic good or
commodity, though in ways that are not equally apparent or apparently
equal to all of us.

Figure I.1. Tanga Islands, Papua New Guinea, April 2000. Partui Bonaventura stands before the ceremo-
nial men’s house associated with the matrilineage that he leads. He wears around his neck a plastic insu-
lated carrier for six-packs of soft drinks. I received the carrier as a promotional gift while attending the
annual shareholder meeting of Coca-Cola Amatil in Sydney. I gave the carrier to Partui, who used it as a
purse for everyday personal items such as betel nut, tobacco, and money.
xii Introduction

Figure I.2 “St. Veronica’s Trade Store and Liquer Outlet Bottle Shop, Kalu Village.” Bottles of Coca-Cola
were sold at this village trade store.

Second, it has been the conceit of many Coca-Cola officials, not to

mention many business writers during the 1990s, that The Coca-Cola
Company represents a paradigm for doing global business and thus, as
Daft asserted, “Coke’s story now has something to say to everyone doing
business in the global arena” (2000, 606). This may be true (see, e.g., Nolan
2000), but it is not my purpose to adjudicate the issue. The story of Coca-
Cola speaks to me because it opens up a window on world-historical
processes that are now glossed as globalization, processes that include not
only business operations in a world market, but also cultural, political, and
environmental processes that most people experience without leaving
home, in smaller scale settings. And these settings include the towns and
villages of Papua New Guinea, a country of extraordinary cultural and lin-
guistic diversity, in which people have only recently oriented themselves, by
choice and necessity, to a network of connections that define an enlarged
world.1 Many of these networks are held together by commodities, not
only raw materials such as minerals and hardwoods extracted for export
from PNG, but also ordinary imported consumer goods such as rice, soap,
and soft drinks: commodity connections.
It is entirely relevant to my purposes, then, that Douglas Daft said of Coca-
Cola that “we are a relationship company” (“Enjoy the Relationship” 2000);
for globalization is above all about relationships, what John Tomlinson
(1999) calls “complex connectivity.” Complex connectivity has both an
Introduction xiii

objective and subjective dimension. Objectively, complex connectivity

refers to the empirical linkages being established among diverse and
physically separated people through movements of capital, media, and, of
course, people themselves—migrants, tourists, refugees, anthropologists.
Subjectively, complex connectivity refers to the ways in which these link-
ages are imagined by the people involved, the way in which an individual
person’s phenomenal world is extended—or foreshortened.
Now it is important to say that such complex connectivity is not wholly
unfamiliar or unprecedented to Papua New Guineans or people anywhere
else for that matter. Indeed, Bronislaw Malinowski’s Argonauts of the West-
ern Pacific, the foundational ethnographic account of Melanesia, is all
about the objective and subjective dimensions of complex connectivity.
These connections are defined by kula transactions—the slow circulation
of shell valuables around a ring of islands spread out in space, and the fan-
tasies of widespread fame and renown enabled or frustrated by distant
exchange partners. But it is equally important and entirely fair to say that
the sort of complex connectivity entrained by the global diffusion of
branded commodities is a more recent feature of social life in Papua New
Guinea as elsewhere. (It is therefore also relevant to my purposes that Daft
referred to Coca-Cola as not only a relationship company, but also a
“brand building enterprise” [“Enjoy the Relationship” 2000].) Focusing on
a specific category of commodities, soft drinks, and especially on one par-
ticular brand of soft drinks, Coca-Cola, thus enables me to describe link-
ages of extensive if not worldwide scope; linkages between a variety of
actors—corporate officials, marketing personnel, consumers, and con-
sumer activists: the network held together, more or less, by a commodity in
motion. This focus also enables me to take up particular perspectives
within that shifting web of linkages, perspectives from which the connec-
tions are often perceived and perforce experienced differently. Soft drink
perspectives on globalization—the title, coincidentally, of the talk about
first-wave globalization given by Roberto Goizueta in April 1989 that Dou-
glas Daft hoped to update in May 2000.


The available literature on Coca-Cola (and to a much lesser extent, on

Pepsi-Cola) is vast, varied, and rich. I have consulted it frequently and grate-
fully in writing this book. It includes the lively and informative corporate
histories of Mark Pendergrast (1993), Frederick Allen (1994), and Richard
Tedlow (1990), as well as the sharply critical account of the world’s soft
drink duopoly by J. C. Louis and Harvey Yazijian (1980). All of these books
xiv Introduction

discuss the overseas operations of the American corporate giants behind

these global commodities (see also Watters 1978). The literature also
includes the insightful and timely narratives of business writers such as
Thomas Oliver (1986), David Greising (1997), and Constance Hays (2004),
and the insider stories of former and current executives such as Roger
Enrico (1986) and Sergio Zyman (1999; see also Backer 1993). And, of
course, it includes the annual reports, news releases, house publications
and pamphlets, and official Web sites of The Coca-Cola Company and
PepsiCo, as well as voluminous trade literature (e.g., Beverage Digest and, business news coverage of the beverage industry, and busi-
ness school case studies. And I have not yet mentioned the mountain of
published material and on-line sources that value, in every sense of the
word, Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola products and related paraphernalia as
highly desirable collectibles (and there is a small scholarly literature that
discusses such collecting; e.g., Slater 2000, 2001).
Is there anything more to be said about these companies or their prod-
ucts? Aficionados and fans of Coke and Pepsi will find here a very selective
treatment of corporate histories, one that emphasizes the era beginning
with World War II, and a very partial treatment of corporate practices, one
that emphasizes marketing and, in particular, advertising. In effect, this
book is similar to Humphrey McQueen’s The Essence of Capitalism (2003),
which chooses examples from the history and practices of The Coca-Cola
Company in order to chart the changing features of capitalism over the
course of the long twentieth century. I use a similar strategy for identifying
and examining different dimensions of contemporary globalization. I call the
method “extended apt illustration.” That is, I offer the single example of soft
drinks in order to trace cultural, economic, and political aspects of globaliza-
tion—the cross-cultural consumption of branded commodities, the business
operations of transnational corporations, and the new forms of corporate and
consumer citizenship taking shape in and against these operations. My over-
all goal is to describe in a combination of historical, ethnographic, and jour-
nalistic terms a particular instance of complex connectivity, of the actually
existing and variously imagined linkages among people and things unevenly
distributed across large swathes of space and time. In this regard, I draw on
my own research and that of other anthropologists in Papua New
Guinea, a country frequently and wrongly assumed to be, depending on
the mood, either innocent or bereft of consumer commodities. The book
is thus secondarily a contribution to the emerging post-village anthropol-
ogy of PNG.
Accordingly, readers might appropriately situate this book within the
recent outpouring of writings that seek to recover connections in world
Introduction xv

history through commodities; current fascination with border-crossing,

long-distance mobility has prompted numerous investigations into the
social and spatial lives of things (Jackson 1999). This detective work is not
restricted to specialists. Consider, for example, the spate of popular books
devoted to tracking through historical time and geographical space such
different commodities as cod and salt (Kurlansky 1997, 2002), potatoes
and diamonds (Zuckerman 1998; Hart 2002), coal and tobacco (Freese
2003; Gately 2001). It is as if renewed interest in the sociospatial life of
stuff—in following tangible, ordinary things such as glass, paper, and
beans (Cohen 1997)—has emerged as a therapeutic defense against the
alienating specters of globalization.
These tracking exercises—much like the juxtaposition of Douglas Daft
in Boston and myself and my friends in Tanga—also say something about
how anthropologists are going about their craft these days. Like many
other scholars and citizens, anthropologists are looking for a handle on
globalization. How is it possible to study the quick and complex move-
ments of people and things, ideas and images, money and microbes across
the face of the planet? How is it possible to get a sense of the ways in which
people living in locations distant from each other are becoming increas-
ingly connected—or increasingly disconnected—as a result of such move-
ments? These are surely questions of method as well as theory.
Anthropologists have been accustomed to extended participant observa-
tion in one place—to settling themselves in one spot and getting to know
really well the people living there. Without abandoning this very useful
method, what else might be done to register the fact that more and more,
the lives people lead in any one place are shaped by events and circum-
stances unfolding elsewhere? How can anthropologists contribute to an
understanding of action at a distance—one of the frequently identified
characteristics of contemporary globalization (see, e.g., Giddens 1990)?
One response to these questions has taken the form of research
designed around paths, chains, and networks—research that quite literally
follows its object (Marcus 1995), objects that include commodities in
motion. Anthropologists have recently been constructing the networks
that emerge through the movement of things as different as used clothes
(the tenth largest export item from the United States to sub-Saharan
Africa) and human organs (one of the many illicit goods that circulate in
underground, border-crossing markets) (see Foster 2006 for a review).
Some of this work builds on earlier studies by world systems theorists
mapping the commodity chains through which natural resources and
plantation harvests move from the third world to the first world. In anthro-
pology, perhaps the best-known example of such a study is Sidney Mintz’s
xvi Introduction

now classic history of the transatlantic trade in sugar, Sweetness and Power
(1986). (Mintz’s work is in many ways a source of both information and
inspiration for my understanding of the transnational soft drink industry.)
Much of this work similarly builds on previous studies by cultural geogra-
phers and rural sociologists that have followed the movement of agricul-
tural products from farm fields to suburban supermarkets to family tables.
One anthropologist has even tracked the movements of Atlantic bluefin
tuna: On the docks of a fishing village in Maine, Japanese buyers inspect
the latest catch, checking current market prices by cell phone and arrang-
ing to ship the tuna overnight by plane from Boston to Tokyo, where it will
be certified as premium grade and then flown back to New York for sale as
sushi in upscale restaurants (Bestor 2001).
These tracking exercises serve at least two related purposes. First, they
make visible the sometimes obscure and often-unanticipated networks
through which everyday objects of consumption move, thereby mapping
the linkages between people and places that define the social organization
of globalization. I hasten to add that these linkages are not always symmet-
rical (indeed, they often presume gross asymmetries and inequalities). Nor
do these linkages extend everywhere; they vary enormously in density and
intensity—some people and places are fully connected to the grid, others
just barely so. Nor are these linkages stable, let alone permanent. Tracking
exercises thus help to resist any temptation to think of globalization as a
“spreading ink stain” (Whatmore and Thorne 1997, 287), that is, as a
steadily accelerating “flow” of everything and everyone across the face of
the planet.
Second, these tracking exercises make it possible to comprehend per-
spectives that people in one place might have on people in another place as
a result of their being aware of each other’s inclusion in the same translo-
cal commodity network. In other words, it becomes possible to trace out a
network of perspectives in which, for example, Maine fishermen alter their
work habits to suit what they imagine to be the tastes and preferences of
Japanese tuna connoisseurs. Or, to take a different kind of example, a net-
work in which residents of Belize watch a satellite broadcast of the Miss
Universe pageant, convinced that their national representative will not win
because the standards of international beauty contests conflict with their
own local standards of beauty (Wilk 1996). A network of perspectives of
this sort communicates something of the ways in which people’s awareness
of who they are and what they are doing is conditioned by their under-
standing of other people’s awareness of who they are and what they are
doing. This expanded condition is perhaps what some commentators
Introduction xvii

define when they say that globalization entails a heightened relativization

of consciousness.
I offer these brief remarks about current anthropological preoccupa-
tions as background to the story I am about to present, namely, some of the
results of my own tracking and following of soft drinks—especially the two
branded soft drinks, Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola. Why these soft drinks?
Because they are some of the few truly global commodities and, moreover,
commodities closely associated with fears and anxieties about how global-
ization might lead to a universal (unmistakably American) monoculture.
Coke and Pepsi are heavily advertised; thus their meaning and image move
along with their material ingredients through different paths within the
same complex commodity network. And, finally, they are some of the few
global commodities available and affordable to people in Papua New
Guinea, the South Pacific country where I have done most of my fieldwork
for the past twenty years. PNG is often regarded by many Americans as the
sort of place one knows about mainly from National Geographic—the final
frontier of remote and isolated tribes. It is less often imagined as an inde-
pendent nation-state of nearly six million people struggling with a range of
depressingly familiar problems, from urban unemployment exacerbated
by structural adjustment programs imposed by the International Mone-
tary Fund (IMF) to the alarming spread of HIV/AIDS. From this sobering
perspective, Papua New Guinea is obviously not a world apart, but part of
a world connected in complex and changing ways—connected at least in
part by the circulation of commodities: worldly things such as Coke and
Pepsi that bear traces of their simultaneous existence elsewhere, over and
beyond one’s immediate horizons.


When I first went to Papua New Guinea, I quickly grew accustomed to

enjoying refreshing drinks of Coca-Cola in every city and town I visited as
well as at the Tanga mission trade store. It was an uncanny experience, and
not only because my drink came in returnable glass bottles of the sort that
had almost vanished from retail outlets in the United States. Coke in PNG
tasted different, largely, I think, because it was (and still is) sweetened with
cane sugar. But it also tasted wonderfully familiar. Drinking Coke in PNG
reminded me, in a profound bodily way, of drinking Coke as a boy, grow-
ing up in Brooklyn in the almost forgotten days before high fructose corn
syrup (HFCS)—complex connectivity, through time and space, to be sure.
A professional stranger in a strange land, I took comfort in an experience
of home that was—strangely enough—provided by the consumption of a
xviii Introduction

worldly thing; a commodity jointly qualified by its producers and its critics
as, for better or worse, quintessentially global. Or perhaps not so strangely,
given that eliding the distinction between home-sweet-home and the
world at large has been one of the most prominent and explicit features of
The Coca-Cola Company’s marketing rhetoric for several generations.
In this book, I examine how both producers (including, especially, mar-
keters) and consumers make, or fail to make, a worldly thing at home (or
make themselves at home with a worldly thing). I pay particular attention
to the strategies by which soft drink companies sought to establish rela-
tions of trust with consumers, especially in the wake of World War II when
The Coca-Cola Company began its massive overseas expansion. I treat this
trust (or confidence) as a function of successfully embedding a product in
a set of localized social relations. Put differently, I treat this trust as an
index of alignment in perspectives—perhaps temporary, perhaps acciden-
tal—between producers and consumers; that is, between agents mobilized
in a network by the singular intention of selling a product and agents
mobilized in the same network by multiple intentions of acquiring and
using a product. Such an alignment, in turn, implies a conjuncture of qual-
ifications, a working relationship between the producers and consumers
(not to mention marketers), who, with different aims and means, qualify
or attribute significance to a product (Callon et al. 2002). In this sense, the
creation of trust is a corollary of the creation of value, the process by which
various agents together evaluate a product in both semiotic and commer-
cial terms. Value creation thus involves more than the labor of producers;
it requires the (evaluative) work of consumers as well. Value creation
occurs as a product circulates through the multiple hands of both produc-
ers and consumers. Likewise, the extraction of surplus value requires more
than deploying the labor power of wage workers; it also requires capturing
the use values attributed to products by consumers—a process achieved in
part through the legal apparatus of copyrights and trademarks, which pro-
tects brands as the abstract property of corporations or other private owners.
I argue that the process of value creation understood in this way helps
make sense not only of how brands ideally connect persons (consumers)
with things (products), but also how the management of this connection
opens up possibilities for political action on the part of both corporations
and consumers. On the one hand, corporations can and do invest in “cor-
porate citizenship” as a strategy for enhancing their reputations and thus
the attractiveness of their brands to consumers (not to mention employees
and investors). On the other hand, consumers use the commercial value of
their brand loyalty to lobby corporations for a variety of goods and serv-
ices, the delivery of which was once presumed to be the obligation and
Introduction xix

function of elected governments in promoting social welfare. The result

is a distinctively non-democratic though not always negative form of
contested governance in which consumers use their market role to act as
citizens while corporations use their resources to act like states. What is at
stake in this sort of politics?
This book extends an apt illustration of soft drinks and soft drink cor-
porations to flesh out and develop the key terms and interrelated ideas thus
far and about to be invoked. They include making worldly things at home,
embedding and reembedding commodities, qualifying products and the
economy of qualities, commodity or product networks and networks of
perspectives, trust and confidence, value creation and consumption work,
and corporate citizenship and the politics of consumption. These terms
and ideas recur throughout the chapters that follow, beginning with the
comparison in Chapter 1 of two films that use Coca-Cola beverage con-
tainers to symbolize, respectively, the global spread of a Western monocul-
ture and the resilient creativity of local culture in the face of such a spread.
I interpret these films as shorthand for two common views of globalization
that regard each other as antithetical but share a similar romantic attitude.
As an alternative to this limited choice, I propose to use Coca-Cola soft
drinks as symbols of an uncertain process of global connection in which
people everywhere, including Papua New Guinea, give meaning to ordi-
nary consumer commodities—though rarely under circumstances of their
own devising. This process is uncertain, I suggest, because products them-
selves are uncertain; they are things in motion, never finally finished and
always open to requalification as they pass from one set of agents to
another through the network that their very movement traces and holds
together—or not (Callon et al. 2002). Commodities are thus mutable, and
this mutability has been most clearly recognized by anthropologists who
regard consumers as agents capable of appropriating commodities for ends
not imagined by producers. But this mutability is not infinite, a limitation
on consumption most clearly recognized by political economists who
highlight the structural inequalities of complex connectivity, including
basic inequality of access to consumer commodities.
The roles of worldly things and commodity consumption in globaliza-
tion might be considered analogous. That is, some commodities connect
people and places in a network of social relations stretched over space and
through time; they disembed social relations from more localized social
settings. But at the same time, these commodities can be reembedded in
localized settings or domesticated, and the long-distance relations they
entail thus rendered a hidden and natural aspect of the local scene. This
process of disembedding and reembedding implies the mutability not only
xx Introduction

of commodities, but also of home. This process of home making, then, also
defines an everyday form of contemporary globalization.
I suggest further in Chapter 1 that reembedding worldly things in local
contexts often requires the establishment of impersonal trust or confi-
dence, an implicit confidence that appears largely in the breach. Such
breaches of confidence—for example, in the case of a product recall or a
consumer boycott—make visible both the network of agents connected by
the product and the disjunctions between the perspectives of these agents.
Yet, even without such breaches, worldly things imply a complex network
of perspectives, a web of connections in which people’s perspectives on
products and on themselves are conditioned by their perspectives on other
people’s perspectives. In fact, it is possible to understand the creation of
value as a function of managing the exigencies of such a network of per-
spectives. For instance, it is by aligning the perspectives of consumers with
those of their own that agents on the supply side of worldly things capture
the value of consumers’ appropriation and use of a product—a compli-
cated way, perhaps, to unpack the notion of “brand loyalty.” Such align-
ments are never guaranteed, of course, and it is one of the perpetual goals
of advertising and marketing to secure such alignments.
Chapter 2 opens with a discussion of the overseas expansion of The
Coca-Cola Company during and after World War II. This expansion—
which included the first appearance of the company in New Guinea—was
among other things an exercise in “glocalization” (Robertson 1995), in
localizing a globally uniform product or combining universalism with par-
ticularism, homogeneity with heterogeneity. The tensions involved in this
exercise surface in the rhetoric of a well-known wartime ad campaign that
publicized Coca-Cola as the “global high-sign,” and also featured a telling
image of first contact between New Guinea islanders and U.S. Navy per-
sonnel. The war produced an uncanny experience (not unlike my own) for
many American soldiers who encountered Coca-Cola bottles—disembed-
ded artifacts of home—in the trenches of Europe and on the beaches of
Pacific islands.
After the war, the company explicitly attempted to fashion itself as a
local business wherever it operated, such that all consumers everywhere
would recognize Coca-Cola as an artifact of their home, however worldly a
thing it might be. This attempt involved not only adjusting advertisements
to various local sensibilities, but also using the franchise system of inde-
pendent bottlers to reembed the product in local social relations (as well as
local supply chains). But the attempt gave way in the 1980s to a new global-
izing impulse, one that involved the consolidation of bottlers and the emer-
gence of global advertising. This impulse yielded, in turn, to a rediscovery of
Introduction xxi

the local as Douglas Daft assumed leadership of the company in 2000.

Thus, the postwar history of the company reflects the same sort of tensions
as the global high-sign campaign, shifts in emphasis on universalism and
particularism triggered by crises and opportunities in managing the local
image of a worldly thing. To some extent and almost ironically, these shifts
can be understood (and are understood in corporate rhetoric) as calibrated
responses to what Coca-Cola negatively symbolizes for many people: fickle
consumerism. That is, these shifts represent attempts on the part of the
company to stay connected, as Daft might put it, with the constantly
changing interests and perspectives of consumers, indeed, to keep the per-
spectives of the producers aligned with those of consumers and thus sus-
tain confidence in the brand.
Chapter 3 roughly traces the processes through which soft drinks are
qualified and requalified, processes in which control over the meaning of
the product figures centrally. As Ponte and Gibbon note, “The manage-
ment of quality may be also seen as a question of competition and/or co-
operation between actors in the same value chain, each one having only
partial access to—and control of—information on the product” (2005,
2–3). The asymmetries among agents in this process—company officials,
marketing firms, and ordinary consumers—are most clearly demonstrated
with regard to the policing of trademarks. Over the course of its history,
The Coca-Cola Company has employed formidable legal and financial
resources to restrict how logos, images, and brand names can be used. This
effort has been justified on the grounds of securing the trust and goodwill
of the consumers whom it subjects to a monopoly over the means of pro-
ducing meaning. At the same time, however, the company has sought to
know, if not actually stimulate, the qualifications of its products by con-
sumers in order to present its own qualifications in a proprietary form of
advertising recognizable to consumers—that is, in order to stay connected.
The tensions built into this double-sided project of constraining and culti-
vating semantic creativity define the practice of generating and appropri-
ating value. The company explicitly attempts to insert its products into as
many contexts of consumption as possible; contexts already saturated with
biographical significance, such that the lives of consumers add qualifica-
tions to Coca-Cola rather than, as the slogan asserts, Coke adding life to the
experiences of consumers. These qualifications accrue to a product that
company officials insist belongs to consumers, but in legal fact belongs to
the company as abstract property.
The process of qualifying and requalifying soft drinks again engages the
question of how corporate agents—specifically, marketing and advertising
agents—perceive and manage the problem of localizing global commodities.
xxii Introduction

Chapter 3 discusses the attempts of Coca-Cola advertisers to represent the

product and identifies an oscillation between emphases on local particu-
larities and on translocal generalities that parallels the shifts in business
plans discussed in Chapter 2. In Chapter 4, I draw upon the anthropologi-
cal research done by myself and my colleagues to outline the network of
perspectives involved in marketing, advertising, and consuming soft drinks
in Papua New Guinea. I make no claims for PNG being a typical case of
anything. On the contrary, it is a country where the introduction and use
of worldly things—specifically, branded global consumer goods—are new
and uneven, more than usually uncertain and far less studied anthropolog-
ically than, say, myth, ritual, and kinship. Nevertheless, by outlining such a
network of perspectives, it becomes possible to demonstrate how and
where the product qualifications of different agents converge with and
diverge from each other. That is, it becomes possible to demonstrate the
alignments and disjunctions that give product networks their dynamic and
unfinished character and to intimate how people’s sense of themselves
and others—their cultural identity, their status as modern or traditional,
their claims to independence—are conditioned by the movements of
worldly things.
Chapters 5, 6, and 7 discuss at length how convergences and divergences
in product qualifications have recently come to take on the character of a
political contest. On the one hand, public relations specialists more and
more seek to qualify corporations as socially responsible citizens, an effort
often justified to shareowners in the name of enhancing the public reputa-
tion and thus market value of brands. Annual citizenship reports are issued
and social responsibility links added to company Web pages. On the other
hand, activists more and more target companies with highly visible brand
images (and thus vulnerability to negative publicity) and qualify them as
inadequately attentive to good labor and environmental practices. That is,
consumer citizens attempt to regulate corporations directly, through mar-
ket interventions rather than through legislative processes. These attempts
have become widely associated with the positions and tactics of the so-
called anticorporate globalization movement. A politics of products thus
takes the form of a trial of qualifications in which corporate citizens and
consumer citizens pursue rival strategies for managing the business of
value creation.
I identify some of the tensions built into the notion of corporate citi-
zenship by examining the rhetoric of The Coca-Cola Company’s annual
citizenship reports, suggesting how the company’s initiatives rarely stray
far from advancing its primary and legally mandated goal of increasing
returns to shareowners. This goal requires scrupulous attention to the
Introduction xxiii

credibility of the brand—more a source of value than the material compo-

nents of the company’s beverages—both now and in the future; that is,
attention to the cultivation of trust and goodwill on the part of consumers.
This requirement to attach consumers to brands and vice-versa opens up
certain possibilities for consumer-citizenship, for pursuing civic ideals
through political consumerism. Some of the best known tactics of such
political consumerism involve attempts to subvert the language and media
of consumerism through “culture jamming” and “ad busting.” Think, for
example, of the numerous parodies and permutations of such familiar
idioms as the Nike swoosh and the trademarked script of Coca-Cola. While
acknowledging the sheer creativity of these tactics, I also question their
political efficacy in defining an alternative to the very consumerism that
they criticize.
While perhaps the best known form of political consumerism is the
boycott, I also review forms of positive political consumerism that have
emerged around soft drinks, especially shareholder activism, which has
enjoyed a steady boost since 2001. I discuss shareholder resolutions, intro-
duced at the annual meeting of The Coca-Cola Company in 2002, which
dealt with recycling of plastic bottles, health care for workers in Africa, and
workplace violence in Colombia. These resolutions demonstrate the capac-
ity of consumer citizenship—like that of corporate citizenship—to exceed
the territorial boundaries of a single nation-state and to catalyze action
that might otherwise be impossible within the framework of national gov-
ernment. The resolutions also demonstrate some of the real limitations of
consumer citizenship, perhaps most of all the irreducible inequality in the
resources available to corporate agents and consumer agents pursuing dif-
ferent agendas. These agents are indeed connected by a brand-name prod-
uct, but the connections are usually, if not always, manifestly asymmetrical.
Chapter 7 focuses on debates over the sale of soft drinks to children in
schools. These debates raise two important points. First, they show how
local and national struggles over the regulation of soft drink sales recapit-
ulate larger scale struggles over the World Health Organization’s definition
of global dietary guidelines. In all cases, the interests of transnational corpo-
rations and whole industries (such as the sugar industry) run up against the
interests of advocacy groups and ordinary parents trying to monitor the
health and nutrition of children. Second, these debates show that, while con-
sumer issues can effectively mobilize networks of concerned citizens, with-
out the assistance of government—without bringing the state back in—such
mobilizations are unlikely to produce their desired outcomes. Consumer cit-
izenship and political citizenship, then, must be seen not as alternatives to
each other but instead as aspects of each other. They should be viewed as
xxiv Introduction

complementary dimensions of a civic engagement appropriate to a world

of commodity networks that make it impossible to distinguish between
local and global and difficult to define the limits of complex connectivity.
In conclusion, I briefly relate an incident of alleged copyright infringe-
ment associated with the operations of The Coca-Cola Company in India,
where international attention has been given to local protests about corpo-
rate restrictions on access to water. I initiate this discussion not in order to
determine the substance of charges made against the company, charges
against which the company has offered its own public defense (interested
readers can consult the references provided in the text). Rather, this discus-
sion enables a final return to the question of commodity futures, broadly
understood. I refer not only to the future of water—perhaps one of the
most urgent challenges facing the planet in the twenty-first century—but
also the future of value. That is, I return to the linked questions of how and
for whom the value of commodities is created. These questions prompt, in
turn, a consideration of how a politics of consumption might both make
visible and reconfigure the product networks through which people every-
where provision themselves, with greater and lesser degrees of satisfaction,
knowledge, and control.


The research for this book has unfolded with major fluctuations in inten-
sity over a period of ten years, in a variety of settings, and with generous
support from institutions, colleagues, and friends. I can effectively describe
elements of the research process by acknowledging and thanking—no
doubt inadequately and incompletely—the many individuals and organi-
zations who contributed to it.
My inquiries in Papua New Guinea took me into the small world of
commercial mass media, where I benefited from informal interviews with
John Taylor, then CEO of EM TV, the nation’s only broadcast television
service. He allowed me access to personnel in the station’s advertising
department and provided videotapes of EM TV-made station breaks. I
benefited from other opportunities to meet and interview people who
worked for and/or owned and managed marketing and advertising firms in
PNG. Andrew Johnston of Pacific View Media was particularly generous in
giving me time for interviews, access to his studio, staff and archive of tel-
evision advertisements, and a grounded sense of the multi-author creative
processes involved in making advertisements for the Papua New Guinea
market. Phil Sawyer of HRD (now HRD/Savi) also furnished me with his
insights as well as the results of some of the only market research on media
Introduction xxv

consumption conducted in Papua New Guinea. Mark Foster and Steve

Landon shared with me their experiences of working in advertising and
marketing in PNG and elsewhere. Richard Dellman, owner and manager of
Advantage Studios in Port Moresby, talked with me about the history of
commercial media in PNG and some of the challenges involved in finding
and developing talent for making radio jingles and television advertise-
ments. Tony Adah and Stella Inimgba of the Creative Arts Faculty at UPNG
shared their views of radio and television media production in PNG.
Peter Aitsi, then general manager of PNG FM, provided me with useful
background information on radio marketing in PNG (as well as a unique
opportunity to record a public service announcement). Justin Kili, a popu-
lar veteran radio personality in PNG and then deputy general manager of
PNG FM, also shared his perspectives on commercial media. Anna
Solomon, then editor-in-chief at Word Publishing, met with me on several
occasions to discuss print media in PNG and also introduced me to the
advertising staff of Word’s newspapers, The Independent (now defunct)
and Wantok. I also learned much from conversations with Sorariba Nash
and David Robie, both then members of the journalism program at the
University of Papua New Guinea.
My inquiries in PNG likewise took me into the small world of soft drink
marketing. Stan Joyce, then marketing manager at SP Holdings Ltd. (now
South Pacific Brewery), answered all my questions about the work of mar-
keting and advertising beer and Pepsi products in PNG. Ian Boas, then the
main media coordinator for Coca-Cola Amatil in PNG, spoke with me
about strategies for hosting special marketing events and developing inno-
vative marketing practices. David Lane, technical operations manager for
Coca-Cola Amatil, gave me and my anthropological colleagues Frederick
Errington and Deborah Gewertz a tour of the production facilities in Lae
as well as an extensive interview about a range of issues from maintaining
quality control to satisfying local tastes and preferences for soft drinks.
The consumer side of the soft drink product network in PNG, as else-
where, is much more diffuse than the supply side and correspondingly more
difficult to study up close. My collaborations with students at the University
of Papua New Guinea were instrumental in this regard. I thank all the jour-
nalism students who participated in the survey of soft drink consumption
habits in 1997 and the fourteen students who participated in lengthy inter-
views on their own personal consumption practices in 2000. I also thank
Linus Digim’Rina and Baulon Maibala for facilitating these interviews and
helping recruit respondents to the survey. I am grateful for the opportunity
to talk with Dan Kakaraya, then executive director of the Consumer Affairs
Council (PNG) and Eileen Lloyd, consumer education and public relations
xxvi Introduction

officer, who supplied me with copies of publications of the South Pacific

Consumers Protection Programme.
Access to published and unpublished materials in PNG was made pos-
sible by the PNG National Research Institute, with which I was affiliated
during three separate research trips. I thank Colin Filer for his help and
advice and Michael Laki for arranging a research visa. I also thank John
Millet for permission to consult materials at the library of the Institute of
National Affairs in Port Moresby and for discussion about commerce and
business operations in PNG.
In the United States, my research was greatly advanced by an extended
visit to the Robert W. Woodruff Library at Emory University in Atlanta.
There I was able to consult in-house publications of The Coca-Cola Com-
pany and PepsiCo, including magazines such as The Red Barrel, Coca-Cola
Overseas, and Panorama. In addition, I was able to consult the Mark Pen-
dergrast Research Files in the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library
(MARBL). These collections gave me access to rare copies of publications of
The Coca-Cola Company, as well as to the rich interview and background
materials used by Mr. Pendergrast in writing his landmark history of The
Coca-Cola Company. My thanks go to Mr. Pendergrast for making these
materials available and to the staff of MARBL for handling my requests.
In Washington DC, I was fortunate to be able to consult the Pepsi Gen-
eration Oral History and Documentation Collection, Archives Center,
National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. I thank
John Fleckner, Mimi Minnick, and Wendy Shay for facilitating my use of
the collections at the Archives Center, and for arranging an extended loan
of materials from the Marlboro Advertising History Collection for use in
teaching my undergraduate course on culture and consumption. At the
University of Rochester’s Rush Rhees Library, Suzanne Bell, Vicki Burns,
and the friendly staff of the Interlibrary Loan Department have been
extremely helpful in acquiring materials from other collections.
I have benefited from the help and advice of numerous individuals in
tracking down materials connected with issues taken up in this book, such
as the debate over selling soft drinks in schools. Lauren Crabtree and Taro
Nettleton provided useful research assistance. Lisa Soccio introduced me to
the work of Negativland, whose Mark Hosler spoke with me about the
group’s work, and Cynthia Foo told me about Superflux. Marilyn Ander-
son drew my attention to the newspaper article that supplied the epigraph
for Chapter 1. Writing with Derya Özkan about the advertising launch of
Cola Turka greatly enhanced my own soft drink perspectives on globaliza-
tion. Scott MacWilliam, longtime friend and advisor on the commercial
history of PNG, sent me a copy South Pacific Brewery: The First Thirty Years
Introduction xxvii

and otherwise shared his enormous knowledge of business enterprises in

PNG. Eric Hirsch, Jan Hoeksema, Maryann McCabe, Cildo Meireles/
Galerie Lelong, Mike O’Hanlon, Nancy Sullivan, Holly Wardlow, and Chris
Woods/Diane Farris Gallery kindly provided images. Janet Berlo thought-
fully alerted me to the striking quilt by Otesia Harper, and Richard
Sorensen and Leslie Greene of the Smithsonian American Art Museum
arranged permission to reproduce the cover image.
Material support for the research that led to this book has been gener-
ously provided by the National Endowment for Humanities and the Col-
lege of the University of Rochester. I have also benefited from the
hospitality and intellectual companionship of Mark Busse and Claudia
Gross, who hosted me on trips to Port Moresby; and Deborah Gewertz and
Fred Errington, who invited me to visit them during their fieldwork in
Wewak and later at Ramu Sugar Ltd. A large portion of the book was writ-
ten and revised while on sabbatical at the University of Chicago, where I
was welcomed as a visiting scholar in the Department of Anthropology. My
thanks to John Kelly for arranging this affiliation. I especially thank John
Kelly and Martha Kaplan for opening up their home to me without reser-
vation. John Comaroff gave me use of his library study, for which I am
grateful. In Rochester, Tony and Penny Carter lent me their farmhouse for
some quiet thinking and writing; Ro Ferreri gave me stalwart administra-
tive support and Mike Ferreri assisted in producing the images; and all my
colleagues in the Department of Anthropology indulged my unusually
expansive interest in soft drinks.
I thank Mark Pendergrast and an anonymous reviewer for helpful com-
ments on the manuscript. Numerous audiences have responded construc-
tively to presentations of the material in this book. I thank especially
Stéphane Breton for making it possible for me to share my material with
seminars at the École des Hautes Études in Paris and to benefit from con-
versations with him. Jonathan Friedman, Maurice Godelier, and André
Iteanu provided insightful comments. Pierre Lemonnier and Pascale Bon-
nemere graciously hosted my visit to the Center for Research and Docu-
mentation on Oceania (CREDO) at the University of Provence and shared
their experiences in PNG.
I thank Nancy Fried Foster for her unequivocal support, calming advice,
and judicious editorial suggestions, and for making it possible for me to be
away from home doing research while she cared for our children and family
affairs. Finally, I thank my friends and extended family in Tanga for their
assistance, understanding, and encouragement over the last twenty years.
Without Partui Bonaventura and Somanil Funil, my world would be
immeasurably smaller.
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Part 1

Soft Drinks and the

Economy of Qualities
This page intentionally left blank
Chapter 1

The Social Life of

Worldly Things
Commodity Consumption and Globalization
Take this sweet dew from the earth,
Take this honey.
It will help you on your way.
It will give you strength on your path.
—Burial prayer uttered by a Mayan mother offering her
dead child a last sip of Coca-Cola, Magdalenas village,
Chiapas, Mexico, 1975 (Smith 2005)

ention Coca-Cola and Papua New Guinea in the same breath and
M you might very well elicit a reference to The Gods Must Be Crazy. In
the opening scenes of that enormously popular 1980 film, a Coke bottle
tossed from a passing airplane lands amidst a band of hunters and gather-
ers (the !Kung, or San) living in the Kalahari Desert, whom the voice-over
describes as perhaps “the most contented people in the world” (for a criti-
cal discussion of the film, see Gugler 2004). At first, the Coke bottle is hap-
pily and cleverly used as a new tool for accomplishing a variety of familiar
tasks such as curing snakeskins and pounding roots and vegetables. The
“thing” is used expressively as well as instrumentally—to make music and
to print designs on barkcloth. But the found object soon becomes the sin-
gular focus of disruptive desire, causing jealousy and dissension among the
hitherto harmonious band and eventually provoking an anti-Edenic act of
violence. Most of the remainder of the film concerns the efforts of one
man, !Xi, to return the bottle to the gods by taking it to the edge of the
world. !Xi’s journey ludicrously entangles him in the political and personal
antics of other, ethnically and ethically distant South Africans. In the end,
however, !Xi duly redeems both himself and the bottle, gently dropping the
latter off a majestic cliff into the blanket of clouds shrouding the earth
far below.1
4 Coca-Globalization

The film’s romantic, superficial anti-establishment rhetoric no doubt

accounted for its appeal to middle-brow audiences in the United States,
where in 1984, it became “the biggest foreign box office hit in movie his-
tory” (Gugler 2004, 78). Brand Coca-Cola reliably plays its designated role
as the icon of a modern social life—urban, regimented, and consumerist—
that many viewers might find unsatisfying or sterile. As the preeminent
modern commodity, then, the Coke bottle introduces confusion into a
primitive economy of sharing: anxieties and strife over possessiveness, pri-
vate property, and the end of balanced reciprocity. The Coke bottle is an
evil thing and bodes only misfortune for !Xi and his people, a threat to
their traditional way of life posed by an encroaching alien modernity.
Indeed, a threat that the bottle itself begins to carry out seemingly of its
own accord. Commodity fetishism rears its ugly head.
The Coke bottle in this view is not only an evil thing but also a worldly
thing, and worldly in a double sense. First, the bottle links an isolated
group of people into the world at large, the global consumer culture for
which Coca-Cola serves as an insistent abbreviation. Second, the bottle
acculturates the innocent to the guilty pleasures of materialism, the sensual
and sinful enjoyment of material things, an enjoyment that, in order to be
maximized, requires a kind of antisocial selfishness or unchecked greed.
The cosmology invoked here is thus dualistic. On one side: tradition,
sociality, spirituality; on the other side: modernity, egocentrism, material-
ism. In this instance, the side of tradition is valued over that of modernity
and wielded as an instrument of social reform in which the other teaches
us a lesson.
Like other post–World War II cinematic critiques of modern times,
including the apocalyptic fantasies Dr. Strangelove and On the Beach, The
Gods Must Be Crazy deploys Coca-Cola to symbolize a hollow civilization
ruled by crass commercial instincts. Compare this symbolism, then, with
the imagery of another film in which references to Coca-Cola also play a
prominent role in orienting the narrative. The Cup (1999) tells the story of
how the youthful residents of a Tibetan Buddhist monastery-in-exile,
located in the foothills of the Himalayas, attempt to satisfy their wish to
watch televised World Cup soccer. The film opens with a contrast between
the elegant writing of a mani stone, inscribed with prayers, and a dented
red can of Coca-Cola, bearing its own unmistakable script. Young monks
kick the can around the courtyard in a game of soccer. The appearance of
a stern older monk, Geko, scatters the players. Geko picks up the aban-
doned Coke can/soccer ball and brings it to the rooms of an eccentric, pre-
diction-dispensing lama, whom Geko knows will appreciate the object.
The Social Life of Worldly Things 5

The camera pans over the altar in the lama’s rooms, full of small oil-burn-
ing lamps, some of which have been fashioned out of empty Coke cans.
Like The Gods Must Be Crazy, The Cup invokes well-worn dichotomies—
east/west, sacred/profane, spirituality/materialism, modernity/tradition—
but only in order to dissolve them. The Coke can first appears as matter out
of place, mammon in the temple, a disturbing sign of how American com-
mercial culture has penetrated the earth’s farthest corners. Yet the Coke can
never actually appears as a can of Coke; it appears first as a soccer ball and
then a candleholder, turned to other uses by the residents, ultimately trans-
formed from a profane instrument of sociality into a vehicle for the sacred.
Here then is the possibility of domestication, of incorporating the foreign
into the familiar (not only the Coke can, but the game of soccer, too) in
such a way that the monks become no less themselves for doing so. This
possibility is the very same one held out momentarily to !Xi before the
Coke bottle exerted its evil effects. In the monastery, however, the possibil-
ity is successfully sustained. The monks do not succumb to a standard
global modernity, but instead produce their own vernacular version—they
make a worldly thing part of their world.


These two films tell two different moral stories about commodity con-
sumption in general and the consumption of worldly things in particular.
The Gods Must Be Crazy suggests that such consumption ought best be
resisted and rejected, since its consequence is nothing less than a fall from
grace. Presumably, then, the preferred course of action is to preserve the
integrity of one’s enclaved world, to subordinate material needs to social
and spiritual ends, to embrace simplicity—in short, to live like a monk. But
not like the monks portrayed in The Cup; these monks see no necessary
contradiction between their devotions to the Dalai Lama and World Cup
soccer. Commodity consumption for these monks—including consump-
tion of satellite television broadcasts and glossy foreign sports maga-
zines—is a means to enhance old identities and to imagine new ones, to
locate themselves uneasily in a borderless community in addition to—
rather than instead of—that of Buddhism. Thus the film’s young protago-
nist and chief soccer enthusiast, Orygen, explains to a newly ordained
young monk, a refugee from Tibet suffering homesickness: “I have no
home. This is all I care about.” Orygen, however, admits his allegiance to
the French national team because France is “the only country that loyally
supports Tibet,” the homeland that Orygen never knew.
6 Coca-Globalization

These two stories about commodity consumption conjure competing

but complementary visions of globalization understood in cultural terms.
The first story is a dystopian vision of what Jonathan Friedman calls
“strong globalization . . . the production of similar kinds of subjects on a
global scale” (1995, 78), subjects who interpret the objects and images that
circulate in the world uniformly; subjects upon whom one and the same
interpretation is imposed. It is this vision of strong globalization that
incites widespread alarm among people who lament the victory of a new
global monoculture and the loss of indigenous and ancient cultural diver-
sity. This perspective is explicit, for example, in the comments of David
Suzuki, a well-known Canadian environmentalist, as reported in an Aus-
tralian newspaper (Spinks 1999):

If you go to Papua New Guinea, from one little valley to the next you’ve got
a totally different people speaking a different language with different cus-
toms. . . . New Guinea is the best example of diversity that you can get. And
cultural diversity is the key to our survival because we adapt to different
places and to different ecosystems and we develop a culture that is suited to
the places where we live . . .
You go to the deepest parts of Papua New Guinea or Africa or South
America, the kids are rocking around in Adidas shorts, they’re wearing Nike
running shoes, they’re listening to Madonna on their Sony transistor and
they’re drinking Coca-Cola. We’re monoculturing the planet . . . Even the
diversity that exists between Holland and Germany and France and England
and Canada—those differences are being over-ridden by this global culture.

In this view, the relentless homogenizing force of an American-led global

monoculture is conveyed mainly through the mass consumption of univer-
sally available branded commodities, and there are no more universally avail-
able and more recognized commodities than Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola.
The story of The Cup, by contrast, is a story of “weak globalization,”
which “entails that the local assimilates the global into its own realm of
practised meaning” (Friedman 1995, 78). This view of globalization
assumes only a global field of reference, access to which is variously
afforded (e.g., by communications technologies) to a variety of localized
communities. There is no further assumption that all communities every-
where, or all members of all communities, will attribute the same meaning
to objects and images circulating globally—including branded commodi-
ties such as soft drinks. Even such a standardized global form as McDon-
ald’s restaurants can be invested with significance that varies from one
sociocultural setting to another. In East Asia, for example, McDonald’s
restaurants become local institutions, transformed through the agency of
The Social Life of Worldly Things 7

consumers into leisure centers, after-school clubs, and meeting halls (Wat-
son 1997). The globalized field of reference thus generates, rather than
eliminates, cultural heterogeneity.
This vision of weak globalization has certain anthropological advan-
tages. Above all, it does not mourn the “loss of culture,” mainly because,
like most anthropologists, it regards culture as constantly in motion, a
changing historical and social process, rather than as inert, a static assem-
blage of traits or customs. More specifically, this view of weak globalization
recognizes two aspects of commodities and commodity consumption that
are crucial to my discussion of soft drinks. First, it implicitly adopts a defi-
nition of objects and images that foregrounds their mutability and never-
quite-finished character. Callon et al.’s (2002, 197) definition of a
product—which I use implicitly throughout this book—is apposite: “A
product . . . is an economic good seen from the point of view of its pro-
duction, circulation and consumption. The concept (producere: to bring
forward) shows that it consists of a sequence of actions, a series of opera-
tions that transform it, move it and cause it to change hands, to cross a
series of metamorphoses that end up putting it into a form judged useful
by an economic agent who pays for it. During these transformations its
characteristics change.” In other words, the product is a variable, a contin-
gent outcome of negotiations—even conflict—around the qualification of
commodities (see Ponte and Gibbon 2005). This process of evaluation, of
qualifying and requalifying products, unfolds at all moments in the life or
career of product—design, manufacture, marketing, use, recycling, and so
forth. But at certain moments, the qualities of a product are stabilized; the
product becomes a “good,” its list of qualities closed and fixed, at least
Second, the vision of “weak globalization” recognizes that consumers
are just as active as any other economic agent—designers or advertisers, for
example—in qualifying products. As Callon et al. (2002, 201) put it: “There
is no reason to believe that agents on the supply side are capable of impos-
ing on consumers both their perception of qualities and the way they grade
those qualities.” Accordingly, the product, understood as a sequence of
transformations or as a process of qualification and requalification (cf.
Munn 1977), links consumers into the different networks coordinating all
the agents involved in production, design, etc.—agents who most likely
never encounter each other face-to-face or even know of each other’s exis-
tence in precise terms: “The product singles out the agents and binds them
together and, reciprocally, it is the agents that, by adjustment, iteration and
transformation, define its characteristics” (Callon et al. 2002, 198). Hence
the product implies a dynamic “economy of qualities,” an economy in
8 Coca-Globalization

which tradable goods in the market are defined by the qualities attributed
to them in successive qualification and requalifications, including those
enacted by consumers.2
These two insights are crucial, and will be developed presently in regard
to the notions of commodity consumption and globalization. But I first
want to be careful to avoid one possible interpretation of the contrast
between “weak globalization” and “strong globalization.” The difference
between these two visions of globalization often motivates a split between
the sentimental pessimism of dependency theory—the rest as victims of
the West—and the simple optimism of cultural pluralism—of celebrating
alternative modernities in which received orientations organize tastes and
preferences for images and objects coming from exogenous sources. If the
former denies all agency to the non-Western peoples it laments, then the
latter risks obscuring the complex ways in which heterogeneity can be
recruited within a homogenizing project. It also risks obscuring the
inequalities among different economic agents bound together by a prod-
uct—inequalities not necessarily in qualifying products, but in determin-
ing which products are available for qualification in the first place as well as
when they are available and to whom. This distinction involves what Mintz
called the difference between inside meanings and outside meanings; the
multiple meanings that various users give to a product as opposed to the
significance of a product for “the history of colonies, commerce, political
intrigue, the making of policy and law” (1986, 167). Mintz cautioned that
considerations of both kinds of meanings are necessary for anthropologi-
cal analyses of commodities (see Chapter 3). Eliding the difference effec-
tively discounts how, for both participants in and observers of globalization,
pessimism and optimism regularly shade into each other.
I suggest, then, another view of commodities and globalization. In this
view, the image of soft drinking Papua New Guineans portends a vernacu-
lar modernity conceived as the creative adaptation by which people make
themselves, but under circumstances not entirely of their own choosing.
Neither alarmist nor celebratory, this view is open and uncertain. The hope
is that such creativity will not be completely eclipsed by the struggle to
contend with the unavoidable features of global modernity—capitalist
markets and bureaucratic states, for example; the fear is that it will. What
one wonders about and refuses to take for granted is the meaning attrib-
uted to the Pepsi bottle or the can of Coke by consumers in Papua New
Guinea or anywhere else. At the same time, however, one never forgets that
meaningful projects of appropriating foreign commodities are themselves
encompassed within social relations among people separated not only by
physical distance but also by interests and resources, cultural as well as
The Social Life of Worldly Things 9

economic. The qualifications of consumers in Papua New Guinea, as else-

where, are tied into a more or less extensive network of agents through
whose qualifying hands the product-in-process or commodity-in-motion
has already passed.
This view of uncertainty can be brought to bear upon a particular image
from the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, an image of a woman
by the name of Agnes eating steamed rice from a Coke can (see Figure 1.1).
According to the anthropologist Holly Wardlow (personal communica-
tion), Huli-speaking women fill empty soft drink cans with rice and water,
stop up the opening, and carry the cans when visiting other women. The
cans are heated over a fire and the rice cooks, providing a quick meal while
away from home. Thus Huli women have analogically extended a culinary
technique once widespread in island Melanesia, but rarer since the dis-
placement of bamboo tubes by aluminum pots; they have appropriated the
can for use within a familiar social context. More generally, the Coke can is
appropriated into a set of local cultural dispositions and practices that pre-
exist and even shape the reception of new consumer goods. Here then is
cause for optimism: the Coke can has been reclaimed as a tool for sociality, a
creative substitute for previously available tools. The can-cum-rice cooker
reminds us of the terms that anthropologists use to apprehend the creative
adaptations regularly encountered as participant-observers in the lives of
people across the planet: hybridity, creolization, and even an old favorite,

Figure 1.1 Agnes, a Huli woman, poses with a can of cooked rice. Photograph by Holly Wardlow.
10 Coca-Globalization

syncretism. All these tropes point with modest good cheer to emergent
forms of culture, to something new and different resulting from the blend-
ing of hitherto separate elements (for thoughtful reviews of the problems
associated with these terms, see Tomlinson 1999; Friedman 1995; Mintz
1995). These tropes underscore the agency of Papua New Guineans—not
the agency of rational choice, but the agency of symbolic action or inside
At the same time, however, the very presence of the imported Coke can
and the imported rice bespeak the sort of changes in work (new forms of
wage-labor) and diet (new sources of sugar, salt, and fat) that have accom-
panied the expansion of a market economy in Papua New Guinea—not to
mention the reach of transnational food and beverage corporations. Cheap
foreign foods of dubious nutritional value rival, if not displace, domestic
foods and become available in even the most remote areas of a remote
country (see Chapter 4). The can as rice cooker thus also reminds us of the
institutional dimension of complex connectivity, the structures of capital-
ist social relations and exigencies of outside meanings through which even
“weak globalization” is effected. This sort of reminder often generates pes-
simism, since capitalist social relations are asymmetrical, if not outright
exploitative. This pessimism, in turn, often leads back to an alarmist view
of ineluctably creeping commodification and global monoculture.
The challenge for anthropologists considering the relationships among
globalization, commodity consumption, and culture is to hold world his-
torical structures and contingent, creative agency—as well as pessimism
and optimism—in tension with each other. On the one hand, anthropolo-
gists ought to make it impossible to read the meaning of a Coke can or
Pepsi bottle as an automatic and unambiguous icon of the West (or the
United States), understood as either purveyor of cultural imperialism or
bearer of liberating consumer choice. On the other hand, it is also incum-
bent upon anthropologists to trace out the chain of social relations, exten-
sive in space and time, within which perspectives on commodities take
shape—the networks of economic agents conditioning the possibilities for
making meaning and for imbuing or qualifying products with significance
(cf. Friedman 1995, 87). How are we to think about both commodity con-
sumption and globalization in order to meet this challenge?

Interlude: Commodity Consumption and

Globalization as Dialectical Processes

I first of all want to expand and supplement the idea of an economy of

qualities by proposing that commodity consumption and globalization
The Social Life of Worldly Things 11

can usefully be theorized in parallel terms. That is, consumption and glob-
alization can be taken to describe analogous and often overlapping dialec-
tical processes. In the case of consumption, a process of “objectification
and appropriation” exposes the mutability of commodities, symbolically as
well as materially. In the case of globalization, a process of “disembedding
and reembedding” exposes the mutability of localized social settings or
“homes”—their openness to the effects of absent as well as physically pres-
ent agents. It is through these twin processes, I suggest, that people produce
meaning, for themselves and for others, and variously entangle locally situ-
ated lifeworlds in social relations stretched across space and through time.

The Mutability of Commodities: Objectification,

Appropriation, and Commodity Biographies

The dialectics of commodity consumption have been most thoroughly

appreciated and laid out in the work of the anthropologist Daniel Miller.
Miller’s (1988) key innovation has been to regard consumption as a form
of labor or work: practical activity in which people meet an object world
that confronts them as external and foreign and through which they fash-
ion objectifications of themselves as social beings recognizable to them-
selves and to others. Miller thus resolves the existential dilemma of Marx’s
alienated worker, but in the realm of consumption rather than production.
It is through consumption work that people—often denied the opportu-
nity to do so in their employment—project and contemplate themselves in
an object world of, at least in part, their own making. For example, Miller
(1989) has ethnographically demonstrated how the residents of London
public housing variously transformed their standard-issue kitchens
through diverse strategies of decoration. The degree to which residents
effectively customize their kitchens correlated with their sense of positive
belonging as a resident of the housing complex; residents who had barely
altered their kitchens tended to be the most estranged from their social and
physical surroundings—the least “at home,” so to speak. For Miller, then,
everyday commodity consumption in industrial societies flush with mass-
produced goods holds the possibility of personalizing impersonal objects
through acts of deliberate appropriation.
Such acts of appropriation raise questions about the nature of self-fash-
ioning when well-known, deeply-branded commodities are put to more
than usual use. Nancy Callahan, for example, attracted attention when she
transformed her Florida home into what some people call “the Coca-Cola
house” by lining her kitchen with Coca-Cola wallpaper and filling the
rooms with Coca-Cola paraphernalia of all kinds—furniture, plates, dolls,
12 Coca-Globalization

and even a restored vending machine. Passersby who observe the Coca-
Cola bottle-shaped mailbox sometimes stop and knock on the door, asking
to buy something. “‘No, this isn’t a store,’ Callahan beams. ‘This is my
home’” (“Soft Drink Collection a Big Hit” 1999). Thus the line between
intimate domesticity and impersonal marketplace disappears as items
associated with perhaps the most global of global commodities become the
comforts of one woman’s home. The results are not unambiguous: what
are we to make of the convergence between Nancy Callahan’s self-cultiva-
tion and the marketing of the world’s most valuable brand? What or whom
does “the Coca-Cola house” objectify? And for whom?
The observation that impersonal commodities are frequently personal-
ized has been theorized in other ways. It is entailed, for example, in the
classic opposition between commodities and gifts and the observed trans-
formations of the former into the latter. The most impersonal commodity
can be turned into a personal gift, and vice-versa. Commodities, by this
account, have histories, or, as Kopytoff (1986) puts it, biographies. That is,
the meaning of a commodity must always be understood in terms of the
different social contexts through which the commodity might pass during
its life. This notion of a commodity biography clearly resonates with the
claim that a product is the contingent outcome of a constant process of
qualification and requalification (Callon et al. 2002). François Girard’s
1998 film, The Red Violin, is nothing less than an epic if fictional account of
gift and commodity transformations in which a single exquisite violin fur-
nishes the material vehicle for unfolding the dramas of its various owners
over hundreds of years. These dramas put the violin in the context of
world-historical events ranging from the Protestant Reformation to the
Cultural Revolution. The film culminates with the efforts of an expert
appraiser, sensitive to the accumulated history of the violin, to rescue the
instrument from being auctioned—to prevent the significance of a unique
object encrusted with a rich social life from being expressed generically as
a price. Successful in his efforts, the appraiser presents the violin to his
young daughter, extending its life as a gift from parent to child and thus
realizing at last the intention, tragically frustrated centuries earlier, of the
violin’s original maker.
Commodity biographies can be traced retrospectively if not always pre-
dicted, and such tracings will reveal odd mutations and even pleasing
ironies like those achieved in The Cup. Hence the following item from the
Sydney Morning Herald (Richards 1993), one of the rare reports besides this
one that speaks simultaneously of Coca-Cola and Papua New Guinea. Dur-
ing World War II, the New Guinea islands were the site of a Coca-Cola bot-
tling plant, the glass bottles shipped from the United States (see Chapter 2).
The Social Life of Worldly Things 13

Today, thousands of old discarded contour design bottles can be found on

one of these islands, Emirau, northwest of Tanga in New Ireland province.
A Sydney businessman visited Emirau in 1991 looking to start a commer-
cial fishing industry and subsequently arranged with the islanders and an
Australian Rotary club to restore the bottles and make them available to
international collectors. The bottles were brought to Sydney, washed,
boxed, and put on sale at thirty-two dollars each for a clear bottle, sixty-
nine dollars for a pair, one clear and one green. Money derived from the
sale of the bottles was earmarked for a trust fund set up to establish a com-
munity power source on Emirau, and ultimately to launch a pilot fishing
project. Bottles decommoditized as debris become recommoditized as
collectibles—paradoxically valuable because they have been, like debris,
removed from market circulation.
The notion of commodity biographies clarifies a point that is relevant
to a discussion of worldly things such as cans and bottles of Coca-Cola.
Namely, the meaning of a commodity must be construed in terms of its
prior, historically accumulated meanings. This sort of accumulated mean-
ing becomes most salient when we think of family heirlooms like photo-
graphs or jewelry, objects that link the present to the past and future by
connecting their current owners with a lineage of long dead and yet
unborn owners, the individual personalities of whom adhere to the heir-
loom. One need only watch a few episodes of the hit public television pro-
gram Antiques Road Show (or read Malinowski’s classic work on kula
exchange) in order to gauge how deeply felt are the stories that ascribe such
meaning to inherited objects. But even modest souvenirs can perform the
same function. A mass-produced tea towel from Niagara Falls denotes not
necessarily bland commercialism, but a potentially singular experience, a
particular time and place suffused with personal significance and charged
with positive affect.
Not only must the meaning of individual commodities be understood
in terms of prior, accumulated meanings, but also whole cultural cate-
gories of economic goods must be understood in terms of historically sed-
imented values. This necessity becomes especially acute when we think
about cross-cultural consumption or the meanings that commodities take
on in new cultural contexts—the sorts of situations that regularly occur
today in places like Papua New Guinea. It is in these contexts, especially,
that people confront objects as external and foreign, variously available for
appropriation. Timothy Burke (1996), for example, has insightfully dis-
cussed the ways in which “toiletries” such as Lifebuoy soap and Pond’s
lotion first made available to Africans in postwar Rhodesia (Zimbabwe)
became meaningful as consumer items in terms of aesthetic and hygienic
14 Coca-Globalization

concepts already in place. Vaseline, Burke notes, was purchased in large

quantities without any prodding by the manufacturers, largely because it
satisfied local demand for substances used to coat the body after washing,
thus reinventing a precolonial practice. Indigenous evaluations or qualifi-
cations turned an economic good originating exogenously into a desirable
product. But not all imported consumer items were seen as equally inter-
esting; put differently, not all items were equally susceptible to cultural
reclamation, sometimes because they were seized upon by particular
groups as means of status differentiation (as with skin lighteners). Differ-
ent commodities thus have different histories and require different
accountings, both of prior meanings that shape their reception and of the
competing supply-side interests that promote their production and con-
sumption (for two examples, see Mintz 1986; Roseberry 1996).
Burke’s work poses a general question about the ways in which con-
sumption happens as a mundane practice, whether in the hinterlands of
southern Africa or Papua New Guinea, or in other parts of the world such
as India or China opening up to new streams of foreign commodities: how
and how well does meaning travel? Historians have alerted us to the ways
in which the meanings of commodities have changed over time. Coca-
Cola, for example, was once imbued with the values of the work ethic, a
capacity to restore labor power, before it became a master symbol of the
consumerist ethic, a pause for self-indulgence. Sociologists such as Callon
et al. (2002) as well as geographers (e.g., Cook and Crang 1996) have
pointed out how the meanings of products change at different points along
the commodity circuit or in the process of (re)qualification. Anthropolo-
gists, by the same token, have become more interested in and sensitive to
the ways in which the meanings of things change from one cultural setting
to another (Appadurai 1986; Howes 1996). One anthropological approach
to the meaning of commodities moving across borders has thus been to
adopt the perspective of the end user, or consumer, and thereby learn how
that consumer ultimately endows the commodity with meaning. This
approach has been particularly appealing to anthropologists working in
Melanesia for reasons that Rena Lederman explains with respect to Mendi
people of the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea: “The Mendi we
know do not see [consumer] objects in the same way as we see them: their
purposes supplied for us . . . In our objects, they perceive multiple possibil-
ities for satisfying needs the manufacturers never imagined . . . They use
safety pins as earrings in place of blades of grass and combs made out of
umbrella spokes instead of bamboo . . . women we know reuse the plastic
fibres of rice bags, rolling them into twine with which to make traditional
The Social Life of Worldly Things 15

net bags” (1986, 8). Consumer objects thus become remade locally—not
only the objects themselves, but their brand imagery as well.
Consider the following image (see Figure 1.2) of Kaipel Ka, a part-time
sign-painter who lives in the Wahgi Valley of highlands Papua New Guinea.
Consider not his Coca-Cola shirt, but instead the war shield that he deco-
rated with the handsome logo of South Pacific Export Lager and the more
modest logo of SP Bia (South Pacific Beer), the domestic brew. The image
comes from Michael O’Hanlon’s remarkable book, Paradise: Portraying the
New Guinea Highlands, a catalogue published by the British Museum in
conjunction with an exhibit that O’Hanlon curated. The caption next to
that image says: “Kaipel Ka sometimes fought alongside his maternal kin
and so decorated his own shield with the South Pacific beer logo otherwise
used on theirs” (O’Hanlon 1993; Plate 14).

Figure 1.2 Kaipel Ka poses with a war shield that he painted. Photograph by Michael O’Hanlon, Pitt
Rivers Museum, Oxford University.
16 Coca-Globalization

Kaipel Ka’s shield demonstrates how juxtapositions some might regard

as unexpected point to another reality, another set of cultural principles at
work. Here is O’Hanlon’s (1993, 68) account:

Kaipel’s own explanation of his use of the SP design was that he had been
asked by senior men to incorporate a representation of a beer bottle on the
shield, to make the point that “it was beer alone which had precipitated this
fighting.” (The war followed the breakdown of negotiations for compensa-
tion after an inebriated Senglap [clan] man had fallen from a Dange [clan]-
owned vehicle.) Rather than including a picture of a beer bottle, Kaipel
decided instead to make the point by using the SP design as a whole.
At one level, then, this design parallels those that express regret. At
another level, there is also something appropriate in the use of beer. Beer
drinking is often a “group” matter, just as warfare is. As Marie Reay observes
(1982:164) “Clansmen fight together; they also drink together.”

Thus O’Hanlon makes the point that the shield design signals another real-
ity, a set of alternative principles for thinking about and representing cor-
porate associations.
My point is that this “other reality” is the sociocultural context into
which both the general activity of beer drinking and the specific image of
the SP Export logo are appropriated. Neither the activity nor the image
here comprise intrinsic features of wholly new contexts; they are instead
adapted to familiar and prior contexts of warfare, as close inspection of
Kaipel Ka’s design suggests. The actual official logo of SP Export presents
one bird of paradise; Kaipel Ka’s shield depicts two birds. O’Hanlon again:
“‘Raggiana bird of paradise war’ is the term for the most bitter type of con-
flict. The fact that a pair of birds . . . was represented . . . was also suggestive,
since pairing is a characteristic Wahgi practice, and the groups who fight
‘Raggiana bird of paradise’ war are listed in pairs” (O’Hanlon 1993, 69).
Thus one of O’Hanlon’s friends interpreted the shield in intelligible local
terms as a warning that the war between Senglap and Dange clans was in
danger of escalating to bird of paradise proportions.
For Kaipel Ka, the beer design was neither an instance of creeping
monoculture nor an ironic combination of global and local, strange and
familiar elements. It was, from his perspective, an artifact of his world,
wholly intelligible in terms of a given set of cultural conventions. This
approach to cross-cultural consumption has been taken by Nicholas
Thomas (1991) in his historical study of the ways that Pacific Islanders
engaged the material culture of European traders, missionaries, and explor-
ers during their initial encounters. Thomas also looks at how Europeans
engaged the material culture of Pacific Islanders, appropriating artifacts as
The Social Life of Worldly Things 17

museum pieces or curiosities and ascribing to them their own meanings as

evidence of the unequal status of primitives and moderns in the evolution-
ary order. Thomas’s strategy reminds us that cross-cultural consumption is
a multi-directional process or, to anticipate, that meanings and qualifica-
tions are being generated by all the agents assembled in a network of pro-
duction, distribution, and exchange, a commodity or product network.
Anthropologists recognize that the meanings of consumer goods such
as soft drinks are subject to cultural transformation. David Howes, for
example, emphasizes the “mutability of the commodity form” (1996, 4),
and makes use of the notion of creolization to explain this mutability:
“What the concept of creolization highlights, in other words, is that goods
have to be contextualized (given meaning, inserted into particular social
relationships) to be utilized, and there is no guarantee that the intention of
the producer will be recognized, much less respected, by the consumer
from another culture” (1996, 5–6). The same, of course, could be said of
consumers who “share” a culture with a good’s producers, the people who
live next door to the executives that market and advertise soft drinks. In
any case, foreign imports of all sorts are subject to creolization, including
the best known and putatively universal in meaning. Disneyland in Japan
thus becomes something manifestly unlike Disneyland in the United
States, a reflection of specifically Japanese cultural concerns with “making
the exotic familiar and keeping the exotic exotic,” the latter “to the point of
effectively denying” that Disneyland has been domesticated at all and thus
paradoxically affirming a sense of Japanese cultural uniqueness (Brannen
1992, 219; see MacDougall 2003 on Barbie dolls).

The Mutability of Home: Disembedding and Reembedding

The term “globalization” is commonly understood to indicate the circula-

tion of people, money, images, and ideas across the planet along multiple
paths that, although extensive, do not extend everywhere (Appadurai
1996). For example, globalization unevenly distributes opportunities for
new encounters with commodities, including worldly things. Such
encounters potentially affect people’s sense of their place in the world; they
precipitate awareness at some level that familiar features of one’s “home”
are not in fact “unique to that locale and part of its ‘organic development’
but, rather, features that have been ‘placed into’ the locale by distanciated
forces” (Tomlinson 1999, 107). Encounters with worldly things might thus
prompt apprehensions of complex connectivity, experiences of connection
(or disconnection), and an attendant shift in one’s horizons, of one’s sense of
future and present possibilities. Of course, just as impersonal commodities
18 Coca-Globalization

can be appropriated as aspects of an individual’s own personhood, worldly

things can be “domesticated” or re-placed. The more completely commodi-
ties of exogenous origin are assimilated to a new social setting—perhaps
they do not even strike anyone as foreign or out-of-place—the more such
settings conceal social relations acting at a distance, much as Marx argued
that all commodities conceal the social relations of their production.
Thinking this way about how everyday commodities condition one’s
sense of being “at home” (or not) situates the activity of consumption
within a larger set of processes of time-space transformation. It is this
time-space transformation that Anthony Giddens sees as the central fea-
ture of the modern world. Giddens defines modernity in terms of four
“institutional dimensions”—capitalism, industrialism, organized and
extensive surveillance (especially the political control of the nation-state),
and industrialized military power (1990, 55–78). Each of these dimensions
is interdependent, though not reducible to any other dimension, nor are
the dimensions all equivalent: “The emergence of modernity is first of all
the creation of a modern economic order, that is, a capitalist economic
order” (Giddens and Pierson 1998, 96). For Giddens, capitalism “is the
most significant driving force of change” (Giddens and Pierson 1998, 97).
What matters most in Giddens’s theory of modernity, however, is neither
the relative weight of each institution nor when or where any one institu-
tion is or was present or absent, but, rather, how this complex of institu-
tions facilitates and presumes changes in routine social life. It is this
dynamic process—primarily, a shift in the social organization of time-
space—that helps us to think of globalization, including the global spread
of modernity, as a dialectical process analogous to the dialectics of objecti-
fication and appropriation entailed in consumption work. How so?
Giddens attempts to grasp the dynamics of modernity through the con-
cepts of “distanciation” and disembedding. Time-space distanciation refers
to the “stretching” or coordination of social relations across time and
space, such that, for example, persons distant in time-space can be con-
trolled or supervised by a superordinate authority. That is, both time and
space become abstracted from context and separated from each other; for
example, mechanical clocks and standardized time zones detach time from
locality. This “emptying of time” allows and fosters an “emptying of space,”
a “separation of place from space” and thus relations between people who
occupy different and distant physical settings of interaction (Tomlinson
1999, 52). Put more generally, distanciation refers to the way in which
locally situated lifeworlds become saturated with distant social influences
and events. As Tomlinson puts it, modern locales express “the disembed-
ding of social activity from contexts of presence” (1999, 54).
The Social Life of Worldly Things 19

Disembedding refers more specifically to “abstract systems,” mecha-

nisms that disembed or lift out social relations from localized contexts of
interaction and stretch them out or restructure them across indefinite
spans of time-space. Such mechanisms include “symbolic tokens,” such as
money or written records, and “expert systems,” the technical knowledge of
anonymous others (experts) upon which people depend in going about
their day-to-day lives. Disembedding mechanisms enable the spatial and
temporal expansion of state administrations (nation-states) and commod-
ity and labor markets (capitalism); they endow a locale with the “curious
reality” of a chain store: “it is present in the physical sense of course, but it
subsists as an entity in a web of relations that are not present; a substantive
part of the store’s being is absent” (Cassell 1993, 28). The metaphor is
apposite, inasmuch as branded commodities of the sort typified by Coca-
Cola—worldly things produced by unknown people in unknown places—
are good examples of symbolic tokens that enmesh spatially distant locales
in a web of relations: the network of agents singled out and bound together
by a product (Callon et al. 2002).
By this account, then, distanciation and disembedding render locally
situated lifeworlds “phantasmagoric” (Giddens 1990, 19), inhabited by liv-
ing but absent people and present but dead or congealed labor. Yet most
people do not live in permanent existential crisis, or even in intermittent
awareness of the extent to which they inhabit a “web of relations that are
not present.” For Giddens, this fact signifies the importance of “trust” in
modernity—the way in which routine activities such as eating and drink-
ing require people’s trust in abstract systems. In this sense, distanciation
and disembedding are above all a matter of faceless (not always conscious)
commitments, a bargain with modernity: “This ‘bargain’—‘governed by
specific admixtures of deference and skepticism, comfort and fear’ [Giddens
1990, 90]—is a way of coping with forced reliance on abstract systems”
(Tomlinson 1999, 57). But the matter can be put differently. Not everyone
makes the same bargain with modernity because abstract systems are always
subject to the effects of “re-embedding,” that is, the steady efforts of human
beings—embodied and physically located—“to make themselves at home in
the modern world” (Tomlinson 1999, 62; quoting Berman 1983). In other
words, modernity describes an active dialectical process—“an ongoing
relation between distanciation and the chronic mutability of local circum-
stances and engagements” (Giddens 1991, 21–22). It is this ongoing relation
that enables globalization to be understood as a dialectical process of dis-
embedding and reembedding. As Tomlinson (1999, 61) notes: “There is
therefore always a ‘push-and-pull’ between ‘disembedding forces’ of [glob-
alizing modernity] and countervailing ‘re-embedding forces’ coming from
20 Coca-Globalization

localities.” The spread of global modernity and the local fashioning of ver-
nacular modernities necessarily imply each other.
It is, as I have suggested, the creativity of reembedding that tends to cap-
ture the attention of anthropologists looking at cross-cultural consump-
tion, perhaps because such reembedding defamiliarizes everyday
commodity culture for Western audiences. Hence the appeal of a film like
Trobriand Cricket to a generation of anthropologists and their students; for
the film celebrates the colorful localization of a missionary-imported game
by Papuan islanders intent on promoting their own home-grown ideas
about fair play (see Foster 2006). Thus, too, the appeal of an article like the
one by Tod Robberson that appeared on January 31, 1994, in the Washing-
ton Post, titled “When It Comes to Cola in Southern Mexico, Pepsi’s the
Rite One.” Robberson reports how Tzeltal Mayan elders in Tenejapa under-
take a monthly day of fasting in which they enter into conversation with
God. The ceremony requires the elders to imbibe poch, a rum-like liquor
made from corn, and, as a chaser, Pepsi-Cola. While no one could explain
to Robberson how Pepsi became part of the ritual, everyone seemed to
insist that only Pepsi—no other beverage, and especially not Coca-Cola—
will do. Similarly, Robberson notes, nearby Tzotzil Mayan worshippers at a
Catholic church in San Juan Chamula offer soft drinks—mostly Pepsi, but
Coke and Squirt, too—to their favorite saints by waving bottles over
dozens of lit candles and chanting in the Tzotzil dialect. There, Matt Mof-
fett reported, the Indians were told by religious leaders that the gas in soft
drinks “expels evil spirits and purifies the soul.” Or, as one Indian is said to
have told an anthropologist: “When men burp, their hearts open up” (Mof-
fett 1988; see also Belew 2003; Pilcher 2002).
Robberson’s conclusion about the cola wars taking on “social and polit-
ical dimensions beyond the wildest dreams” of American corporate execu-
tives is no doubt justified. Both Robberson and Moffett also make it clear
that these creative acts of reembedding unfold within a definite set of
power relations that link local cola consumption to diverse national and
transnational networks. Moffett, for instance, noted that the local Pepsi
distributorship was in the hands of Salvador Lopez Castellanos, a political
and religious strongman appointed cacique (chief or boss) by the then rul-
ing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Lopez Castellanos, known as
Tushum to the Indians, was one of a handful of ambitious young Indians
chosen by the PRI as protégés, taught Spanish in order to dominate con-
tacts with outsiders, and encouraged to sponsor important religious festi-
vals at home in order to gain prestige. Tushum controlled not only the
business life but also the political life of the village.3
The Social Life of Worldly Things 21

In the 1970s, opponents to Tushum’s regime were jailed and expelled

from the village. Hundreds of these outcasts fell in with a small group of
Protestants, converted by evangelical missionaries who first arrived from
the United States in the 1940s. Religious conversion thus became entangled
with political protest and the declaration of commercial independence.4
Similarly, Robberson observed that in Tenejapa, the Pepsi bottling conces-
sion was held in 1994 by the town’s PRI mayor, Sebastian Lopez. Lopez
reportedly made Pepsi “a virtual form of currency,” mandating its use in
compensation payments for various crimes and misdemeanors. Robber-
son also noted that in the nearby village of Winikton, members of a small
leftist party dedicated to the downfall of the PRI demonstrated their polit-
ical commitment by adopting Coca-Cola as “the unofficial village bever-
age.” It thus comes as less of a surprise, perhaps, that the downfall of the
PRI eventually came with the election as president of a former Coca-Cola
executive, Vicente Fox.
The same points about reembedding commodities and the mutability
of home can be made with another Mexican example—from metro
Philadelphia. According to a report by Gaiutra Bahadur in the Philadelphia
Inquirer (posted on, October 7, 2003), customers at
Camden’s San Lucas Restaurant—many of whom migrated from the
region of Puebla—prefer to accompany their meals with green tinted bot-
tles of Coca-Cola imported from Mexico. The imports cost more than the
product bottled in the United States, but Mexican customers and business
owners insist that the Mexican Coke tastes better, perhaps because like the
Coca-Cola I drank in Papua New Guinea, it contains sucrose instead of
corn syrup. One restaurant owner from South Philadelphia thus claimed
that non-Mexican patrons even request the green glass bottles: “They say
it’s like old times in the U.S.” Mexican customers reconnect with a home far
away—a home in which Coca-Cola is clearly not alien or foreign—and
non-Mexican customers reconnect with a home distant in time, each by
means of the same worldly thing. Yet, the article notes, this connection is
not guaranteed: “The North American Free Trade Agreement has meant
that cans of Coke are cropping up south of the border, and the caffeinated
concoction made in Mexico sometimes contains cheaper corn syrup just like
its American counterparts.” Strong and weak forms of globalization, outside
and inside meanings, thus evolve in uneasy tension with each other.
Thinking about globalization in terms of the dialectics of embedding
therefore requires a double focus—on the political and economic (institu-
tional) relations that mediate the movement of commodities, locally and
translocally, and on the ways in which situated agents engage these move-
ments; on outside meanings as well as inside meanings; on the objective
22 Coca-Globalization

dimensions of complex connectivity as well as the subjective dimensions.

Put differently, using worldly things as a vehicle for studying globalization
multidimensionally requires tracing a commodity or product network—
the network bound together by a particular product’s movement through
successive “trials of qualification” (Callon et al. 2002) or “tournaments of
value” (Appadurai 1986). How can this be done in the case of branded soft

Commodity Chains and Networks of Perspectives

One way of addressing this question would be to turn to the already estab-
lished study of commodity chains, that is, the linked processes through
which land, labor, and tools are brought together in the production of
some consumable good. Such studies—which tend not to regard con-
sumption as anything more than the end of the chain—are strongly iden-
tified with the sociological tradition of world systems theory developed by
Immanuel Wallerstein. Hopkins and Wallerstein (1986, 159; quoted in
1994a, 17) thus define a commodity chain as “a network of labor and pro-
duction processes whose end result is a finished commodity.” In this view,
any commodity chain holds a total amount of appropriated surplus
value—a total amount that is unevenly distributed along the entire
chain. In fact, this uneven distribution of value practically distinguishes
the periphery of the world system from the core, where surplus value is
But the study of global soft drink commodity chains must begin by
admitting that what moves along them is, above all, meaning. The obser-
vation is not new. Bill Backer, the creative force who devised the “Things
Go Better With Coke” and “It’s the Real Thing” campaigns, once noted that
“the product of the Coca-Cola Company is not Coca-Cola—that makes
itself. The product of the Coca-Cola Company is advertising” (Louis and
Yazijian 1980, 148; see Backer 1993). The contrast between the simple
material composition of soft drinks—sugar and water—and the elaborate
qualifications imputed to these drinks is jarring. From the beginning,
Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola were primarily marketing companies with huge
advertising budgets devoted to manufacturing meaning for brown sugar
water. William Durkee, a marketing vice president, used to insist that
Pepsi-Cola was a marketing organization, not a sales organization, claim-
ing that even the secret concentrate for making soft drinks was not sold to
bottlers, but instead simply ordered as needed (“New Marketing Plan”
1959). Put differently, it is the brand—its imagery and associations—
rather than component parts or outsourced handiwork that makes its way
The Social Life of Worldly Things 23

along transnational soft drink commodity chains. Accordingly, the study of

soft drink commodity chains must give due consideration to consumption—
to the qualifications that consumers actively and variously ascribe to
brands and branded commodities. Such a strategy not only places “quality
issues at the heart of an understanding of how global value chains work,”
but also highlights how “there is no ‘universal’ understanding of quality”
(Ponte and Gibbon 2005, 7).
Miller (1997) makes this point well in his observations about the
local(ized) meanings of Coca-Cola for consumers in Trinidad, part of a
larger ethnographic study of how soft drinks are produced as complex
symbolic formations. Miller’s overall aim is to expose the articulations
among the production, distribution, and consumption of specific com-
modities within a single national site. But he also recognizes the obvious
applicability of his approach to multisited research on the transnationally
extensive commodity chains characteristic of capitalism right from the
start (see Mintz 1986). The method here is one of self-conscious fetishism,
a sustained focus on things rather than people or, more precisely, a focus
on people—marketing managers, advertising agents, diverse consumers—
whose own orientation is to things as meaningful, qualified forms. Accord-
ingly, Miller describes the way in which consumers bring their own
understandings to bear upon soft drinks as well as the way in which soft
drinks acquire symbolic attributes (or qualities) through supply-side
processes such as branding, marketing, and advertising.
An important finding of Miller’s study is that the conceptual categories
through which advertisers and marketers understand soft drinks do not
always match up with those used by consumers. For example, whereas pro-
ducers think about soft drinks in terms of colas and flavors, consumers
think about “sweet drinks” (indeed, perhaps even regard soft drinks as liq-
uid sweets) in terms of an opposition between red and black. This opposi-
tion engages images of ethnic distinctions between African Trinidadians
and Indian Trinidadians, images that in no way map predictably on to pat-
terns of actual consumption. Unlike Callon et al. (2002), Miller does not
assume that consumption always or even ideally requires a match between
the evaluations or qualifications of producers and consumers. On the con-
trary, like Burke with regard to Vaseline, Miller demonstrates the produc-
tivity of such misrecognition; that is, he shows ethnographically that there
is no such match in the case of Trinidadian red and black “sweet drinks.” A
mismatch in qualifications between producers and consumers, however,
does not preclude the product from assembling a network that includes
both sets of agents. People still buy and consume the stuff.
24 Coca-Globalization

Miller’s ethnography, like the newspaper articles about soft drinks in

Mexico, demonstrates that the outcome of consumption work is never cer-
tain; that is, it is never certain on whose terms (or qualifications) com-
modities will be made at home, if at all. But it is always in the interest of
producers and marketers at least to know if not wholly control the terms
for making products available for appropriation. This interest especially
motivates the purveyors of worldly things to engage in deliberate projects
of “localization,” of guiding the personal appropriation of a product by
culturally diverse consumers worldwide with a more or less invisible hand.
Consumption is under these circumstances a potential site of conflict since
consumers must work with or against the localization or domestication
strategies of corporations and their advertising agents (see Chapter 2). By the
same token, corporations must work with or against relationships between
people and things that have evolved historically before corporations arrived
on the scene and that sometimes remain well beyond the reach of a corpora-
tion’s consumer research and hence marketing knowledge.
The struggle is not restricted to cross-cultural situations. The Coca-
Cola Company has itself given us perhaps the greatest example of mis-
managing relationships between persons and things—the infamous
decision to change the formula of Coca-Cola and to remove the old prod-
uct from the market place. Consumer outrage at this decision has been well
documented (see Oliver 1986; Pendergrast 1993). My point is simply to
identify a moment in an ongoing process when the company’s desire to put
its product in more hands—to create more relationships and to enlarge its
threatened share of the U.S. cola market—blatantly contradicted the qual-
ifications of many consumers for making themselves feel at home with a
worldly thing.
Some disappointed consumers felt that the decision to change Coke’s
formula was a breach of personal trust: “My Dearest Coke: You have
betrayed me,” began one bitter lover’s letter to the company (Pendergrast
1993, 364). But this accusation also highlights Giddens’s claims about the
centrality of impersonal trust in the process of reembedding, about the
way in which routine activities like eating and drinking today require peo-
ple’s confidence in “abstract systems,” mechanisms that disembed or lift
out social relations from localized contexts of interaction. Confidence or
impersonal trust becomes exposed only in its breach, sometimes with signif-
icant financial consequences. Consider the well publicized contamination
scare in Belgium—perhaps a rare instance of mass sociogenic illness
(Nemery et. al. 1999)—in which hundreds of people (in a country recover-
ing from a scandal over dioxins found in meat and dairy products) devel-
oped vague constitutional symptoms that they associated with drinking
The Social Life of Worldly Things 25

Coca-Cola. The result was one of the largest consumer product recalls in
history, a charge of $103 million to the second-quarter earnings of Coke’s
bottling operation (Coca-Cola Enterprises, Inc.). Millions more were spent
on a “Coke’s Back” public relations campaign—beach parties, rock con-
certs, and free handouts as well as the appearance of Coke representatives
in grocery stores to speak directly with consumers—all to restore implicit
trust in the world’s most famous brand.5
Breakdowns in confidence can be thought of as disjunctures in perspec-
tive; just as in personal trust relations, a mutual inability to align one’s per-
spective with that of the other.6 Accordingly, we can also think of a
commodity chain or the network that takes shape around a product as a
network of perspectives. This notion of a network of perspectives—which
derives from the work of Ulf Hannerz (1992a, 1992b)—is especially useful
in tracing the commodity chains of worldly things such as soft drinks, in
which the meanings of brands figure so centrally. Hannerz has gone fur-
ther, suggesting that we use the metaphor of networks to describe the cul-
tural economy of globalization; in other words, that we create a sociology
of diffusion by tracing the various relationships—or social networks—
through which ideas and images (meanings) circulate. These networks
include not only enduring personal relationships sustained through new
non-mass media technologies such as fax and e-mail, but also impersonal
encounters with mass media, commoditized popular culture and educa-
tional systems, and fleeting interactions with sundry transnationally
mobile individuals—tourists, migrants, and even anthropologists. We
might thus think of culture as distributed through either a single large and
complex network or, perhaps, a global network of networks. The latter
possibility makes it clearer how the differential distribution of culture takes
shape as lived experience. I quote Hannerz at length on this point:

It becomes increasingly obvious that the individual’s perspective, the indi-

vidual’s share or version of socially organized meaning, is in large part a
product of his network experience, and that the greater variety and the less
density there is in ego-centred networks, the more different perspectives will
be. . . . Individuals’ perspectives, then, come to consist of the conceptions
which they have come to construct or appropriate for their own use, as it
were, but also of their perspectives on other perspectives—their approximate
mappings of other people’s meanings (1992a, 42–43, my emphasis).

Under such conditions, people are aware of others whose perspectives they
do not share, and know that they do not share. This is one way to describe
the phenomenon of relativized consciousness and heightened reflexivity—
or the awareness of spectral relations that Giddens notes—frequently asso-
ciated with globalization.
26 Coca-Globalization

Hannerz’s notion of a “network of networks” recalls John Tomlinson’s

characterization of globalization as “complex connectivity”: “the rapidly
developing and ever-densening network of interconnections and interde-
pendences that characterize modern social life” (1999, 2). Like Hannerz,
Tomlinson encourages a sociology of diffusion, a mapping of interconnec-
tions that might highlight the linkages that draw people into complex con-
nectivity. Both Tomlinson and Hannerz are mindful, moreover, that such
linkages vary in density; that globalization generates blockages as well as
flows: “Few would dare claim that the complex connectivity of globaliza-
tion currently extends in any profound way to every single person or place
on the planet, and speculation on its spread must surely be tempered by the
many countervailing trends toward social and cultural division that we see
around us” (Tomlinson 1999, 10). Such cautions are particularly pertinent
when we take up the network perspectives of people living in out-of-the-
way places like Papua New Guinea—out of the way not because they are
“still” isolated, but rather because complex connectivity can create new
exclusions at the same time as it makes possible new inclusions. In PNG,
for example, commercial mass media might stimulate people to imagine
exciting possibilities for fashioning themselves and their homes while eco-
nomic restructuring might deny them access to the consumer goods neces-
sary to realize their agency and desires (see Chapter 4; cf. Schein 1999; Mills
1997). The hopeful promise that Miller (1987) sees in consumption work
to deliver the antidote for alienating wage-labor presumes, after all, a basic
equitable distribution of material resources that the “complex connectivity
of globalization” hardly ensures.
Hannerz’s notion of a network of perspectives can thus supplement
Callon et al.’s (2002) idea of a product network in apprehending the social
organization of a transnational soft drink commodity chain—a chain that
includes people with a variety of perspectives on how to embed soft drinks
in local contexts (or not). These perspectives take in, as Hannerz points
out, perspectives on other people’s perspectives, the imagination of other
people whose perspectives are not shared, and known to be not shared.
Multisited ethnographies of commodities in motion are well equipped to
demonstrate these disjunctions. For example, Cook and others’ (2004)
innovative story of a papaya commodity chain demonstrates how UK con-
sumers might be aware of the tropical sources of the specialty fruit they
buy, but remain ignorant of the harsh circumstances under which the fruit
is produced. Jamaican papaya growers might know the metropolitan desti-
nations of their products, but remain ignorant of the circumstances that
determine fluctuating market prices or the reasons why their produce is
rejected by buyers.
The Social Life of Worldly Things 27

Let me illustrate this point by contrasting the perspective of Douglas

Daft on consumer relations outlined in the Introduction with the perspec-
tive of Elizabeth Solomon (a pseudonym), a fifty-four-year-old Papua New
Guinean, former teacher at a Christian mission-run elementary school.
Solomon grew up and now lives again in rural Morobe Province. But she
came in April of 1997 to Port Moresby, the capital city of PNG, to provide
daycare for her daughter and son-in-law’s children. Participating in a survey
on soft drink consumption (see Chapter 4), Elizabeth Solomon reported:

I encourage my grandchildren, 5 and 4 years old, to drink fruit juice. I don’t

think Coke and Pepsi are good for the children’s health. It contains acid
which is not good.
I’m an ALANON member and I think that Coke gives out bubbles like
that of beer, SP [South Pacific brand beer]. So, I think it contains some alco-
holic acid. . . . If I list all the soft drinks, I would put Coke last [among her
favorites]. I do not like Coke because Coke makes you burp like beer the men
drink. Coke has the same color as beer and some spirits. . . . Coke is associ-
ated with men, and men are usually drunkards.

For Elizabeth Solomon, thinking about soft drinks is bound up with think-
ing about the uncertain future of her family and former students. Asked
what came to mind when she heard the word Pepsi, she replied, “I usually
imagine how my children are getting on. This is especially for young peo-
ple who will get hooked with white man’s culture and forget what and how
I taught them to be. Simply—how my children will survive trying to imi-
tate a white man’s culture.”
Thinking about Coke and Pepsi leads Elizabeth Solomon to think about
“white man’s culture” in general (see Bashkow 2006). No one will confuse
her soft drink perspective on globalization with that of Douglas Daft,
despite perhaps a shared concern with the tastes and preferences of the
world’s young consumers. What strikes me, however, is not so much the
difference as its presupposition: both Douglas Daft in Atlanta and Eliza-
beth Solomon in Port Moresby occupy positions within the same “com-
modity-scape” (cf. Appadurai 1996). That is, these two individuals are
indeed connected by a product, a brand-name commodity, though each
imagines and qualifies both these connections and the commodity itself in
radically discordant ways. Their different locations within the global soft
drink commodity-scape clearly afford different perspectives. Elizabeth
Solomon declines to appropriate and thus to see herself in soft drinks. She
refuses to embed soft drinks in her most intimate domestic relations; they
remain for her an alien object, a worldly thing with which she does not feel
at home.
28 Coca-Globalization

The Value of Worldly Things

The fact that worldly things such as Coca-Cola circulate within spatially
extensive commodity chains exposes their brand owners to the sort of
problem created by the Elizabeth Solomons of the world. What happens if
the perspectives of global brand managers (in one place) and consumers
(in other places) do not align with each other?7 Consumers might never-
theless purchase and use branded commodities, as do apparently Trinida-
dian consumers of Coca-Cola, but for reasons that remain inaccessible or
opaque to brand managers. But consumers might also remain indifferent
or even hostile to a brand image that seems appealing and appropriate
from the perspective of the brand’s managers. This mismatch in perspec-
tives is now seen by some advertising experts—experts who seek the
implicit trust of brand users—as a direct threat to the future viability of the
brand (and the profits that the brand generates for its owners). This per-
ceived threat, in turn, reveals something about the main source of value of
certain worldly things—a source that lies not in productive labor, but,
rather, in consumption work.
Kevin Roberts, CEO Worldwide of the advertising agency Saatchi &
Saatchi, has addressed the threat of mismatched perspectives and hence
disconnections in the consumer/brand relationship in his book, Love-
marks: The Future Beyond Brands, and on his Web site, http://www According to Roberts, “brands have run out of juice,” and
the challenge is to find an idea that will “take brands to the next level of
evolution.” For Roberts, that idea is Lovemarks. Roberts tells potential
clients that anything can be a Lovemark. Indeed, he makes his pitch by way
of examples that include the Tide brand of laundry detergent, the educa-
tional institution known as Cambridge University, and the European
nation-state of Italy. Lovemarks require, in effect, the reinvention of peo-
ple, products, services, and institutions as “super-evolved brands,” all of
which possess the following characteristics: Lovemarks connect your com-
pany, your people, and your brands; Lovemarks inspire loyalty beyond rea-
son; Lovemarks belong to your customers; Lovemarks are the ultimate
premium profit generator.
The idea of Lovemarks implies that the value of a branded object there-
fore derives from, minimally, two sources. On the one hand, there is the
labor of the producers. Looked at from this angle, consumer-goods com-
modity chains often present cases of extreme commoditization. The labor
of some of the producers in the chain—assembly workers in apparel sweat-
shops, for example—is, above all, generic (unskilled) and cheap. Various tac-
tics ensure that this labor stays generic and cheap, from physical coercion of
The Social Life of Worldly Things 29

the workers themselves to threats to relocate plants to countries with an

even cheaper and more docile labor force. Indeed, the very location of
these plants as well as their working conditions are often shrouded in
secrecy; here truly is Marx’s hidden abode of production. The operation of
this segment of the value chain accomplishes the almost complete detach-
ment of the producer’s personality from his—more likely, her—product
(see Mauss 1925). This is one point in the commodity chain where value
creation—surplus value extracted from wage-laborers by employers—
takes place.
The second source of value creation involves the reattachment of the
alienated product to another personality, that is, to the consumer. It is this
reattachment that is achieved through branding. I hasten to add that
branding involves more than the labor of the special workers who design
logos and fabricate ad campaigns (labor that is better compensated—less
generic and more skilled—than that of assembly workers). Branding also
involves the work of consumers, whose meaningful use or qualification of
the purchased products invests these products with the consumer’s iden-
tity. Such meaningful use is integral to successful brands. It is never a guar-
anteed outcome, of course, but when it happens, the persons of consumers
animate branded things as much as vice-versa. Put differently, the persons
of consumers enhance the value of brands. In effect, consumers transfer
control over aspects of their persons to corporate owners of the brand, who
defend their brands legally as protected intellectual property (see Coombe
1998 and Chapter 3). This is another point in the commodity chain, then,
where value creation in the form of extracted or appropriated surplus
labor—consumption work—takes place.
My evaluation of consumption work here diverges from that of Miller.
For Miller, consumption work represents a positive form of human cre-
ativity in industrial societies, practical activity through which individuals
can singularize or appropriate anonymous commodities and thus pursue the
project of self-fabrication manifestly denied them in the realm of produc-
tion. My aim, by extension, is to emphasize how this activity of appropriation
is itself vulnerable to appropriation, that is, to capture by the various agents
of branding. Market research, including commercial ethnography, now plays
a significant role in this process of capture or reappropriation—a process
which can be seen as an organized attempt to short circuit the possibility of
using commodities in ways for which they were neither designed nor adver-
tised, to regulate the possibilities of qualification. Consumption work, the
realization of specific use values in specific contexts, thereby becomes a
potential source of value for brand owners. One small but telling example:
Kevin Roberts’s Saatchi & Saatchi, an agency well known for its use of
30 Coca-Globalization

ethnographic consumer research, developed an ad campaign that embed-

ded Tide detergent in narratives and images of kinship meant to reflect the
diversity of American families. In one spot, a mother expresses her con-
cerns about the relationship between her two sons, born more than a
decade apart, by talking about her obligation to keep clean and bright a
cherished shirt given to the younger boy by his older brother (Zuckerman
1998). The impersonal commodity thus becomes a gift that mediates a
relationship of fraternal love.
This two-sided process of value creation—extreme commoditization
on one side and the appropriation of consumer qualifications on the
other—informs Roberts’s vision of an advertising agency that puts “rela-
tionships and customers right at the centre.” Roberts explains that Love-
marks elicit both high love and high respect from consumers; in this
regard, they are the opposite of “basic commodities” such as iron or sand
that command low respect and low love. Lovemarks entail “mystery, sensu-
ality and intimacy”; they tap into the biographical, sensual, and emotional
experiences of consumers. Creating Lovemarks therefore requires inserting
products into stories that shape people’s relationships, such as the story of
little Isabella Alexus, so named because she was born in her parents’ luxury
automobile. Creating Lovemarks involves tapping into the dreams of con-
sumers, as well as the sensory pleasures that consumers derive from prod-
ucts and services. Creating Lovemarks requires establishing a relationship
of trust with consumers, of empathy, of positive emotional response bor-
dering on passion. Creating Lovemarks, in short, means making love. Here,
then, is a succinct and plain statement of my claim that surplus value is cre-
ated through appropriated consumption work, that is, the emotional
attachment beyond reason of consumers to certain brands—the brands
successful enough to be called Lovemarks.
The fact that many consumers lack a perspective on the perspective of
the producers of consumer goods arguably facilitates both the qualification
of brands with meaning by consumers and the appropriation of such
meaning by brand owners. Such gaps in knowledge are, of course, a feature
of “imperfect” markets in general and long distance trade in particular.
Appadurai has speculated that “culturally constructed stories and ideologies
about commodity flows” intensify and proliferate “when the spatial, cogni-
tive, or institutional distances between production, distribution and con-
sumption are great” (1986, 48). The mythologies that surround Melanesian
cargo cults—secret knowledge about the source of goods produced
elsewhere (see Lattas 1998)—provide an extreme if familiar anthropologi-
cal example. Similarly, a globalized commodity chain implies a network of
not only production and exchange, but also of perspectives—a network
The Social Life of Worldly Things 31

of people’s perspectives on other people’s perspectives. Gaps or disjunc-

tions in these networks of perspectives play a role in the creation of value
(and the achievement of Lovemarks). For example, the creation of value
for “exotic” fruits often hinges on the capacity to shape and exploit the dis-
tribution of knowledge among farmers and field workers in the hidden
abode of production and distant corporate buyers and consumers in the
well-lighted offices and aisles of supermarkets. Granted, disjunctions of
perspective in commodity networks are neither new nor exclusive to capi-
talist markets. But what might be a distinctive feature of world capitalism
today is the kind of politics, enabled by a revolution in information and
communication technologies, that takes these disjunctions as both its
object and means. How might thinking about commodity chains in terms
of networks of perspectives encourage a form of globalized labor politics
that takes shape as a politics of knowledge? This is a question that I con-
sider at length in Part 2 and again in the Conclusion.
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Chapter 2

Glocalizing Coca-Cola
The Multilocal Multinational Corporation
In short, when you’re fundamentally in the relationship business,
trust is the essential first condition.
—Douglas Daft, 2003 Summary Annual Report
of The Coca-Cola Company

Glocalization: At Home in the World

y most accounts, multinational corporations and their successors,

B transnational corporations, figure prominently in the history of world-
shrinking changes associated with economic globalization. In some
accounts, they loom very large. Miyoshi (1993), for example, emphasizes
the hypermobility and placelessness of transnational corporations; unan-
chored to any locality, these legally fictitious persons are represented as free
to roam the planet in search of cheap labor and raw materials, loyal only to
shareowners demanding the highest rate of return on their capital (see also
Barnet and Cavanaugh 1994). The challenge presented by this rootlessness
to the integrity of territorial nation-states comprises, in this view, one of
the distinctive features of the current era of political globalization. (This
view of footloose corporations and weak states has been seriously chal-
lenged. See Hirst and Thompson 1996; Sassen 1996.)
By many of the same accounts, transnational corporations are also cen-
tral causes and consequences of cultural globalization; they figure centrally
in the alarmist discourse of a coming global monoculture. Promoting the
spread of particular branded commodities—Marlboro cigarettes, Levi’s
jeans, and McDonald’s french fries—as well as general values of material-
ism and individualism, these corporations are alleged to be among the
principal agents shaping a uniform, universal, and hollow consumer(ist)
culture (see Sklair 2002; Ritzer 2004). The Coca-Cola Company obviously
deserves careful attention with regard to such claims about corporate
34 Coca-Globalization

monoculture. It was among the first consumer-oriented, brand-invested

multinationals and it remains at the start of the twenty-first century a mas-
ter symbol of corporate global culture. However, its home-grown franchise
system (also used by Pepsi-Cola in the United States and abroad) distin-
guished it from the more familiar vertically integrated multinationals of
the early and mid-twentieth century. This decentralized system, moreover,
was instrumental in reembedding Coca-Cola overseas, in mediating the
tension between its American origins and international presence. It was an
important part of the process by which a worldly thing has been made—
even if not finally or under all circumstances—a homely thing.
Materially speaking, Coca-Cola has always embodied the world. Its
well-known secret formula mixes ingredients of almost globally extensive
provenance—from the Peruvian coca leaves to the Chinese cinnamon (cas-
sia) to the African kola nuts (see Gootenberg 2004 for a political history of
the company’s importation of coca leaves to the United States).1 Symboli-
cally speaking, however, the brand has not always been so cosmopolitan.
For many people, inside and outside the United States, Coca-Cola is pure
Americana, an icon of essential U.S. national culture. This perceived
national(ist) character of Coca-Cola has historically both helped and hin-
dered the expansion of The Coca-Cola Company outside the United States.
Company officials and advertisers have accordingly made deliberate efforts
to manage the meaning of the brand, sometimes stressing its identity as
American, other times identifying it with universal values. The economy of
qualities has, in other words, required different strategies of evaluation at
different moments and in different settings. At the same time, company
officials have always loudly insisted that however far-flung its operations,
The Coca-Cola Company is always and everywhere a local business.
How did The Coca-Cola Company attempt to localize a distinctively
American drink in foreign contexts? This question invites further consid-
eration of the more general “global-local problematic” (Robertson 1995,
29): how are we to think of the “relationship” between “the global” and “the
local”? Roland Robertson has sensibly argued that we ought not to view
globalization and localization as polar opposites or construe “the local” as
both preexisting “the global” and asserting itself against “the global.” He
asks us, as I have, to avoid debating globalization in terms of a false choice
between homogenization (“the global”) and heterogenization (“the local”)
and instead to pay attention to the “ways in which homogenizing and het-
erogenizing tendencies are mutually implicative” (1995, 27), or put other-
wise, to the simultaneity and interpenetration of “the global” and “the
local,” the universal and the particular. This social condition, the intensifi-
cation of which characterizes modernity, is what Robertson refers to as
Glocalizing Coca-Cola 35

“glocalization.” Robertson furthermore points out that there are many dif-
ferent practical modes of glocalization, some of which—as in the strategies
of contemporary global marketers of products ranging from McDonald’s
lamb burgers in India to Gillette Lady Sensor Excel razors in Japan (Maynard
2003)—involve “ongoing, calculated attempts to combine homogeneity with
heterogeneity and universalism with particularism” (1995, 27).
Although the words “glocal” and “glocalization” became a part of trendy
business jargon in the 1980s, the concerns that these words denote were
already apparent to officials of The Coca-Cola Company. Since the 1930s,
but especially since World War II, these officials used both institutional and
ideological means to define their product as simultaneously local and
global. In retrospect, it is possible to detect periodic shifts in emphasis.
During the immediate postwar period and into the 1960s, the concern to
localize Coca-Cola products tempered the urge to foreground their
increasingly global presence. From the 1970s and into the 1990s, an explicit
globalism dominated company rhetoric and policy. With the appointment
of Douglas Daft as CEO in 2000, the company announced a renewed con-
cern with the local, a withdrawal from an aggressively singular global strat-
egy of marketing and a heightened sensitivity to multiple local differences
in tastes and preferences. This new or revived concern for the local also
implied a significant reorganization of corporate structure, a decentraliza-
tion of decision-making intended to make operations more responsive to
fast changing local situations.
The global diffusion of Coca-Cola, and soft drink consumption more
generally, can thus be understood in terms akin to the dialectics of disem-
bedding and reembedding (Chapter 1). A particular consumer item was
lifted out of its home social context and inserted into new and different
localized social contexts, which thereby became enmeshed in a spatially
extensive commodity network. Put differently, a particular product was
qualified in such a way as to bind new economic agents into a longer net-
work (Callon et al. 2002). In order for such reinsertions to be successful, a
certain amount of trust or confidence needs to be generated.2 From the
supply-side, reembedding is all about confidence and familiarity, about
enabling consumers to make themselves feel at home with new consumer
goods. For a multinational corporation selling one product in one package
worldwide (which The Coca-Cola Company did until around 1960), the
marketing question then becomes one of how to recognize and even exploit
local social and cultural diversity—how, in other words, to be multilocal.
This marketing question is equally a question of global culture—a ques-
tion of how local diversity comes to be not only recognized as “already there,”
but also imagined, organized, and constituted (by corporate executives and
36 Coca-Globalization

their assistants, for instance) in terms of a common translocal framework

(see Mazzarella 2003). Richard Wilk’s (1995) insightful comments about
“global structures of common difference” are directly pertinent. If there is
an emerging global culture, Wilk argues, then its main feature is not bland
homogeneity, but rather organized diversity (see Hannerz 1992b). The new
global cultural system actually promotes rather than erases difference, but
difference expressed in a standardized vocabulary that renders “wildly dis-
parate groups of people intelligible to each other” (Wilk 1995, 130). Like
certain versions of contemporary American multiculturalism, difference
gains legitimacy precisely because of its uniform manifestations. That is,
the celebration of particular kinds of (usually commodified) difference—
say, in food, dress, or music—entails the suppression of other kinds, say, in
moral and political values or concepts of personhood.
Robertson’s notion of glocalization is equally apposite, because it like-
wise draws our attention to how cultural particularities are often articu-
lated in universal forms. Thus Robertson aptly invokes the example of the
nation-state, repeating Anderson’s (1983) observation about the modular
nature of this sort of imagined community: “Much of the apparatus of
contemporary nations, of the national-state organization of societies,
including the form of their particularities—the construction of their
unique identities—is very similar across the entire world” (1995, 34).
Indeed, Orvar Löfgren (1989) has been able to define an international
grammar of nationhood in which unique identities are all expressed in
similar terms of distinctive flags, anthems, museums, airlines, sports teams,
and so forth. But one might as well invoke Marx’s paradoxical commodity
form, that is, the double-sided existence of a commodity as always com-
mensurable with all other commodities (exchange-value) yet singular and
variable in its uses (use-value): organized diversity.
How, then, did The Coca-Cola Company attempt to localize a distinc-
tively American drink in foreign contexts? In this chapter, I address the
question through a discussion of how the company used its franchise sys-
tem of bottlers to expand overseas and to create trust and goodwill in new
markets. This discussion rehearses the story of how Coke went to war (see,
e.g., Brands 1999), that is, how World War II provided the occasion for The
Coca-Cola Company’s decisive overseas expansion and, incidentally, the
first contacts between the inhabitants of New Guinea and carbonated soft
drinks. I focus in particular on the extensive wartime print advertising
campaign that identified Coca-Cola as “the global high-sign.” I then review
how the company’s emphasis on self-localization gave way to a period of
aggressive globalism, followed by a rediscovery and reiteration of itself as
an always local business. In the next chapter, I will discuss more fully how
Glocalizing Coca-Cola 37

trust and goodwill were created through brand building, especially

through advertising; in this chapter I give more attention to bottling oper-
ations and business plans. Both chapters thus address the ways in which
various company officials and their agents measured and managed the bal-
ance between what they understood as universal and particular factors
involved in international markets; that is, how they “glocalized” consump-
tion of carbonated soft drinks, above all Coca-Cola.

Disembedding Coca-Cola: Soft Drinks in the South Pacific

Although The Coca-Cola Company has traditionally and mainly sold its
famous concentrate and syrup to independent bottlers and fountain cus-
tomers, the company took an early and active interest in opening up and
developing foreign markets. Coca-Cola was bottled outside the United
States as early as 1906 with the opening of a plant in Havana, but expansion
into overseas markets began in earnest in 1926 when legendary Coke Pres-
ident Robert Woodruff established a foreign department. By then, com-
pany technicians were developing a way to condense syrup into a more
easily shipped powdered concentrate without sugar (Pendergrast 1993,
172). Plants lacking easy access to cane sugar were able to use beet sugar,
for which Woodruff had commissioned an international team of scientists
to develop a refining process (Louis and Yazijian 1980, 47). The following
year, Woodruff formed The Coca-Cola Export Corporation to replace the
foreign department, planning to build facilities worldwide to manufacture
concentrate (by 1972, the company had twenty-eight such principal plants
[“How Coke Runs a Foreign Empire” 1973]). Only the secret flavoring
ingredients (“7X” or “Merchandise 7”) and extracts of kola nuts and de-
cocainized coca leaves (“Merchandise 5”) would then have to be exported
(Pendergrast 1993, 188). In 1930, more than sixty bottling plants operated
in twenty-eight different countries (Louis and Yazijian 1980, 47).
At the outbreak of World War II, The Coca-Cola Company had estab-
lished small and scattered overseas operations in South America, Australia,
and Asia—the Shanghai bottling plant was first to reach the mark of ten
thousand gallons of syrup—as well as in Canada and Europe. In some
places, its presence was already strong: twenty-eight plants bottled Coca-
Cola in Germany and nine more were under construction (Bell n.d., Mark
Pendergrast Research Files, box 25, item 7). Nor did the war interrupt the
transformation of the company into a multinational business (even or
especially in Germany; see Pendergrast 1993, ch. 13). On the contrary, this
transformation accelerated when the company arranged with the U.S. gov-
ernment and military to supply Coca-Cola to the 15 million men and
38 Coca-Globalization

women of the American armed services wherever they happened to be

(Brands 1999). This joint venture between state and market actors repro-
duced an alliance that had helped to expand consumption and to subsidize
production of sugar in the eighteenth century (rum rations to British
sailors; Mintz 1985, 170) and tobacco in the twentieth century (cigarette
rations to U.S. soldiers; Schudson 1984, 186).
Sixty-four “emergency” bottling plants were assembled, shipped,
installed, and operated in six active theaters of war; in addition, approxi-
mately one thousand portable soda dispensers and ice makers (“jungle
units”) were used to service troops in the Pacific theater where bottling was
not feasible. A total of 248 technical observers (TOs), Coca-Cola Export
Corporation employees attached to the armed forces, carried out the mas-
sive project with the active cooperation of military personnel (see Weiner
2002). It was these TOs who first brought carbonated cola drinks to what
was then the Mandated Territory of New Guinea.
The TOs in New Guinea established two main bases of operation in the
second half of 1944 (see Bell n.d., Mark Pendergrast Research Files, box 25,
items 4–6; Bell’s 1966 interview with Paul Madden, Mark Pendergrast
Research Files, box 25, item 2). In Finschhafen, on the north coast of the
large island of New Guinea, TOs first serviced jungle units with syrup
imported from Australia and the United States. By the end of the year, they
had set up a syrup factory with equipment and sugar shipped from Aus-
tralia, and concentrate shipped from the United States in one-gallon glass
jugs. The factory operated from December 26, 1944, to July 1945, produc-
ing as much as 1,760 gallons a day and 37,000 gallons in one month. From
Finschhafen, the syrup was shipped in five-gallon glass jugs and refur-
bished 30-gallon wooden barrels. By February 1945, TO Paul Madden
could write from Finschhafen to readers of TO Digest: “The per capita con-
sumption figure at the present rate would make most U.S. cities very envi-
ous. It’s about 175—not bad for the jungles, huh?”3
In Manus (Admiralty Islands), islands to the north and east of mainland
New Guinea made famous by Margaret Mead, the TOs established the first
bottling plant in the Pacific theater. Ten jungle units had been installed in
the Admiralties, site of an enormous U.S. naval supply base, before the end
of 1944. Bottling machinery arrived in October and bottling began by the
new year. The equipment reportedly performed efficiently: “The unit was
rated at 300 bottles of Coca-Cola per minute, but the Manus bottling speed
ran as high as 375 bottles per minute—with an average of 350 bottles, and
a daily output of between 6,000 and 6,500 cases per day [sic]” (Bell n.d.,
Mark Pendergrast Research Files, box 25, item 4). The Manus factory sup-
plied Navy ships leaving for battles farther north as well as pilots making
Glocalizing Coca-Cola 39

runs from the Philippines. After the war, the equipment was purchased for
the renewed operations in Sydney, where Coca-Cola had been unavailable
to civilians since 1942.
While vast amounts of Coca-Cola were produced and consumed in
New Guinea, it remains unclear how much reached the hands of local peo-
ple. One TO, writing from the island of New Britain in August 1944,
observed, “I haven’t seen many future ‘Coca-Cola’ drinkers at either place
except our own Army boys. The natives are few and far between.” But, as
the remark makes clear, TOs were imagining local people as future con-
sumers and New Guinea as a new market, even if in a patronizing way.
Hence another TO’s account of one New Guinea man’s first contact with a

Let me tell you of an amusing incident that happened yesterday. A Fuzzy-

Wuzzy native was passing by the plant. Guess his curiosity got the best of
him because he cautiously looked in the doorway. I happened to see him, so
trying to use the sign language and a little pigeon [sic] English I offered him
a drink of “Coca-Cola.” At first he was a little skeptical and reluctant but after
a little persuasion he sniffed at it, stuck his tongue in it and then drank it
down rather fast. He belched, the gas went up his nose and brought tears to
his eyes. He was a scared native for a few minutes. So now it can be said that
we have sampled and opened up a new outlet—the Fuzzy-Wuzzy market.4

In a November 1944 article for The Red Barrel, a monthly Coca-Cola

Company publication, Lt. Ray Geiger explained with less levity to readers
that his wartime experience in New Guinea had revealed to him hitherto
unknown “business frontiers.” Geiger confessed to being positively
impressed with the trading skills of the natives, as well as their “quickness
to catch-on to all of the white man’s ways.” From his perspective, the war
was hastening a natural evolution from backwardness to “civilized living”
(even if the war itself called into question the very value of “civilization”):

Regulation army shorts are appearing everywhere on natives who previously

wore loincloths only. They take to cigarette smoking as naturally as though
it were an institution as old as ours. They are perfectly willing to discard the
teeth-staining betel nut chewing of former days for tobacco and even chew-
ing gum. Many of them have been taught basic automobile mechanics, and
several of them are already excellent drivers. They like movies and Coca-
Cola, and are making some gestures toward assuming a cleanliness which
they had not understood until now (Geiger 1944, 5).

No fear of a global monoculture here. On the contrary, Geiger’s vision of

the future populated New Guinea with avid consumers of tobacco and
40 Coca-Globalization

gum, automobiles and movies, soap and Coca-Cola. It is a vision that

defines entrance to the modern world in terms of mass consumption, a
way of life epitomized by the consumption of Coca-Cola. The war, despite
its undeniable ravages, was in this view hastening the inevitable by bring-
ing the possibility of modern living to parts of the globe that would not
otherwise have had such an opportunity for many generations.
Such seemed to be the conceit too of much of Coca-Cola’s national
advertising in the United States during the war, advertising that promoted
Coca-Cola as symbolic of a way of life and incorporated the words “the
global high-sign” into the familiar red disc logo (see Wrynn 1996). A dif-
ferent ad in this distinctive campaign notably appeared on the back cover
of sixteen issues of National Geographic Magazine between August 1943
and February 1946. These ads depicted American service personnel drink-
ing Coca-Cola in public and domestic settings in the United States (e.g.,
train depots, luncheonettes, and living rooms at Christmas) and in a vari-
ety of contexts abroad, often with foreign nationals, from Ireland to the
Philippines. Sixty years later, the ads with their colorful detailed illustra-
tions are highly desirable collectibles and can easily be found for sale on
eBay and other sites on the World Wide Web.
In some of the advertisements, the way of life symbolized by Coke was
identified as unambiguously American. For example, one of the ads, set in
Italy, represented the soft drink as a distinctively American custom:

One of the interesting things that impresses people overseas about the
American fighting man is his friendliness among his fellows. Everywhere
they see Americans bringing with them their customs and home-ways—
their own brand of open heartedness. Have a Coke, foreigners hear the G.I.
say when he wants to be friendly, and they begin to understand what Amer-
ica means. For in this simple gesture is some of the essence of Main Street
and the family fireside. Yes, the custom of the pause that refreshes with ice-
cold Coca-Cola helps show the world the friendliness of American ways.

This advertising strategy simply continued the company’s longtime effort

to identify itself as “the national drink,” an effort that grew in intensity
around the time of massive immigration to the United States between 1908
and 1919 (Louis and Yazijian 1980, 101). The success of such product qual-
ification—of effectively identifying Coca-Cola and America—was evident
in the plain fact that the whole project of supplying the U.S. armed forces
with Coke enjoyed a self-evident plausibility. What might have drawn fire
as gross business opportunism if not outright profiteering instead
impressed many observers as admirable patriotism. It was apparently only
Glocalizing Coca-Cola 41

a small minority of critics who asked, “What do they think this war is—the
cause that refreshes?” (Pendergrast 1993, 201).
The ultimate success of nationalizing Coca-Cola also manifested itself
dramatically, sometimes poignantly, in the testimonials of soldiers serving
overseas (see Weiner 2002). These testimonials often equated Coca-Cola
with America by identifying the pair as precisely what the soldiers were
fighting to defend. Col. Robert L. Scott, author of God is My Co-Pilot, thus
pointed to his thoughts of “America, Democracy and Coca-Colas” as the
motivation to “shoot down my first Jap” (cited in Pendergrast 1993, 211).
But these testimonials also expressed a symbolic equation of Coca-Cola
with “home”—home remembered in terms less encompassing and more
intimate than those of political ideologies. For example, “to have this drink
is just like having home brought nearer to you; it’s one of the little things of
life that really counts. I can remember being at Ponce de Leon Park, watch-
ing the [Atlanta] Crackers play baseball as I filled up on Coca-Cola and
peanuts. It’s things such as this that all of us are fighting for” (Pendergrast
1993, 210).
Wartime ads also described The Coca-Cola Company’s project as bring-
ing home to soldiers overseas (“a bit of America that has travelled ‘round
the globe,” as one ad put it). Conversely, the ads depicted uniformed sol-
diers on furlough telling stories of distant lands in “the old neighborhood
soda fountain.” The oddity of a cold Coke in Manus was juxtaposed with
the oddity of a uniformed combat pilot sitting at the lunch counter of the
corner drug store. People and things, army captains and Coke bottles, seem
to have traded places.
The encounter with Coca-Cola in unfamiliar surroundings—not just
European cities, but foxholes on South Pacific islands—surely reinforced
the association between Coca-Cola and America. But it also evinced aston-
ishment at the massive delocalization involved—the disembedding of
homely matter from its familiar context and the stretching of social rela-
tions over vast distances. Indeed, some of the wartime testimonials can be
read as confessions of shock and awe at the possibility and extent of this
“distanciation”: “The crowning touch to your Christmas packages was the
bottled Coca-Cola. How did you ever think of sending them? To have it
here and turn up the bottle and see ‘Ronceverte, W. V.,’ on the bottom was
an added thrill” (Pendergrast 1993, 210). This disembedding of the local—
and its reembedding in wholly new settings—was comforting and estrang-
ing at the same time—the kind of experience American tourists report
today when they stumble across a Pizza Hut in Karachi. One striking mate-
rial embodiment of this ambivalence took shape in the men’s room of a
Navy officer’s club in the New Hebrides (today the Pacific island nation of
42 Coca-Globalization

Vanuatu): “Hundreds of Coke bottles embossed with local franchises’ loca-

tions were embedded, bottom out, in the concrete urinal wall, with vari-
colored lights behind them providing an eerie glow to a continual wash of
water.‘It was something to see,’ one nostalgic veteran recalled.‘People came
from long distances “just to piss on the old home town”’” (Pendergrast
1993, 212).
The kind of “eerie” delocalization represented by syrup factories and
bottling plants in New Guinea—the “phantasmagoric” saturation of
immediate locales with remote people and places—potentially unsettled
the national meaning of Coca-Cola. This semantic instability appears as a
subtle ambiguity that runs through the wartime global high-sign adver-
tisement campaign. While many of the ads asserted the identity of Coca-
Cola with America, other ads suggested that Coca-Cola was symbolic of
universal values, values recognized everywhere albeit in locally diverse
ways. Accordingly, the injunction to “Have a Coke” could be translated into
other languages, language itself thus understood as an arbitrary system of
nomenclature applied to an independently (and universally) apprehended
reality. The text of one ad, for instance,“translates” Coca-Cola into Chinese
as “Good winds have blown you here.” It further observes: “In far off places,
when Coca-Cola is on hand, you find it cementing friendships for our
fighting men. China knew Coca-Cola from Tientsin to Shanghai, from
Hong Kong to Tsingtao. To Chinese and Yank alike, Have a ‘Coke’ are wel-
come words. They belong with friendliness and freedom. From Atlanta to
the Seven Seas, Coca-Cola stands for the pause that refreshes—has become
a symbol of good will among the friendly-minded.” In this sense, having
Cokes might be an American way of making friends, but friendship itself is
not exclusively American; hence the capacity of Coca-Cola to insert itself
into social contexts almost everywhere, as already demonstrated in China
before the outbreak of World War II.
Put differently, the semiotic qualification and celebration of Coca-Cola
as “the global high-sign” was double-sided. On the one hand, Coca-Cola
was sold overseas, not just in the United States; when American soldiers
met up with it abroad, it reminded them of home. On the other hand, the
fact that Coca-Cola was sold overseas implied that it is not exclusively
American; its availability outside the United States bespoke its appeal to
universal tastes and values. (The red disc in the global high-sign ads thus
sometimes displayed the word Coca-Cola superimposed on silhouettes of
North and South America and, sometimes, on silhouettes of Australia and
Asia or of Africa and Europe.) The global high-sign campaign thus sig-
naled a transitional moment in the history of The Coca-Cola Company, a
transition from being a national company to a multinational or global
Glocalizing Coca-Cola 43

company—a transition not only in business operations, but also in self-

perception. It also signaled how globality was to be conceived, namely, as
multilocality: a diversity of local places and customs organized within a
common framework of agreed upon values. This vision of globality—what
Friedman (1992) calls utopian internationalism—was in accord with the
postwar order to be ushered in by the newly created United Nations, an
order of formally equivalent sovereign nation-states (Kelly and Kaplan
2001).5 It is today likewise in accord both with certain liberal and relativist
versions of multiculturalism and with the strategies of marketing global
brands of soft drinks in diverse locales such as India (Mazzarella 2003) and
Papua New Guinea (Foster 2002).
One meaningful consequence of investing Coca-Cola with qualities of
ubiquity and universality was to render the absence of Coca-Cola as sym-
bolic of radical difference and invidious distinction. The logic at work here
emerges from a comparison of two global high-sign ads set in the South
Pacific. In the first ad, set on a beach in New Zealand, an American army
sergeant, a New Zealand soldier, and a Maori man in a loincloth stand
together in front of a house adorned with Maori carvings. The caption at
the top of the add translates “Have a Coke” into Maori as “Kia Ora (Good
Luck).” This assertion of linguistic equivalence is mirrored in the illustra-
tion. The Maori man holds a bottle of Coke in one hand while pointing
with the other hand to a tattoo on his bare chest. The New Zealand soldier
holds a bottle of Coke in each hand while the American sergeant uses both
of his hands to pull open his shirt, revealing a large tattoo not unlike that
of the Maori man. Cross-cultural friendship—the deep similarity that lies
under superficial differences—triumphs.
The second ad pictures an encounter outside a military post exchange
(PX) between Seabees, members of the U.S. Navy Construction Battalions
(CBs), and several native men of the Admiralty Islands (Manus), site of the
Pacific theater’s bottling plant. The natives carry hourglass drums; they
wear loincloths and feathers. One native man stares in pop-eyed amaze-
ment at a field radio, presumably emitting the sounds of voices. The
Seabees, all white men, sit and lean on heavy construction equipment; they
look on smiling. Like the dark-skinned natives, they are shirtless. But
unlike the natives, the Seabees are drinking Coca-Colas. The asymmetry of
the ad is remarkable; it is the only one in the entire “global high-sign” series
where the Americans alone drink Coca-Colas. V. Dennis Wrynn, in his
commentary on the ad in Coke Goes to War, thus notes that “The boys may
be chatting, but they aren’t giving away their Cokes” (1996, 76).
Undoubtedly, the New Guinea ad draws on contemporary American
and older colonial racist assumptions and imagery, much like the TO’s
44 Coca-Globalization

account of the “Fuzzy Wuzzy” Coke consumer. Similarly, the unflattering

comparison between the Maori and Manus natives recapitulates a long-
standing distinction between noble bronze Polynesians and savage
black Melanesians (see Thomas 1989). The ad represents a denial of
coevalness—the refusal to recognize plainly that American soldiers and
New Guinea natives occupy the same world at the same time. Thus, the
remarkable confession of one TO, who recounted his meeting in 1944 with
a Manus man “running in the jungle”: “He stopped and said, ‘Me Christ-
ian.’ I said, ‘Good,’ then he said ‘Me Lutheran.’ I replied “So am I.’ Boy,
was I embarrassed.” Here, the recognition of connection—of complex
connectivity—and the inability to deny coevalness alters the TO’s affective
understanding of his own place within a network of perspectives.
But the New Guinea ad also brings to the surface a latent association of
Coca-Cola with modernity, a global modernity figured in terms of mass
consumption on the one hand and far reaching communication technolo-
gies on the other. This was the global modernity depicted at home for
National Geographic readers and embodied by the white American men
who were promoting it to dark-skinned natives ‘round the globe. From
now on, it would be possible to imagine the absence of Coca-Cola as short-
hand for the absence of modern civilization and therefore the presence of
primitive ways. This assumption would hold true whether the absence of
Coke was implicitly derided, as in the Seabees ad, or explicitly romanti-
cized, as in The Gods Must Be Crazy. Here, too, is the origin of a whole
genre of photographs that juxtapose images of the primitive, either stark
naked or garbed in anything but Western clothes, with branded containers
of carbonated soft drink. Thus a 1957 issue of Panorama, Pepsi-Cola Inter-
national’s glossy public relations magazine, could contrast the modern
metropolis of Manila with the ancient rice terraces of Banawe in northern
Luzon, home of the Ifugao “tribesmen,” whose “way of life has remained
unchanged for centuries.” The resolution of this contrast, however, appears
in the form of a picture of an Ifugao man quaffing a bottle of Pepsi. The
caption reads: “Pepsi-Cola is a modern aid to pleasant living.” Ten years
later, a picture of a New Guinea man dressed in the ceremonial splendor of
face paint and feathers, brandishing a can of Coke, graced the cover of
Coca-Cola Overseas, Coca-Cola Export’s own publication and counterpart
to Panorama.
This image of the resplendent soft drink–swigging native still enjoys
currency in postcolonial Papua New Guinea (e.g., on souvenir postcards
[See Figure 2.1] and in travel photographs [see Figure 2.2]), despite the fact
that consumption of food and drink is sometimes regarded locally as inim-
ical to the ritual purposes and practices signaled by ceremonial dress.
Figure 2.1 Postcard image of a Huli dancer at the 1987 Port Moresby Show. Photo by Marsha Berman.
Printed by Wirui Press, Wewak, Papua New Guinea.

Figure 2.2 Dancers at the 2006 Goroka Show. Photograph by Jan Hoeksema.
46 Coca-Globalization

Indeed, the image often represents soft drink consumption as a positive

sign of cultural strength—irrefutable evidence of the capacity of Papua
New Guineans to honor their traditions while at the same time becoming
modern. Such is the self-proclaimed position of soft drink bottlers in
Papua New Guinea, who have provided corporate sponsorship for numer-
ous cultural exhibitions such as the annual Port Moresby Show (see Chap-
ter 4). The show is something like a grand county fair that features both
traditional dance competitions and rock concerts in a self-conscious blend
of the indigenous and the exogenous, the old and the new. Hence one
newspaper advertisement promoting the 1995 Port Moresby Show that
featured a color photo of three bare-breasted young women, dressed iden-
tically in ceremonial garb, raising bottles of Pepsi to their lips in a single
choreographed motion. Next to the photo appeared these words: “PEPSI.
The favourite drink of Papua New Guineans is once again proud to be
associated with the 1995 Port Moresby Show. Come celebrate this year’s
festivities and drink to the occasion with Pepsi. PEPSI. The Choice of a
New Generation. The Choice of all Papua New Guineans” (Post-Courier,
June 7, 1995).
In this self-satisfied view, the combination of Pepsi and Papua New
Guinea is a matter of choice—a choice by which a new generation of Papua
New Guineans define themselves as both traditional (local) and modern
(global).6 The encounter with global modernity is here envisaged in elite
cultural nationalist terms, even if articulated by a transnational corpora-
tion; the result is not Western monoculture but a distinctive national cul-
ture made out of the best features of diverse local traditions and global
commodities. This national culture is recognizably distinctive, however,
only because it is comparable to other national cultures within a “system of
common difference” (Wilk 1995). Thus the rationale behind such recent
national entries into the global system of soft drink differences as Russian
Cola and Cola Turka (from Turkey; see Özkan and Foster 2005).
Coca-Cola was thus qualified and understood during World War II as a
worldly thing. Its association with America was never, of course, erased;
America itself was understood to represent a modern world order that
transcended national distinctions. Coca-Cola Overseas happily reprinted
an article from a 1953 Brazilian business magazine in which the author
asserted that “‘Coca-Cola’ is a symbol of new commercial methods, of a
new American civilization, a new order of ideas, of a complete overthrow
of the gloomy concepts of a dark, mouldy past” (“As Others See Us” 1954).
Here it is Coke rather than its competitor that symbolizes a new genera-
tion, indeed, progress itself: “‘Coca-Cola is progress. It spreads comfort
throughout Brazil. It is against barefootedness, against malaria and yellow
Glocalizing Coca-Cola 47

fever . . . against corrupt politicians, against bad roads and against gang-
sterism.” To be against Coke, then, was to be for a life of premodern, if not
downright primitive conditions.

Reembedding Coca-Cola: The Franchise System

At the end of World War II, the overseas business of The Coca-Cola Com-
pany was expanding rapidly. Twenty-nine of the sixty-four “emergency”
bottling plants were still active, serving the armed forces in occupied Ger-
many and Japan. Three hundred and fifty-four bottlers operated outside
the United States in 1948, compared with 1,056 domestic bottlers, but J. F.
Curtis, president of the Export Corporation, predicted that within five
years the number of foreign bottlers would exceed the domestic total: “In
the past year we have added 76 new bottlers in 28 countries. Moreover, we
are now processing more than a thousand serious inquiries about Bottler’s
Agreements from 118 countries or geographical units” (1948, 5). It is
hardly surprising, then, that by 1950 the global reach of Coca-Cola—its
manifest destiny as a multinational corporation—had become a topic of
public interest. A famous Time magazine cover article represented the
company’s overseas spread as a form of benign empire, a confident sign of
U.S. postwar leadership: “To find something as thoroughly native Ameri-
can hawked in half a hundred languages on all the world’s crossroads from
Arequipa to Zwolle is still strangely anomalous, somewhat like reading
Dick Tracy in French or seeing a Japanese actor made up like Abraham Lin-
coln. But it is reassuring. It is also simpler, sharper evidence than the Mar-
shall Plan or a Voice of America broadcast that the U.S. has gone out into
the world to stay” (“The Sun Never Sets on Cacola” 1950 [see Figure 2.3]).
The consternation confessed by the Time article springs from the recog-
nition that something as “native American” as Coke could be stripped of its
national identity and assimilated into multiple local contexts. But that very
possibility was the explicit objective of The Coca-Cola Export Company’s
policy of multilocalism. The goal was to make Coca-Cola an integral part
of people’s everyday lives wherever they might be, to weave the product
into the “pattern and customs of every land,” as one recurring metaphor
would have it. Indeed, Pendergrast (1993, 480n) reports that by the mid-
1950s, the word “export” in the subsidiary company’s title had become an
unwanted reminder of the drink’s American origin and company officials
discussed changing the name. Already by 1950, a third of The Coca-Cola
Company’s profits came from “foreign” business, and only one percent of
Coca-Cola Export employees (a total of six thousand in 1948; Curtis 1948)
were American. Thus, the story of Coca-Cola’s expansion overseas is as
48 Coca-Globalization

Figure 2.3 Cover of Time, May 15, 1950. TIME Magazine © 1950 Time Inc. Reprinted with permission.

much one of deliberate localization or planned domestication as it is one

of imperial conquest.
The Coca-Cola Export Company had no doubts about the key to its
localization strategy: the franchise system. From 1948 and through the
1950s, a simple and consistent message was broadcast through the pages of
Coca-Cola Overseas, Export’s in-house magazine for owners and managers
of bottling operations worldwide, namely, that Coca-Cola is local to the
community that bottles it. An early, elliptically titled editorial, “ . . . local
business,” presented the official vision of the franchise system at work:

Since 1886, when Coca-Cola first made its appearance, the Company has
remained primarily the manufacturer of the syrup, or concentrate. It oper-
ates only a certain few bottling plants in various parts of the world, and these
Glocalizing Coca-Cola 49
for pioneering purposes. The bottling of the product has remained primarily
what it always was—the enterprise of independent businessmen residing in
the community and operating with their own capital. The retailing of the
product is strictly the business of hundreds of thousands of dealers—shop-
keepers, small merchants, vendors. The profit structure of Coca-Cola is such
that the dealers receive the largest share, the bottlers the next largest and the
Company the smallest share (Coca-Cola Overseas, October 1948, p. 1).

More importantly, Export Company officials would invariably point out,

the establishment of a local Coca-Cola bottler necessarily creates a demand
for other local businesses to supply the bottler with everything from sugar
and glass to packing cases, delivery trucks, and uniforms. Or, as Time par-
roted in its 1950 cover story, “In all countries where it is bottled, Coca-Cola
stimulates local industry; virtually all the coolers, bottles, cases, uniforms
and advertising material used in foreign countries are made outside the U.S.”
Local bottlers were thus engines of economic growth for local commu-
nities, a central node in a web of community enterprises. Export Board
Chairman (and former postmaster general and chairman of the Democra-
tic National Committee) James Farley summarized the gospel he preached
numerous times as Coca-Cola’s preeminent ambassador in a speech mark-
ing the fiftieth anniversary of the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Dayton,
Ohio: “Just as in Dayton, so in any city wherever ‘Coca-Cola’ is bottled
throughout the world, the ‘Coca-Cola’ bottling plant is an integral part of
the community. The economic force upon the community is measured in
terms of wages and salaries paid to employees, investments made in build-
ings, trucks, bottles and cases, as well as payments made for services sup-
plied by others. It matters little that the pay envelope may contain francs,
ticals, pounds, shillings and pence instead of dollars” (Farley 1954). The
franchise system accordingly founded a “business commonwealth” that
apparently contradicted the easy equation of large-scale efficiency with
monopolistic exploitation. In a 1949 Coca-Cola Overseas article, Thurman
Arnold, former head of the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of
Justice, could proclaim that The Coca-Cola Company epitomized a “busi-
ness concern which was putting money into outlying communities and
increasing the wealth of independents, instead of exploiting them.” The
company thus reflexively qualified its product with a partial and partisan
representation of the network that the product brought into being and
bound together.
As a testament to the capacity of the franchise system to localize Coca-
Cola, the company celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in Italy in 1977 with
an advertising campaign that reportedly averred: “Coca-Cola in Italy is
Italian. It is a collection of small businesses, Italian businesses. The product
50 Coca-Globalization

is produced in Italy, by Italians, in factories built by Italians and is then dis-

tributed and consumed by Italians. And it has been so for half a century”
(Louis and Yazijian 1980, 154–55). Nothing new here. Pepsi-Cola Interna-
tional, formed in 1954, used the same strategy to market its products over-
seas during its own massive postwar expansion. A Printer’s Ink article from
1958 explained the procedure: “To show natives of a particular country
how Pepsi’s plant is benefitting them, ads are run that say, ‘Glass, sugar,
caps, you produced all of them and more for Pepsi-Cola’ or ‘How drinking
Pepsi makes your country grow.’” The copy of another ad, picturing per-
sonnel, declares: “Meet your neighbors who work for Pepsi-Cola.” Like the
rival Coca-Cola Export Corporation, Pepsi-Cola International oriented its
marketing—its qualification of product—to one principal end: “the inte-
gration of product with customers in the country of their origin” (“How
Pepsi-Cola is Marketed Overseas” 1958).
It is worth noting that strains of this promotional rhetoric can be heard
in Peter Nolan’s (2000) more recent argument about the opportunities
available to small businesses in developing countries for linking up with
“external firms” such as The Coca-Cola Company. Nolan claims that these
businesses are able to compete largely because of their low labor costs in
supplying the Coca-Cola system with “a vast array of locally purchased
goods and services” that include everything from carbon dioxide and
paper cups to plastic crates and umbrellas (Nolan 2000, 17).7 Indeed,
Nolan describes the procurement activity of the company and its bottlers
as “a massive system of inter-relationships with a myriad of connected
businesses” (1999, 44). (Callon et al. [2002] might describe this activity as
the source and outcome of an extremely long network bound together by a
product.) If fortunate—and able to meet the exacting quality standards of
the company—a small business might “progress up the value chain” in
partnership with a company, like The Coca-Cola Company in the 1990s,
hell bent on global expansion.
Nevertheless, Nolan also makes it abundantly clear that the vision of
highly localized and decentralized supply chains once conjured up as part
of the company’s marketing magic no longer reflects the current realities of
purchasing practices. The establishment of Global Procurement and Trad-
ing has allowed the company and its bottlers to benefit from the economies
of large volume purchases and guarantees of homogeneous product inputs
reliably supplied at the same high level of quality worldwide, thus “provid-
ing a common consumption experience across all countries” (Nolan 1999,
45). Not surprisingly, then, fewer and fewer suppliers provided inputs to
the Coca-Cola system during the 1990s, and concentration and consolida-
tion within the industries producing these inputs (cans, glass containers,
Glocalizing Coca-Cola 51

components for polyethylene terephthalate [PET] bottles, trucks, account-

ants, advertisements, etc.) proceeded at a rapid clip. For example, by the
end of the decade, only three giant global companies accounted for 70 per-
cent of world can output (Nolan 1999, 50). Rapid innovation in technolo-
gies, moreover, stimulated by the competition among suppliers to enter the
Coke system’s value chain, has also taken its toll on local suppliers to local
bottlers. For example, the high transport costs associated with glass usually
ensured that bottlers purchased containers from local suppliers. But with
the ascendance of alternative, light weight packaging materials, starting
with cans in the 1960s and plastic containers subsequently, the survival of
small producers was doomed.
In short, the concentration and consolidation in the various industries
supplying inputs to the Coca-Cola system proceeded apace with concen-
tration and consolidation in other locations of the product network or
value chain. On the one hand, the company launched a major effort under
CEO Roberto Goizueta to reduce the number of bottlers within the system
(see Chapter 3). On the other hand, customers for the system’s output,
themselves launched on projects of growth and expansion, sought the
“close inter-relationship between producer and retailer” basic to “efficient
consumer response” (Nolan 1999, 69; see Chapter 3). Giant retail outlets
such as supermarkets and the megastores of Wal-Mart, the largest retailer
and private employer in the United States, pursued price advantages
through a strategy of seamlessly integrating their own efficiently moni-
tored supply chains with those of major suppliers (see Dicker 2005; Chap-
ter 3). Similarly, customers of The Coca-Cola Company’s fountain
products—including McDonald’s, the company’s largest single global cus-
tomer, and the Universal Cinemas chain of movie theaters—sought to
coordinate closely their expansion and development with that of their sup-
plier—The Coca-Cola Company and its bottlers.
The soft drink franchise system was not predicated upon altruism, of
course; its usefulness in opening up new foreign markets was apparent
whenever Coca-Cola met resistance from local beverage industries. For
example, when the Export Corporation encountered difficulty reestablish-
ing its operations in postwar France, its lawyer “suggested signing bottling
contracts with wine, beer, fruit juice, and soft drink interests. That way, he
said, ‘we will bore into the enemy from within’” (Pendergrast 1993, 243–44;
see Kuisel 1993). (In Japan, Coke’s well-connected bottling partners
included Kirin Brewery [Pendergast 1993]; Pepsi expanded through
Europe in the 1950s in alliance with Schweppes in England, Perrier in
France, and Heineken in the Netherlands [Louis and Yazijian 1980].) Sim-
ilarly, the franchise system afforded the Export Corporation protection
52 Coca-Globalization

from expropriation. In a 1973 Business Week article that explained the

decentralized structure of the Export Corporation’s global operations,
then CEO of The Coca-Cola Company J. Paul Austin observed: “It’s a fran-
chise business. If they nationalize the assets they’re nationalizing their own
people.” But as Louis and Yazijian (1980) point out, the franchise system
itself lowers the probability of expropriation inasmuch as it strengthens
ties between Coke and local governments. (In a 1991 interview, E. Neville
Isdell, current CEO but then in charge of Coke’s operations in Africa,
claimed that “Our bottler in Ethiopia is the government. It’s 100% owned
by the government” [Mark Pendergrast Research Files, box 2, item 14]). At
the same time, the system provides any necessary detachment from the ille-
gal or unethical activities of unscrupulous bottlers (such as stronghanded
anti-union tactics in Guatemala during the 1970s; Louis and Yazijian 1980,
185; Frundt 1987).
Coca-Cola bottlers demonstrated their citizenship in local communities
not only by supporting economic activity, but also by sponsoring cultural
events, especially sporting events. The June 1954 issue of Coca-Cola Over-
seas describes how almost five thousand students from seventy different
schools toured the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Adelaide, Australia, over a
period of seven weeks:

On arrival the children were taken step by step through the bottling opera-
tion and then given ice-cold “Coca-Cola.” They were shown the film
“Refreshment Through the Years,” and given a copy of the booklet “The
Romance of Coca-Cola” and a souvenir pencil.
Headmasters and teachers encouraged the pupils to describe in writing
their visit. Pen and pencil sets were offered as prizes by the bottler for the
best essay written each week.

This strategy of citizenship-through-sampling is still very much in evi-

dence in new markets like that of Papua New Guinea, where the bottler,
Coca-Cola Amatil (CCA), is not locally owned (see Chapter 4). Put other-
wise, the Coca-Cola bottler is keen to create the sort of confidence and
goodwill necessary for Papua New Guineans, like consumers everywhere,
to reembed Coca-Cola in their everyday lives.8
The Coca-Cola Company adapted itself to overseas markets in other
ways as well, introducing Fanta Orange in Italy in 1955 five years before
finally offering a line of fruit-flavors in the United States (Pendergrast
1993, 244). Fruit-flavored soft drinks provide a wedge for opening up
newer markets to Coca-Cola, which appears to be something of an
acquired taste. John Hunter, president of the Coca-Cola Pacific Group
in 1991, admitted that “in some of the newer markets . . . initially we do
Glocalizing Coca-Cola 53

better with Fanta Orange and a range of flavors and with Sprite because
generally there has been a local soft drink industry that has been built
around flavors. It takes a while for new consumers who have not experi-
enced Coca-Cola to accept and get used to the taste” (Mark Pendergrast
Research Files, box 29, item 13). Hunter explained that it is easier for new
consumers to “get into the soft drink culture with flavors than it is with
Coca-Cola” (a lesson that former CEO Douglas Daft liked to say he learned
the hard way in Indonesia). This is especially true if there is no refrigera-
tion available: “A Fanta Orange or Sprite tastes better warm than does a
Coca-Cola.” Hence the introduction of Coca-Cola into new markets
requires the development of what Hunter called “an ice cold culture,” a tra-
dition of drinking beverages ice cold.
Accommodations to local markets nevertheless took place within a gen-
eral effort to make a product that would look and taste invariably the same
the world over. This effort entailed both standardized procedures for man-
ufacturing the drink and participation in a corporate culture that tran-
scended local, national, and regional differences. According to the 1950
Time magazine article, this culture was formulated and dispensed in the
training of “field men” in charge of sales promotion who in turn educated
foreign bottlers. Training involved, among other activities, a two-week stint
at the central production school in Atlanta and time spent working in U.S.
plants at every job involved in bottling. In the field, sales promotion men
not only advised bottlers on the design of plants and machinery to pur-
chase, but also on how driver-salesmen ought to present themselves and
their products to retail clients. The management of meaning—of brand
image—was precise and deliberate, creating an orientation to the product
itself that bordered on unabashed commodity fetishism. At a 1954 conven-
tion of bottlers assembled for the twenty-fifth anniversary of Coca-Cola in
Germany, the audience heard a gigantic Coca-Cola bottle speak from the
center of the stage: “I am the object of your strivings; the hub about which
everything on this day of celebration rotates . . . I am not just a commod-
ity, I am unique of my kind. I am ‘Coca-Cola,’ vigorous with life and more
than a mere shape” (“25 Years of ‘Coca-Cola’ in Germany!” 1954).
The company’s culture of quality control was still very much on display
during a visit that I made in April 2000 with two colleagues to a CCA-
owned plant in Lae, Papua New Guinea (see Figure 2.4; see Errington and
Gewertz 2004 for an account). And this culture exerted direct and power-
ful effects on the local portion of the product network, for the sugar used
in all the company’s products made and sold in PNG then came from the
canefields of Ramu Sugar Ltd. (RSL), just a two-hour drive away. This
arrangement had grown out of a general policy of import substitution and
54 Coca-Globalization

Figure 2.4 Coca-Cola Amatil bottling plant in Lae, Papua New Guinea, April 2000.

a specific monopoly granted to RSL by the PNG state which, after 1997,
gave way to a scheme of heavy but gradually decreasing tariff protection for
the domestic sugar industry. By the end of the 1990s, CCA’s purchases of
sugar from RSL—the only sweeteners used in PNG-made products of the
company—accounted for as much as 25 percent of RSL’s total production
(Errington and Gewertz 2004, 228).
Nevertheless, the relationship between RSL and CCA was often trou-
bled by questions of quality. During our visit, David Lane, technical oper-
ations manager for both of CCA’s plants in PNG, expressed dissatisfaction
with the quality of RSL’s mill-white sugar. He claimed that mill-white
sugar, as opposed to refined sugar, adversely affects the taste and color of
soft drinks, especially the color, which is crucially important in drinks like
Sprite that require crystal clarity in the liquid. RSL sugar was simply not,
in Lane’s opinion, up to the rigorous standards of The Coca-Cola
Company—despite efforts on the part of CCA to use special filters (see
Errington and Gewertz 2004, 229). Yet, Lane readily admitted that he had
not received any complaints from PNG consumers. Instead, his concerns
seemed to be motivated by both the dictates of company inspectors and his
own personal craft ethic, according to which he favored the high quality
Glocalizing Coca-Cola 55

and reduced profitability associated with using heavily taxed refined

white sugar imported from Australia. In the past, according to Errington
and Gewertz (2004, 228), CCA had used threats to import Australian
refined sugar (itself much cheaper than PNG’s domestic sugar) to
extract expensive concessions from RSL in upgrading the quality of
its product.
Lane similarly explained the transition from glass bottles to cans and
plastic bottles as a function of quality control.9 He noted that glass bottles
were often returned in poor condition—“burned and with buai [chewed
betel nut] in them”; chips and cracks meant the bottles were unfit for reuse.
This transition, however, further delocalized the product network or sup-
ply chain. CCA imported its cans from New Zealand and its “preforms” for
plastic bottles from Australia (since late 2002 from Visy Industries, which
purchased CCA’s plastic bottle manufacturing facilities when CCA decided
to sell non-core assets). These preforms were heated and molded into the
trademarked contour shape by an impressive high-speed blowing machine
produced by the French company, Sidel, which at the time produced
“about 70% of the global output of PET blowers for the Coca-Cola system”
(Nolan 1999, 54). In 2000, the bottles still in use by CCA in PNG (at the
Port Moresby plant only) were likewise imported (from the Philippines,
along with crown seals or caps); a small local manufacturer had existed in
Lae up until about 1990. Besides the cardboard cartons for boxing alu-
minum cans, very few of the inputs (besides sugar and water) for the com-
pany’s products in PNG were made locally. The Lae plant produced its own
syrup (and carbon dioxide), but it imported the concentrate from Aus-
tralia (although the batch being used at the time of our visit inexplicably
came from Swaziland). The elimination of returnable glass bottles, more-
over, removed Coca-Cola products from a street-level informal economy
in which individual entrepreneurs collected and redeemed empty contain-
ers for the small deposit. This entrepreneurial spirit has, however, appar-
ently adapted to new circumstances. Thus the Courier Mail of Queensland,
Australia reported on March 18, 2004, that two PNG men had been
charged with stealing ten million aluminum can lids, worth almost three
hundred thousand Australian dollars, destined for Coca-Cola Amatil’s Lae
plant. The lids were allegedly taken from a storage depot in Lae by the
operations manager and passed on to a senior staff member at PNG Recy-
cling, presumably for export to Brisbane.10
As Ponte and Gibbon (2005) point out, the management of quality by
actors in the same product network or value chain can be a matter of contes-
tation as much as one of cooperation. Lead firms such as the Coca-Cola sys-
tem of bottlers or the mammoth retailer Wal-Mart can use their purchasing
56 Coca-Globalization

power to define quality standards and perforce to govern other actors in

the network. Big buyers can demand that their suppliers conform to these
standards or else forfeit business, thus stimulating competing suppliers to
find ways (technological or otherwise) to meet quality standards at the
lowest possible cost to buyers. Tariffs and taxes, of course, make the
achievement of such “control at a distance” (Ponte and Gibbon 2005) more
difficult for buyers. Thus, Errington and Gewertz describe the uneasy rela-
tionship between CCA and RSL at the start of the new millennium: “The
present arrangements between CCA and RSL are clearly provisional. RSL
knows that as soon as it becomes politically feasible and economically
advantageous, CCA will import refined sugar from elsewhere. Certainly,
RSL’s well-being is not central to CCA’s perception of its own long-term
interests” (2004, 232). This description amounts to neither the “business
commonwealth” envisioned in The Coca-Cola Company’s early overseas
marketing rhetoric nor the hopeful opportunities presented by “the global
business revolution” extolled in more recent analyses of the company’s
operations in developing countries (Nolan 2000). It instead conforms
more closely to what Bakan (2004) represents as every normal corpora-
tion’s “pathological pursuit of profit and power” (see Chapter 5).

Cultural Sensitivity as Micro-Marketing

An important part of the Export Corporation’s effort to coordinate its

“loose and sprawling confederation of more or less independent indus-
tries” (“The Sun Never Sets on Cacola” 1950) involved keeping Coca-Cola
advertising within definite guidelines. A bottler shared his advertising
expenses with the Export Corporation on a decreasing scale for the first
five years. The Export Corporation distributed catalogues that illustrated
“point of purchase” signs in full color and provided copy in several differ-
ent languages. Information for local carpenters on how to frame and
mount the signs was also included. The goal was double: quality and uni-
formity. In a December 1948 Coca-Cola Overseas article, Joseph Rintelen,
assistant advertising manager for the Export Corporation wrote, “Nobody
seeing this catalogue will fail to realize that in any production of advertis-
ing material he may undertake locally, he will have to aim high to meet the
requirements with regard to quality in design and execution and to pro-
duce the kind of material that is representative of Coca-Cola. It is felt that
the catalogue will not only be a great incentive in this respect, but it will
also make an important contribution toward uniformity throughout the
world in basic point-of-purchase material.” The home office of the Export
Corporation also supplied managers abroad with pattern campaigns for
Glocalizing Coca-Cola 57

local newspaper and magazine advertising. Rintelen (1955, 20) described

the 1956 pattern campaign as the most comprehensive ever, consisting of
“more than fifty basic advertisements which can be used as they appear or
can easily be adapted to other sizes and shapes and any language desired.”
Adaptable art, copy, and layout made it possible to run local variations of a
single ad by simply translating the text and, where necessary, photograph-
ing native models in the same general pose or situation.
Pepsi-Cola International also implemented a program of coordinated
international advertising as part of its overseas expansion during the
1950s. Franchisees received copies of the five-volume Pepsi-Cola Encyclo-
pedia of Advertising, which communicated general policy advice on selling
such impulse items as soft drinks, and particular tips for improving radio
spots, such as making good use of the Pepsi-Cola jingle. Pepsi-Cola Inter-
national supplied overseas bottlers with an “advertising and sales promo-
tion manual” from which to order materials. These materials included
“mats for use in newspapers and magazines, commercial announcements
for radio, television and movie houses, outdoor posters and special aids,
such as balloons with the Pepsi trademark and official Pepsi-Cola uniforms
for driver-salesmen and plant personnel” (“With New Delhi Operating”
1956). In countries such as Brazil and Mexico, where restrictions banned
the import of point-of-purchase signs and finished artwork from the
United States, local businesses furnished advertising materials. Bottlers
were advised that the materials in the manual had proven successful in
other markets and were urged to make only necessary changes, all of which
were subject to approval by Pepsi-Cola International. In the late 1950s,
these materials were organized worldwide around the theme of friend-
ship—“The Refreshment of Friendship,” “The Drink of Friendship”—an
adaptation of the “Be sociable” ad campaign then running in the United
States. While the overall theme was coordinated by Pepsi-Cola Interna-
tional, and financing was provided on a cooperative basis, franchisees
assumed responsibility for placing advertisements locally as a way of cop-
ing with variations in different beverage markets. In this regard, Pepsi-Cola
International endorsed the use of local ad agencies or branches of interna-
tional agencies. By contrast, The Coca-Cola Company during the same
period integrated its advertising with one agency, McCann-Erickson.
The use of uniform and pattern advertising (discussed further in
Chapter 3) rested upon the philosophical anthropology of utopian inter-
nationalism, frequently articulated in the pages of Coca-Cola Overseas,
which proposed that people are fundamentally alike. A 1949 editorial
titled “ . . . first citizens” proclaimed, “If there are any differences
between people, they are primarily surface differences . . . What appear
58 Coca-Globalization

to be differences in local customs are actually parallel solutions to the

same problems.” Beneath superficial difference lay a common humanity, a
shared set of aspirations and values. Direct appeal to these aspirations and
values enabled the Export Corporation to assert, “Our headquarters may
be in the United States of America, but our ‘home’ is everywhere through-
out the world” (“ . . . an adventure in friendship” 1950).
This approach to cultural difference underpins “glocalization”; it envi-
sions diversity as organized within a common universal framework.
Thomas Friedman, the well-known syndicated journalist, has championed
just this sort of “glocalization” as a laudable form of multilocalism in which
“people everywhere feel some stake in how [globalization] impacts their
lives” (1996). Citing the franchise system of McDonald’s as an effective
instrument for localizing a global company, Friedman asserts that “to the
extent that US-origin companies are able to become multi-local, able to
integrate around the globe economically without people feeling that they
are being culturally assaulted, they will be successful.” Thus, in order to
avoid culturally assaulting the people of Japan, McDonald’s renamed
Ronald McDonald, its company mascot, Donal McDonald, “because
there’s no ‘R’ sound in Japanese.” As James Cantalupo, head of McDonald’s
International, explained to Friedman: “Cultural sensitivity is part of it too.
There is no ‘Euroburger’ . . . We have a different chicken sandwich in Eng-
land than we do in Germany.”
What sort of cultural sensitivity is this? Glocalization here unfolds
within the framework of organized diversity shared by political organiza-
tions such as the United Nations and televised spectacles such as the Miss
World beauty pageant and the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games.
We once again meet, as Richard Wilk (1995) argues, the dominant organiza-
tion of global culture today. Cultural difference is recognized, but rendered
comparable—a difference in flags or foods, dress or folklore. Difference, in
other words, is recognized on one condition, namely, that everyone is differ-
ent in the same ways; local content fills globally distributed forms. For some
people—such as the French farm union leader, José Bové, who attacked a
McDonald’s being built in the small rural town of Millau and became an
icon for protestors disrupting the 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO)
meeting in Seattle—such recognition empties difference of all meaning. It
disguises among other things the degradation of food quality and the eco-
nomic marginalization of small producers (state subsidized or not) by
transnational agribusiness. From this perspective, minor variations in
chicken sandwiches do not constitute the sort of differences that, in Fried-
man’s words, democratize globalization. Nor do they represent the kind of
Glocalizing Coca-Cola 59

differences that a genuine sensitivity to cultural diversity—as opposed to a

strategy of micro-marketing—not only tolerates but also cultivates.

Disembedding, Again: The Globalization of

Markets and Roberto Goizueta’s Vision

After a decade of furious expansion in the 1950s, Pepsi-Cola International

Ltd. operated in the same fashion as Coca-Cola Export, though on a
smaller scale. By 1956, its regional offices employed some 190 persons
overseas to facilitate the sale of concentrate to local bottling plants (“With
New Delhi Operating” 1956); in countries such as Brazil and Britain with
restrictions on importation, Pepsi set up subsidiaries to manufacture con-
centrate. Pepsi outsold Coke in two important and large markets—Mexico
and Venezuela. By 1963, 279 mostly franchised bottling plants operated
in 101 countries (compared with Coca-Cola’s 776 plants in 115 coun-
tries), up from sixty-seven plants in thirty-one countries in 1950 (“Pepsi
Ad Push” 1963).
In 1958, 40 percent of Pepsi’s total sales were foreign. Under Donald
Kendall’s leadership, foreign sales tripled and foreign profits quintupled
from 1957 to 1963. When Kendall moved from Pepsi’s international oper-
ations to assume the position of president in 1963, the Pepsi-Cola Com-
pany seemed poised to rival The Coca-Cola Company globally in the
coming years. Indeed, Kendall seemed to anticipate the vision of soft drink
globalization now more commonly associated with former Coke CEO
Roberto Goizueta. For example, Kendall erased the distinction between
Pepsi’s separately headed domestic and international operations and put in
place a “one world, one market organization.” He established a dozen
“profit centers,” each with a vice-president solely responsible for revenue
performances, but Kendall also established a single central marketing staff
that reported to him. He observed—again, in 1963, long before the global-
ization of markets became a buzz-phrase—that “the product is the same
around the world; only the marketing conditions and needs differ”
(“Shake-up at Pepsi” 1963).
Just before taking over as president, Kendall saw an overseas future for
Pepsi: “On the horizon, we see a continuation of expanding markets over-
seas, stronger economies and less rigid trade regulations. This suggests
future international contributions that will possibly equal or exceed
income generated by the domestic company” (“Pepsi Ad Push” 1963).
However, after Pepsi-Cola merged with Frito-Lay in 1965 to form PepsiCo,
Inc., domestic beverage sales, driven by the high intensity cola wars in the
United States, would always outpace foreign sales. In 1982, a major
60 Coca-Globalization

accounting scandal in the Philippines and Mexico prompted a withdrawal

from international operations (Sellers 1994). By 1997, despite an aggressive
attempt to reinvest in and overhaul international operations in the early
1990s, foreign sales accounted for about 30 percent of PepsiCo’s beverage
earnings, which in turn accounted for only about a third of PepsiCo’s total
earnings from snack foods, beverages, and restaurants. PepsiCo’s future
apparently lay in snack foods more than soft drinks, despite the fact that it
was the world’s second largest soft drink company in 1999 with 21 percent
of the global volume in carbonated soft drinks.
This was not the case for Coca-Cola. By 1966, Coca-Cola President J.
Paul Austin was able to tell Dun’s Review that “a few years ago we were an
American company with branches abroad. Today we’re a multinational
business” (Weiner 1966). Forty-five percent of The Coca-Cola Company’s
volume derived from overseas sales. By the early 1970s, the structure of The
Coca-Cola Export Corporation was even more decentralized than that in
place at the end of World War II. The world was divided into four zone
offices (Japan became its own special zone in 1972), each of which was in
turn divided into areas, and areas divided in turn into regions (a single
large country or two to three smaller countries). Regional managers—
natives, or at least someone who “speaks the language, knows the culture,
and understands the local laws” (“How Coke Runs a Foreign Empire”
1973)—were free to select bottlers, choose new products for introduction
and define personnel policies to fit local circumstances. But the magnitude
of Export’s operation had increased considerably. Ninety-nine percent of
its employees, including its CEO, were still non-Americans, but these
employees now numbered twelve thousand. In 1972, Coke’s overseas oper-
ations generated earnings of $104 million—55 percent of the parent com-
pany’s total earnings but on only 40 percent of its total sales. More
importantly, overseas earnings were growing at twice the rate of domestic
profits. Austin foresaw the day when 75 percent of Coke’s earnings would
come from abroad; at the end of the twentieth century, it was 80 percent
(on 70 percent sales volume), more than $3 billion.
The increasing importance of Coca-Cola’s overseas operations to the
company, coupled with labor unrest and rocky relations with several for-
eign governments, prompted the move of Export’s headquarters from New
York to Atlanta in 1972. But the main signal of a corporate shift away from
decentralized multilocalism to centralized globalism came later, soon after
Roberto Goizueta assumed leadership of The Coca-Cola Company in May
1980. According to David Greising, Goizueta inherited a company with “no
coordination, no central planning, no strategic thinking” about its global
ambitions: “Decisions under Austin, [Goizueta] believed, were made on a
Glocalizing Coca-Cola 61

purely situational basis, with no central direction or judgment parameters

from headquarters. In Europe alone, Coke was pursuing three totally sepa-
rate strategies in different countries . . . There was no effort to take advantage
of Coke’s huge potential economies of scale” (1998, 74). The first opportu-
nity to exert such an effort—to increase The Coca-Cola Company’s control
over how its products were bottled and marketed around the globe—pre-
sented itself to Goizueta in 1981. John Hunter, then newly appointed head
of the company’s Far Eastern region, persuaded Goizueta to invest $13 mil-
lion in Coke’s ailing Philippine bottler, the San Miguel Brewery. The Coca-
Cola Company would both buy 30 percent of the bottler and run the
operation by joint agreement.
The strategy was a huge success, regaining Coke’s two-to-one lead over
Pepsi within two years. More importantly, the strategy served as a blueprint
for what eventually became known as Goizueta’s “anchor bottler” pro-
gram.11 This program developed at the same time that Goizueta sold The
Coca-Cola Company’s non-beverage related holdings—acquisitions of
shrimp farms and water purification technology picked up in the 1960s
when the company became a truly ungainly conglomerate. Goizueta’s
divestments, which provided capital for the anchor bottler scheme, culmi-
nated in 1989 with the final sale of Columbia Pictures Entertainment.
Columbia was the one non-beverage acquisition that Goizueta himself had
made with the goal of putting Coke’s domestic earnings on par with its
international profits. The sale of Columbia signaled Goizueta’s realiza-
tion that the international market was the future of the company, a future
that required greater involvement of The Coca-Cola Company in its
operations abroad.
The anchor bottler program called for The Coca-Cola Company to take
minority ownership of low performing but high potential bottlers and to
provide expertise in bottling and marketing to local management (as well
as provide Coca-Cola executives to the bottler’s board of directors).
Demand on the company’s own capital outlays were to be kept to a mini-
mum; capital outlays for bottler investments had to promise a 20 percent
return before they would be approved. Goizueta explained that the strategy
would not transform the bottling system: “Our goal is not to become a
major player in bottling, but to facilitate a stronger and more efficient
independent bottling system” (Greising 1998, 148). Yet, it was precisely the
consolidation of Coke’s bottling system that marked Goizueta’s business
plans from the mid-1980s onwards. In the United States, weak bottlers
were purchased, refurbished, and sold to stronger bottlers in a process
dubbed “refranchising.” Two large bottling systems, covering 38 percent of
the United States population, were purchased and spun off as Coca-Cola
62 Coca-Globalization

Enterprises, with The Coca-Cola Company retaining 49 percent ownership

of stock.
Outside the United States, The Coca-Cola Company entered into major
multinational joint ventures with bottling partners. In the UK, Cadbury-
Schweppes agreed to form a joint venture with Coke for bottling, canning,
and distributing soft drinks. On the continent, bottling operations were
upgraded and consolidated, West Germany’s 160 “tiny fiefdoms” reduced
to sixty “well-capitalized and well-run operations” (Greising 1998, 174). In
emerging markets, such as Eastern Europe and the Pacific (including
Papua New Guinea), Coke relied on Australia-based Coca-Cola Amatil, an
international bottler in which Goizueta invested $500 million in 1989—a
60 percent stake in the company. In effect, Goizueta “Coca-colonized” the
international bottling system, replacing what was once a radically multilo-
cal operation with a form of “centralized decentralization”: “strong local
bottlers, but with controlling authority emanating from Coke’s central
headquarters, as a means of coordinating strategy and enforcing stan-
dards” (Greising 1998, 173). By 1999, according to the company’s annual
report, only 27 percent of its worldwide unit case volume was produced
and distributed by independently owned bottlers, compared with 58 per-
cent by bottlers in which the company had a noncontrolling ownership
interest and 15 percent by controlled bottling and fountain operations.
(PepsiCo pursued a similar strategy of consolidation somewhat later, rais-
ing ownership positions—via joint ventures and outright acquisitions—in
its bottling network outside the United States from 15 percent in 1989 to 40
percent in 1994. By 1999, consolidation of manufacturing and distribution
had resulted in the creation of four anchor bottlers, in which PepsiCo held
minority stakes, that accounted for 75 percent of U.S. volume.)
Goizueta fancied himself leading The Coca-Cola Company into the
“post-conglomerate era,” a time when companies operated a core business
while making financial investments in and exerting managerial influence
on related industries. The Coca-Cola Company had been stripped down to
its core business, indeed, to its core brand. Motivating this strategy was a
particular vision of both the world and the place of Coca-Cola products in
the world, a vision of global commodity networks in which, more than
ever, it was possible, even mandatory, to capture economies of scale by
treating the planet as a single market. This vision is captured in the pro-
nouncements of Goizueta and one of his main supporters, the powerful
investor Warren E. Buffett. Buffett, who spent over a billion dollars buying
Coke stock after the 1987 market crash, believed that, unlike Hershey bars,
consumption of Coca-Cola could grow without limit: “People are going to
drink eight servings of something every day, and history shows that once
Glocalizing Coca-Cola 63

people are exposed to it, and I’m living proof, they like drinking it” (Greis-
ing 1998, 177).
Eight servings of something every day: here is an impersonal, homoge-
nizing, almost dehumanizing rhetoric that foregrounds concerns with
increasing “share of stomach” and comparative per-capita consumption
rates. It is a particular soft drink perspective on globalization, the title of an
address Goizueta made in 1989 to the Town Hall of California in Los Ange-
les, a perspective that at the time disproportionately shaped the network of
perspectives associated with Coca-Cola’s global commodity chain. In his
address, Goizueta listed some of the reasons why companies such as his
own ought to think in terms of a single global marketplace: rising dispos-
able income around the world; the decreasing average age of the world’s
population outside the United States and Europe; and the increasing ease
with which the world’s markets could now be reached. Most importantly,
Goizueta noted, contrary to critics of Coca-colonization and American
cultural hegemony, the world’s consumers have taken advantage of their
newfound economic and political freedom to pick and choose the prod-
ucts that they find most appealing. In so doing, Goizueta suggested, con-
sumers themselves, through countless individual acts of appropriation and
tireless consumption work, have internationalized certain products,
including Coca-Cola.
Goizueta’s point was in many ways my point, namely, “that people
around the world are today connected to each other by brand-name con-
sumer products as much as by anything else” (1989, 361). But whereas I
regard the nature and significance of these connections as an open ques-
tion, Goizueta already saw them as plain evidence of what Theodore
Levitt—an influential Harvard business professor—called the convergence
of consciousness “towards global commonality and modernity, cos-
mopolizing preferences and homogenizing consumption” (quoted in
Goizueta 1989, 361).12 Thus Goizueta informed readers of The Coca-Cola
Company’s 1991 Annual Report of Levitt’s main conclusion: “In many
important ways, the world’s markets are also becoming more alike. Every
corner of the free world is increasingly subjected to intense and similar
communications: commercial, cultural, social and hard news . . . Tokyo,
London, New York and Los Angeles resemble each other today far more
than they did 25 years ago, in large part because their residents’ tastes in
consumer products have converged.” Levitt contended that “convergence
of consciousness,” driven largely by the globalization of media, produces in
effect “heteroconsumers”: “People who’ve become increasingly alike and
indistinct from one another, and yet have simultaneously varied and mul-
tiple preferences” (Levitt 1988, 8). He would thus understand and probably
64 Coca-Globalization

endorse the plans announced in 1999 by PepsiCo to market a guarana soft

drink in 175 different countries (
Guarana, a concentrate of fruits from the Amazon, is often considered
Brazil’s national drink. But in Levitt’s view of globalized markets, there is
no reason why it would not necessarily appeal to “heteroconsumers”
To Roberto Goizueta (1989, 361), Levitt’s argument made good sense of
the big brute fact with which he impressed his Town Hall audience: “Nearly
half of all soft drinks sold around the world are our products. 560 million
times a day, consumers in more than 160 countries refresh themselves with
Coca-Cola, diet Coke, Fanta, Sprite and our other soft drinks. No other
company sells half as much.” Cultural deterrents to consumption of Coca-
Cola carbonated beverage products—especially the “core four” brands enu-
merated—were never insurmountable; with appropriate modifications, a
strategy of making these products available, affordable and acceptable (i.e.,
associated with good times and good feelings) ought to succeed universally
(see Pendergast 1993, 376–77; see Chapter 3 for more on “the three As”).
It is this sort of vision of the world that allowed a transnational corpo-
ration to see potential in the small PNG market for soft drinks. (In 1995,
PNG had a population of about 4.2 million, of which CCA estimated that
it serviced 3.5 million.) When CCA acquired the bottling operations in
PNG (see Chapter 4), its director of overseas operation, Russel Phillips,
said, “The acquisition presents us with a further opportunity to grow our
bottling business. On a per capita basis, consumption of soft drinks in
PNG is just 10 litres per year, compared with Australia’s per capita con-
sumption of 98 litres per annum” (Coca-Cola Amatil 1991). The implica-
tion, then, is that there is a potential 88 liters (at least) of Coca-Cola
consumption per head per year that has not been tapped in PNG. This
implication is a conceit—an approximate mapping of other people’s
meanings—that recapitulates the assumptions of Lieutenant Geiger’s
World War II vision of a someday nation of gum-chewing, soap-sudsing
Papua New Guineans.
Coca-Cola executives seemed to imagine all the markets that they were
moving into in the early 1990s in much the same way. It is not so surpris-
ing to learn that Roberto Goizueta, doing the math of per capita con-
sumption and total population, imagined Indonesia as “soft drink
paradise—200 million people, nearly all of them Muslims forbidden to
drink alcohol,” exclaimed one Business Week article (Clifford et. al. 1997,
78). It is, perhaps, more surprising to learn that Goizueta applied the same
calculations to the U.S. market. Consider the following anecdote that
Glocalizing Coca-Cola 65

Goizueta used to open his 1996 address to shareowners (taken from The
Coca-Cola Company’s home page on the World Wide Web):

The other day, after I spoke to a group of engineering students at my alma

mater, one of them asked me a simple question: “Which area of the world
offers The Coca-Cola Company its greatest growth potential?”
Without hesitation, I replied, “Southern California.”
They all laughed, thinking I was trying to be funny.
So to drive home the point, I shared with them one very interesting fact.
The per capita consumption of bottles and cans of Coca-Cola is actually
lower in the southern part of California than it is in Hungary, a country
which is one of our supposedly “emerging” markets, while the U.S. is sup-
posedly a “matured” soft drink market.
The students went silent for several seconds. I’m sure they had never
before pondered our virtually infinite opportunity for growth.

The universe of Coca-Cola’s business as imagined by Goizueta is limit-

less—at least for all practical purposes. And it is this vision of potential
infinite growth—of people as generic vessels into which more product can
be poured—that drove the company’s massive capital investments in new
Asian and Pacific markets, including the relatively small market in PNG.
But even with this investment, Coca-Cola was merely getting started on a
very long road; for as Goizueta informed his fellow shareowners, “We have
become increasingly mindful of one undeniable fact—the average human
body requires at least 64 ounces of liquid every day just to survive, and our
beverages account for not even 2 of those ounces. For every person on this
planet, consuming at least 64 ounces is not an option; but choosing where
those ounces come from is.” Coca-Cola, Goizueta assured his fellow share
owners, is “resolutely focused on going after the other 62.” 13 So, for exam-
ple, although by 1991 the Coca-Cola system had over six million pieces of
sales equipment, the company and its bottlers undertook a new drive to
install vending machines, coolers, and fountains throughout the United
States in all the places—laundromats and beauty parlors—where Coke
was absent. Fortune magazine observed that the company had taught the
world a lesson: there is no such thing as a “mature market” (cited in
Nolan 1999, 56).
It would be wrong to dismiss Goizueta’s pronouncement as simply the
overblown rhetoric of annual corporate reporting. US News and World
Report could point out that by 1985, Americans drank more soft drinks
than tap water—43 gallons per person as opposed to 39 gallons (Bronson
1985). Indeed, per capita consumption of tap water in the United States
dropped from 269 liters in 1965 to 178 liters in 1982. Clairmonte and
66 Coca-Globalization

Cavanagh, in their book Merchants of Drink: Transnational Control of

World Beverages, claim that “an unalterable feature of corporate beverage
strategy is and will remain the sustained campaign against tap water,” the
only beverage still overwhelmingly within the public sector. Hence they
imagine the potentially infinite growth in soft drink markets in terms that
Goizueta would no doubt have eschewed: “Whereas tap water constitutes
only a quarter of US liquid consumption, it still embraces more than four-
fifths in the periphery. This gigantic economic divide between developed
and developing world highlights the vast potential market that is up for
grabs by the TBCs [Transnational Beverage Conglomerates]” (1988, 27).
From this perspective, the global expansion of soft drink consumption is a
war against tap water or, more accurately, the transformation of tap water
from an end product to an ingredient, a “wholly subordinated input” into
higher priced commercial beverage product lines (including, of course,
branded bottled water). From this perspective, too, it comes as little sur-
prise that in 1998, it was not Americans who led the world in annual aver-
age consumption of Coca-Cola products, but rather Mexicans—at 412
eight-ounce servings per person (1998 Annual Report of The Coca-Cola
Company). Similarly, a 1998 report on the expansion of Coke and Pepsi
into the new markets of the former Soviet Union and Eastern and Central
Europe remarked, “One of the big potential growth areas is in branded
sparkling water which is in much demand in a region with insufficient or
poor quality drinking water” (Partridge 1998). A Coca-Cola spokesman in
Bogota put it plainly enough: “Per capita consumption is much higher in
cities where the drinking water isn’t of good quality” (Johnson 1999).14
Goizueta’s vision of infinite growth can only be realized by one meas-
ure: increasing market share. Increasing market share can only be attained
by taking share away from other beverages (juices, milk, water, tea, beer)—
a matter of marketing—or by taking share away from other competitors, a
matter of corporate seizures as well as marketing. Hence the move from
multilocalism to globalism entailed aggressive attempts to absorb other
brands of soft drinks within the range of The Coca-Cola Company’s prod-
ucts. This effort, often stalled by antitrust legislation, continued under
Goizueta’s successor, Douglas Ivester, and culminated in December 1998
when the company acquired the Cadbury Schweppes beverage brands—
including Schweppes, Dr. Pepper and Canada Dry—in more than 160
countries outside North America. (The acquisition was blocked as anti-
competitive in several Western European countries as well as Mexico and
Australia; similarly, the company’s second bid for the popular French
brand, Orangina, was struck down by the French government in Novem-
ber 1999; see Hays 2004 for details).
Glocalizing Coca-Cola 67

By the end of the Goizueta era at Coca-Cola, the company had tri-
umphed handily over its rival Pepsi-Cola in just about every market outside
the United States—a market share of 48 percent compared to Pepsi’s 17 per-
cent. In Venezuela, the one Latin American country where Pepsi outsold Coke
by far, Pepsi’s local bottler—eighteen plants owned by the powerful Cis-
neros Group of Companies—abruptly entered into a joint venture with
Coca-Cola in 1996. (PepsiCo sued Coca-Cola and won $94 million in dam-
ages from an international arbitration court [Hays 1998a]). In Peru, Inca
Kola—a yellow, lemon grass–flavored drink regarded by some as a distinc-
tive accompaniment to local “criollo” cuisine—was acquired by The Coca-
Cola Company. The company had returned not only to India in 1993,
which it had departed in 1977 when pressed by the newly elected socialist
government to transfer technology that included Coke’s secret formula of
ingredients, but also to the Middle East in 1994. By 1999, it had regained
regional market leadership from Pepsi, which once had 95 percent share of
the market for carbonated soft drinks (“A Report from the Middle East”
1999). In Papua New Guinea, the acquisition of Schweppes brands by
Coca-Cola forced their bottler, South Pacific Brewery, which also bottled
Pepsi-Cola and its brands, to give up the soft drink franchise altogether.15
At the start of the new century, then, Coca-Cola enjoyed an almost uncon-
tested monopoly on soft drinks in PNG (almost, since Pepsi products
imported from Australia are still available in some supermarkets). Coca-
Cola was clearly the winning member of the international soft drink duop-
oly. If there were any challenges to its future preeminence, they appeared to
be coming not from Pepsi-Cola as much as from emerging consumer pref-
erences for noncarbonated, nonalcoholic beverages.

Becoming Post-Global: Trust and Anti-Trust

As The Coca-Cola Company moved into the twenty-first century, a revived

rhetoric of multilocalism displaced Goizueta’s vision of unitary global
growth. The new rhetoric foregrounded customers (including bottlers)
and consumers rather than shareowners. Douglas Daft, the Australian
who, after a period of crisis for the company, succeeded Goizueta’s number
two man and hand picked successor, Douglas Ivester, thus drew on his long
experience managing Coke’s business in Asia, especially Japan. Daft put it
bluntly: “People don’t buy drinks globally. You can’t pander to similarities
between people: you have to find the differences” (McCarthy 2000).
Reflecting on the irreconcilably different meanings of bottled waters to
Europeans and Americans, Daft observed, “You can’t apply a global stan-
dard of measurement to consumers because it reduces everything to the
lowest common denominator” (Hays 2000a). Here, then, was a return to
68 Coca-Globalization

the recognition of local differences reminiscent of the old Export Corpora-

tion’s approach in the 1950s, an apparently bold recognition that differences
are perhaps radical, but which in actual practice treats them as minor vari-
ations responsive to micro-marketing.
The practical correlate of Daft’s worldview is “Think locally, act locally”
(McKay 2000a). This axiom means giving decision-making authority to
local managers, especially the authority to introduce new products attuned
to local tastes and to develop some of the hundreds of smaller local brands
already owned by Coke, such as the popular Indian cola, Thums Up, and
the Peruvian drink, Inca Kola. Daft recalled his own difficulty attempting
to launch a new carbonated tea in northeast China in 1999, months behind
its rivals: “We had the formula, we had the flavor, we had done all the taste-
testing, but Atlanta kept saying ‘are you sure?’” (McCarthy 2000). Daft
planned to back away from Goizueta’s one-product, one-world strategy
and instead to treat Coca-Cola as a multibranded drinks company with a
fat portfolio of beverages, carbonated and non-carbonated—juices, teas,
coffee, and water. The effort was to be supported by four new research and
development centers—“innovation centers”—opening worldwide. By May
2000, Daft could point proudly to the new Fanta Wildberries—“conceived,
developed, and produced in Germany”—as a compelling example of
thinking and acting locally. Based on the taste of a popular German
dessert, Wildberries sold a million cases within a month of its introduction
(Daft 2000, 607). Fanta Wildberries represents exactly the sort of glocaliz-
ing and micro-marketing that passes for sensitivity to cultural differences
among some business analysts.
Daft’s model for Coke’s future appeared to be Japan’s present day soft
drink market, where 20 percent of Coke’s profits are made on only 5 per-
cent of its total sales volume. In Japan, two thirds of revenue derive from
canned coffee and tea; Coke has a portfolio of over 200 brands, the biggest-
selling of which is not Coca-Cola but Georgia Coffee, a sweetened, milky
coffee drink; and the pace of change is frenetic. John Hunter described the
market in 1991:

Each and every year, particularly in the soft drink season in the summer in a
market like Tokyo you can get between 600 and 800 new product package
introductions in the summer period. Some of these people only gear up to
be there for the 3 or 4 months of summer then they disappear for the rest of
the year. A few of them stick through the year but the Japanese dealer and the
Japanese consumer has always been intrigued by something new, something
fashionable. There is a great demand for a variety of products to offer con-
sumers in Japan. (Mark Pendergrast Research Files, box 29, item 13)
Glocalizing Coca-Cola 69

It was his experience in Japan that allowed Daft to envision a day when
Coca-Cola sells more than two thousand beverage products around the
world (Foust 2000).16
The product diversification championed by Daft was underwritten by
appeals to localism phrased in the idiom of cultural difference. In
announcing a major organizational realignment of The Coca-Cola
Company—a “realignment” that entailed cutting six thousand jobs or 20
percent of the worldwide workforce—Daft said, “The world in which we
operate has changed dramatically, and we must change to succeed. This
realignment will better enable the Company to serve the changing needs of
its customers and consumers at the local level and ensure that Coca-Cola
complements the local culture in every community where it is sold” (The
Coca-Cola Company 2000). By this account, the impetus for corporate
change springs from customers and consumers themselves; the company
merely responds to shifting local circumstances: “No matter where we
operate around the world, we’re a local business. Our success depends on
our ability to make billions of individual connections each day in every
community around the world. With the pace of change in global markets
increasing every day, we have to redouble our efforts to remain close to the
customers and consumers we serve” (The Coca-Cola Company 2000). The
rhetoric is more than vaguely reminiscent of J. Paul Austin’s earlier version
of multilocalism.
Likewise, the restructuring undertaken by The Coca-Cola Company
can equally be understood as an attempt to manage the fragile relations of
trust or confidence necessary for reembedding Coca-Cola in lives led
locally. In the wake of the company’s aggressive efforts at acquisition and
growth, which ran afoul of regulators in France, Italy, and Australia as well
as the European Commission, the company reported a new sensitivity to
“consumer democracy.” A New York Times article, pointing out how the
1999 protests against the WTO in Seattle dramatized hostility to the per-
ceived arrogance of global corporations, quoted Carl Ware, head of Coke’s
newly created global public and governmental affairs team, “Consumer
democracy is becoming more and more of an issue. We have to address it
on a local basis” (Hays 2000a). Accordingly, the company gave renewed
attention to its role as a valued citizen wherever it operates—exactly the con-
cern so paramount in the pages of Coca-Cola Overseas during the 1950s. Daft
told reporters that he might offer Coke’s “extensive distribution network in
India to take polio vaccines into rural areas on the government’s behalf ”;
and Ware looked at similar schemes in Africa where Daft professed
awareness of “the need to address the AIDS issue” (Liu and Edgecliffe-
Johnson 2000; see Chapter 5). These projects bespeak the fundamental
70 Coca-Globalization

demand placed on global consumer-goods companies to maintain political

goodwill by localizing themselves—and by not provoking fears of monop-
olistic antitrust violations. It is as if the delocalizing, disembedding global-
ism of Goizueta’s era had gone too far, insufficiently counterbalanced by
deliberate and persuasive processes of relocalization and reembedding.
Other kinds of trust are at stake in the process of reembedding, which,
when put at risk, expose the fragility of globalized consumer practices (see
Chapter 5). In Belgium, the scare about contaminated cans of Coca-Cola
(see Chapter 1) led to the largest product recall in company history. More
to the point, the inability of the company’s CEO, Douglas Ivester, to assess
the situation and to preserve the public’s goodwill toward the product
eroded one of the company’s most valuable intangible assets. Ivester’s ini-
tial response to the unfolding crisis was regarded as aloof and indifferent,
even unapologetic; it was one of several precipitating causes of his sudden
resignation as CEO. Trust in the company and the product was jeopardized
at a time when growing concerns about the safety of mass-market foods
and beverages were becoming salient public issues. These concerns were,
among other things, anxieties about dietary delocalization, about the
increasing consumption of products that come from distant and
unknown origins. Metropolitan concerns about contaminated beef in
the 1990s resembled the concerns about Stork margarine in colonial
Rhodesia (see Chapter 1). Fears about the ingredients of food products
and about the conditions under which food products were grown,
processed, and packaged catalyzed deep doubts about the health costs
and alleged benefits of globalization.
Managing the dialectics of disembedding and reembedding now pres-
ents unprecedented challenges to The Coca-Cola Company. As company
officials rushed to restore and consolidate trust in Europe and Africa, they
put trust at risk in their own backyard. Daft’s decentralizing decision to cut
2,500 employees at the company headquarters—nearly one half of all
employees—shocked Atlanta. One analyst noted that the shock was more
psychological than economic, but that is precisely the point. A Wall Street
Journal article reported how the layoffs had turned Atlanta into a veritable
mill of rumors, including speculation that the dismantling of three flag-
poles outside the company’s downtown headquarters signaled that “Coke
had turned against Old Glory” (McKay 2000b). To the extent that compa-
nies and their products appear disembedded from local contexts, they risk
their “individual connections” with “individual consumers,” provoking
hostility, frustration, and despair. The New York Times reported reactions
to the news of the layoff: “One woman, who also insisted on anonymity,
wiped a tear from her face as she left the office. ‘These are people’s lives,’
Glocalizing Coca-Cola 71

she said” (Hays 2000b). At the same time, Wall Street investors expressed
their own sense of betrayal at the news that the company planned to let
key bottlers reduce their inventories of concentrate, an implied overstate-
ment of earnings growth in previous years. Andrew J. Conway, a beverage
analyst for Morgan Stanley, asked, “What’s to stop them from doing it
again?” (Hays 2000b).17

Conclusion: The Global-Local Problematic

What are the implications of this selective and cursory history of The
Coca-Cola Company’s overseas operations for telling the story of eco-
nomic and cultural globalization at the start of the twenty-first century?
First, the history belies any master narrative that suggests a unilinear evo-
lution from Fordism to flexible accumulation; in other words, from verti-
cally integrated, high volume “core corporations” to high value “enterprise
webs” or shifting networks of various suppliers coming together on a con-
tingent and temporary basis (Reich 1992). If anything, the history of The
Coca-Cola Company’s bottling operations describes a movement in the
opposite direction, as the company sought, especially in the 1980s, to con-
solidate its vast network of independent bottlers. But the plans that Dou-
glas Daft outlined as he assumed the role of CEO in 2000 suggested a step
back from centralization and top-down decision making within the com-
pany—surely not a return to the time of “tiny fiefdoms,” but at least to a sit-
uation in which more autonomy would be granted to local managers.
Daft’s plans suggested that the company’s evolving organization was a
response to the exigencies of disembedding and reembedding its products.
That is, rather than an efflux of some underlying logic to the capitalist
mode of production, company business plans emerge out of an ongoing
effort to insert its products into lives led locally, to make these products
familiar to consumers and worthy of consumer confidence. At one histori-
cal moment, franchising was the most effective means of accomplishing
this goal, especially outside the United States (where the company did not
have to charge its bottlers a fixed price for syrup and could thus escape a
severe constraint of the original contracts signed between the company
and its domestic bottlers). At another moment, this goal seemed attainable
without having to sacrifice the economies of scale afforded by consolida-
tion and centralization. At present, the company is struggling with the pos-
sibility that the challenge of reembedding might be met only by producing
non-carbonated beverages, including water—beverages apparently more
in line with changing (or preexisting but unsatisfied) local tastes and thus
more in line with the perspectives and qualifications of consumers.
72 Coca-Globalization

Second, and related, Robertson’s global-local problematic—the elusive

balance between sameness and difference—is now and has long been an
explicit preoccupation of company executives (and their marketing arms).
This preoccupation is, above all, an exercise in imagination—of how cor-
porate officials imagine the consumers they seek (as “markets,” for exam-
ple) and of how these officials imagine how these consumers imagine
themselves. At stake is whether consumers will recognize a worldly thing as
a homely thing, a thing with which to be at home. Since World War II, this
exercise has swung like a pendulum between the two poles of a commercial
anthropology that subscribes to notions of both cultural difference and the
unity of the human species. Market globalizers—such as Theodore Levitt
(and Roberto Goizueta)—have a strong interest in emphasizing the latter
notion. Local advertising agents—such as the Bombay office studied by
Mazzarella (2003)—have a vested interest in promoting the former notion,
constructing anthropomorphic commodities such as “the Indian con-
sumer,” intimate knowledge of which can be sold to transnational compa-
nies. The result is a much observed compromise, a form of global culture
as organized diversity—“common systems of difference” (Wilk 1995)—in
which cultural particularities are simultaneously recognized and rendered
comparable as so many variations on a single general theme (food, music,
clothing, and so forth).
Both of these implications point to a rich irony. Coca-Cola—the quin-
tessential symbol of consumer culture for some of the harshest critics of
consumer culture—is the product of a company that understands itself as
threatened, at varying levels of intensity, by consumerism. Consumerism
implies fashion, constant change and innovation, the existence of active
self-fashioning individuals whose consumption work takes the form of a
reflexive search for novel opportunities of self-expression through com-
modities. Consumerism, then, generates potential difficulties for a com-
pany that loses touch with the perspectives adopted by consumers on
themselves and perforce on the company’s brands and products. Put dif-
ferently, consumerism generates crises of mediation—moments when a
consumer’s taken-for-granted use of a medium (such as a branded soft
drink) gives way to an apprehension of the medium as both familiar and
strange, intimate and distant (Mazzarella 2004)—like the moments
described by World War II soldiers encountering familiar Coke bottles in
horribly unfamiliar places. In such moments of heightened self-conscious-
ness, the medium risks becoming perceived as externally imposed—as other
and not self—and thus resisted and rejected. The qualifications of a product
on the supply side diverge from the qualifications made by consumers on the
demand side. Global flows of commodities expose and multiply these
Glocalizing Coca-Cola 73

moments. It is thus the management, if not avoidance, of such moments that

marketing and advertising undertake—the project of aligning perspectives
within the network of perspectives, at least to the degree that the medium
is taken up again, its use continued, and the work of consumption repro-
duced. This irony returns us, inevitably, to the question of commodity cul-
ture or, specifically, the meanings of soft drinks.
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Chapter 3

Qualifying Products
Trademarks, Brands, and Value Creation
We are who we are because we are all things to all people all the time
—Ira “Ike” Herbert, former chief marketing officer for
The Coca-Cola Company, addressing Coca-Cola
salesmen, 1990 (quoted in Pendergrast 1993, 398)

ven before Roberto Goizueta arrived on the scene, it was apparent to

E Coca-Cola officials in the early 1970s that the company had too many
bottlers in the United States, though the number had dropped to eight
hundred from a high of over twelve hundred. The old fifty-mile radius ter-
ritories granted to franchises were woefully inefficient at a time when trac-
tor trailers cruising along superhighways could distribute the output of
high-speed bottling and canning lines throughout whole states. Interstate
supermarket chains such as Safeway, moreover, preferred not to negotiate
with “multiple local bottlers offering different services and prices” (Pen-
dergrast 1993, 310). Small bottlers faced many other problems in the
1970s, such as deep discounting and the turn toward one-way (non-
returnable) packages (see Louis and Yazijian 1980, ch. 19). A new Bottler
Consolidation Department was thus formed in 1971 by The Coca-Cola
Company to effect mergers and sales.
Put in the theoretical terms introduced earlier, we can say that the
space-time of soft drink production and distribution was rapidly chang-
ing. Bottling and retail sales became less localized; a reduction in time nec-
essary for manufacturing and distribution prompted a new economy of
spatial scale. These changes seemed to be reflected in a “relentless long-
term drive to lightweighting” the packaging of the product (Nolan 1999,
19). The weight of the aluminum can, since its introduction, has dropped
by 40 percent: “The side-wall of an aluminum can is already just four-
thousandths of an inch thick: ‘If we made the can any lighter it would be an
aluminum bag’ (Coca-Cola Company official)” (Nolan 1999, 52). The
76 Coca-Globalization

weight of plastic bottles has dropped by 20 percent. Put metaphysically

rather than existentially, we can say that a consumer’s relationship to the
product became potentially less personal and more impersonal, no longer
mediated through a social relationship with the local bottler or corner gro-
cer. “Gradual consolidation and internationalization of packaging produc-
tion” (Nolan 1999, 19) resulted in identical containers without a local
imprint. The can of Diet Coke that a friend of mine brought to me from
India is barely distinguishable from the one I might purchase from the
vending machine at my office. It would be no longer possible to construct
the sort of urinal found in the New Hebrides Navy Officer’s Club—or to
imagine Coca-Cola as a hometown product.
This kind of disembedding of soft drinks from local contexts posed
anew the problem of trust. That is, trust in the product had to be generated
less through goodwill toward local bottlers and suppliers, and more
through trust in the product itself, specifically, trust in the brand. This lat-
ter sort of trust had to be created through marketing, something in which
The Coca-Cola Company had engaged massively and successfully since the
last decade of the nineteenth century. My point here, however, is that the
shift in the burden of trust from bottler to brand bespeaks a larger eco-
nomic shift associated with conditions of globalization as experienced in
the United States at the beginning of the twenty-first century. On the one
hand, a service economy has largely replaced a manufacturing economy.
On the other, less value is added to many consumer goods in the act of pro-
duction than in the act of marketing or branding. Economic value no
longer derives merely or mainly from creating products, but instead from
creating consumers for particular brands. In this shift, the value of signs—
logos and brand images—increases, often fantastically, beyond the value of
a material product: a sneaker or shirt made in an Asian factory and sold in
an American mall contains pennies worth of labor and a dollar’s worth of
material, but often tens of dollars’ worth of signification—in design, adver-
tising, and branding not to mention “consumption work” (see Chapter 1).
As Rosemary Coombe puts it, “today it is no longer the production of
goods but the production of consumers to produce demand that is funda-
mental to profit expansion and a strategic site for corporate investment”
(1998, 56).
Looked at from this angle, the vast commodity chain that connects The
Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta with its individual consumers everywhere
appears to have anticipated the present moment of value creation. For what
travels along that commodity chain more than anything else is meaning.
Unlike other beverage commodity chains—wine, for example—that move a
finished product, distinguished by provenance, to distant destinations, the
Qualifying Products 77

Coca-Cola commodity chain moves one ingredient (the concentrate) to

local producers (even if “less local” than in the past). I simplify, of course;
not only does the concentrate itself contain numerous ingredients (from
vanilla to extracts of kola and coca) that move along spatially extensive
chains, but the local producers themselves coordinate a web of supply
chains that furnish bottles, cans, cartons, and so forth (Chapter 2). Never-
theless, I stress the importance of the meaning of the finished product—in
the forms of the trademark and the brand—that moves along the chain.
The market value of this meaning cannot be overestimated. One guess put
the value of the Coca-Cola trademark in 1967 at three billion dollars
(Palazzini 1988, 24). The 2005 Interbrand / Business Week survey listed
Coca-Cola as the world’s most valuable brand, worth an estimated sixty-
seven billion dollars, 64 percent of the company’s market capitalization.
Hence the apocryphal story said to circulate at marketing conferences:
“Gathering together the staff from several plants, a senior Coca-Cola exec-
utive is reported to have declared that the company could lose all its plants,
lose all its staff, lose its access to the source of its raw materials, lose its cap-
ital and its accounts, but as long as it had this (lights shine on a display
board greatly enlarging the famous red and white script), it would be pos-
sible to walk into a bank and receive sufficient credit to replace the entire
global infrastructure” (Coombe 1998, 56).
Of course, the process of making meaning—of qualifying product—is
always fluid and sometimes explicitly contested. Not everyone, moreover,
has access to the same resources for qualification, for ascribing and fixing
meaning. This is all the more true in a world of commoditized, legally pro-
tected signs—trademarks, logos, brand names, and so forth. In such a
world, it is crucial to ask, with Coombe, about the prospects for communi-
cating meaning in an open and democratic style (see also Lessig 2004). Is
there a concentration in fewer hands of the means for making meaning
similar to the concentration of the means of production that Marx saw in
industrial capitalism? More specifically for our purposes, has a concentra-
tion in the means for ascribing meaning to soft drinks advanced in tandem
with the consolidation of soft drink bottlers?
I will address these questions briefly in the rest of this chapter and reen-
gage them again in the concluding chapter. Usually, these questions are
taken up, when they are taken up critically, with regard to media access. For
example, many scholars and activists rightly worry about the effects of
increasingly large mergers of global media corporations in restricting
access to information and censoring information to which access is still
available (Mattelart 1991; Barnet and Cavanagh 1994). While this line of
analysis is crucial, I intend here to follow a different path. I will look at
78 Coca-Globalization

three elements in the ongoing process of qualifying products, that is, mak-
ing meaning for and with commodities: policing trademarks, creating
brand imagery, and, finally, interpreting the imagery and using the prod-
uct. This strategy involves looking at soft drinks from the perspectives of
three different but connected sets of agents, variously situated within the
far-flung product network through which meaning moves. They are com-
pany officials, advertising agents and company marketing managers, and
consumers. I will concentrate specifically on how The Coca-Cola Com-
pany has represented itself and its products outside the United States. In
the next chapter, I will describe—as a particular and unusual instance of a
general and ordinary process—how marketers and consumers in Papua
New Guinea have fashioned and received these representations.

The Power of Presence: Trademark Visibility

Intensive marketing has been a longstanding feature of The Coca-Cola

Company, a service provided to bottling franchisees and retail customers
alike by the parent company. An important feature of this marketing activ-
ity has been to make the Coca-Cola trademark—the name of the drink
written in the famous Spencerian script—highly visible on point-of-pur-
chase signs and on billboard posters in busy public locations. For example,
as early as 1913, the company spent almost $1.2 million on advertising
material that included five million lithograph metal signs ranging in size
from 6’ x 10’ to 5’ x 8’ (Tedlow 1990, 53). An October 1954 Coca-Cola Over-
seas article, “Advertising Coca-Cola in Sweden,” describes how the launch
of locally bottled Coke was accompanied by an advertising program that
effectively saturated the landscape with reminders to drink Coca-Cola. The
large billboards (10’ x 20’) were at the time “the first and only ones in Swe-
den” and “by their uniqueness helped to make people more conscious of
the fact that ‘Coca-Cola’ itself is unique.” (The article also claims success
for the advertising program in reembedding Coca-Cola: “These posters,
American subjects with Swedish lettering, look perfectly at home in the
local scene.”) In addition, the company sought prestigious locations in
which to display its trademark, from Times Square to Piccadilly Circus to
the Ginza. As Roberto Goizueta characteristically put it, “Coca-Cola must
always be represented in ways that perpetuate—as well as symbolize—its
status as the most powerful trademark in the world” (quoted in The Coca-
Cola Company 1988, 1).
It is hardly surprising, then, that The Coca-Cola Company has vigor-
ously defended its trademark from the get-go. Ever since Asa Candler
took full possession of the company in 1891, he assiduously policed the
Qualifying Products 79

trademark against hundreds of imitators that threatened “Coca-Cola’s

credibility as an effective medicine” (Louis and Yazijian 1980, 32). In 1916,
153 impostors (including Coca-Kola and Coke Ola) were struck down in
court; by 1926, one business journalist counted more than seven thousand
cases of trademark infringement (Louis and Yazijian 1980, 32; Tedlow
1990, 54). One of these cases, against the Koke Company of America, was
litigated before the Supreme Court. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., writing for
the majority in support of Coca-Cola, stressed that “the name now charac-
terizes a beverage to be had at almost any soda fountain. It means a single
thing coming from a single source and well known to the community”
(cited in Tedlow 1990, 55). McQueen (2003, 173) points out that Holmes,
by effectively identifying the single product with the trademark, turned
Coca-Cola into a symbol that stood for itself—self-referential to the point
that company lawyers long discouraged any extensions of the Coca-Cola
name, such as to the new product introduced in 1963 as TaB rather than
Diet Coke, which debuted almost twenty years later.
Justice Holmes’s decision makes it plain that at the heart of trademark
defense lies the issue of trust or the goodwill of the community. Trademark
law was a form of protection against confusion on the part of the con-
sumer, a guarantee that a distinctive product emanated from a distinctive
single source. This guarantee was of paramount importance to companies
selling products regionally or nationally; generating trust was essential to
the successful spread of national brands (like Nabisco) and national retail-
ers (like Sears Roebuck and other mail-order companies) at the end of the
nineteenth century in the United States. Hence the advertising slogans that
Candler deployed against his competitors: “Get the genuine,” 1906; “Get
what you ask for and see that you get it,” 1910; and “Ask for it by its full
name—then you will get the genuine,” 1913 (Louis and Yazijian 1980, 32).
Generating trust in this fashion involves a contested process of meaning
making, a concerted effort to render a product distinctive and to control its
mark of distinction against all competitors. There are at least two ways of
understanding this process.
The first way is to interpret trademark legislation as one of the pillars of
(consumer) democracy. Edward Rogers, an “eminent authority on trade-
mark law,” made this argument in a 1948 Coca-Cola Overseas article titled,
“Democracy and Trade-Marks.” Rogers claimed that goodwill requires dis-
tinction; without a distinguishing mark, people are unable to identify the
merchandise to which experience has favorably predisposed them. The
marks, then—trademarked devices and logos, but also brand names—
embody the goodwill invested in them; they are visible or materialized
goodwill, “the tendency to buy again an article which has given satisfaction
80 Coca-Globalization

in the past.” Therefore, Rogers concludes, goodwill is property, a valuable

business asset which must be protected by protecting the mark that sym-
bolizes the “individuality” and “reputation” of a manufacturer. Without
distinguishing and protected marks, people will be unable to make truly
free choices among competing merchants of variable repute: “Individual-
ity, which is democracy, is not possible otherwise.”
The second way to interpret trademark legislation is to see it as a poten-
tial threat to democracy, specifically, a threat to free speech. Rosemary
Coombe, anthropologist and legal scholar, persuasively develops this argu-
ment by noting that making meaning is always a social process; the mean-
ing of a trademark or brand (its “reputation” or public “goodwill” toward
it), is produced by the ongoing response of consumers to that trademark or
brand. Meaning—the distinctive connotations of a mark—emerges out of
an interactive process that encompasses consumption work, the dialectics
of objectification and appropriation (Chapter 1). Meaning is, despite cor-
porate rhetoric to the contrary, not solely produced by the manufacturer.
Market researchers routinely acknowledge this condition when they incor-
porate the words and associations of phone-surveyed and focus-grouped
consumers into advertisements projected back to the very same con-
sumers. The goal of such exercises is to align the perspectives of producers
and consumers within a product network or, put otherwise, to ensure
mutually compatible product qualifications on the part of both consumers
and producers (see Callon et al. 2002). Consequently, when trademarks
and brands are treated as forms of (intellectual and industrial) property, a
sleight of hand takes place in which the mark’s owner is regarded as the
exclusive creator of the mark’s meaning: “The old rationale of preventing
consumer confusion over competing market goods has yielded to the cur-
rent rationale of protecting from ‘dilution’ or ‘misappropriation’ the
integrity of a set of positive meanings which have been ‘created’ by the
trademark owner’s investment . . . The trademark owner is viewed as a
‘quasi-author’ who ‘creates’ a particular set of meanings attached to a mark
by investing time, labor and money, thereby justifying expansive rights in a
mark” (Aoki 1994, cited in Coombe 1998, 61). In many instances, the
“quasi-author” is, perhaps appropriately, a quasi-person—the legally ficti-
tious person otherwise know as the (limited liability) corporation (see
Bakan 2004).
The public therefore suffers a double injustice. On the one hand, the
trademark owner appropriates a measure of surplus value from the pub-
lic’s consumption work, reaping the commercial value of meanings (semi-
otic values) that accrue to a mark through the active imaginations and
generative practices of consumers. And there is no doubt that corporate
Qualifying Products 81

officials see this commercial value as belonging exclusively to The Coca-

Cola Company. Hence Roberto Goizueta’s proclamation: “At its core, The
Coca-Cola Company really was just one thing: a trademark. The word
Coke, the fancy script, the unique bottle, the red disc logo all emanated
from the trademark. Coke’s soft drinks themselves each had unique
recipes. But their real value in the marketplace came when The Coca-Cola
Company lent its name to the products” (cited in McQueen 2003, 186).
On the other hand, the public is denied free access to the very meanings
it has created. Expansive property rights increasingly legitimate “corporate
control over mass-media-disseminated cultural forms” (Coombe 1998, 74;
see also Lessig 2004). In a commodity culture, these forms circulate with
enough currency to provide people with everyday idioms of expression
and resources for metaphorical creativity—the media that, as Emile
Durkheim once noted of totems, make “society imaginable and intelligible
to itself in the form of external representations” (Mazzarella 2004, 346).
Think, for example, of Andy Warhol’s famous silk-screened images
of mundane consumer goods, including bottles of Coca-Cola. Or think of
how advertising slogans—“Where’s the beef?” or “It’s the real thing”—per-
meate everyday speech contexts unconnected to the slogan’s origin.
Restricting the use of these means—as when, for example, The Coca-
Cola Company threatens artists for use of its trademarked imagery
(Coombe 1998, 181; see Conclusion)—“stifles dialogic practice in the
public sphere, preventing us from using the most powerful, prevalent,
and accessible cultural forms to express alternative visions of social
worlds” (Coombe 1998, 42).1
Coombe’s argument suggests how the policing of trademarks can func-
tion to limit choice and competition, again despite the contrary claims of
corporate apologists. For example, The Coca-Cola Company used world-
wide trademark litigation to deter the growth of rival Pepsi-Cola until
dropping all suits in 1942 (Pendergrast 1993, 196). More recently, the com-
pany unsuccessfully attempted to use trademark law to defend itself against
one of the unplanned consequences of economic globalization: a boom in
gray market entrepreneurs exploiting price differences and lowered inter-
national trade barriers. Thus Canada’s Supreme Court recognized the right
of Mushi Pradhan to buy thousands of cases of Coca-Cola wholesale each
week in Canada and ship them to Hong Kong and Japan where, even after
transport charges, he was able to sell the cases at a profit.2 Coca-Cola’s
lawyers had argued that Pradhan’s unsupervised shipping and handling
outside official distribution channels could hurt the quality of the product
and thus injure the reputation of the brand and the company (“Gray Mar-
keter Beats Coke” 2000).3
82 Coca-Globalization

Coombe’s argument, moreover, points directly to how, in a globalized

commodity culture where the value of signs often exceeds that of their ref-
erents, control over meaning is vital to the interests of corporations:
“Through the mass media, the sign increasingly replaces the product itself
as the site of fetishism; the focus of commodity fetishism shifts from the
product to the sign values invested in products by corporate imagery and
marketing’s structure of meanings” (Coombe 1998, 56). From athletic
shoes to blue jeans to microchips, it is the exchange value of images that
matters. The circulation of mass-mediated cultural forms—logos and
trademarks, for instance—thus poses serious challenges to corporate con-
trol over value creation, specifically, over the capacity to generate rents.
This challenge is especially clear when these cultural forms migrate from
their original commodity context. On the one hand, The Coca-Cola Com-
pany sponsors these migrations. Consider, for example, the gift shop of the
World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta (see Figure 3.1), where it is possible to buy at
premium prices all sorts of items (pencils, refrigerator magnets, candy tins,
etc.) adorned with Coca-Cola trademarks. On the other hand, these same
trademarks appear on inexpensive beaded purses sold by street vendors in

Figure 3.1 Atlanta, GA: The old World of Coca-Cola, where exhibits showcased “the rich heritage and
global reach of Coca-Cola.” A new and enlarged building, estimated to cost one hundred million dollars,
opened on May 24, 2007, at a site near the Georgia Aquarium. Photograph by Maryann McCabe.
Qualifying Products 83

New York’s Chinatown. Whereas the former merchandise is “licensed” by

the company, and perhaps thereby made more attractive to certain collec-
tors of “authentic” Coca-Cola memorabilia, the latter is not licensed. But
this lack of a license surely makes the beaded purse no less attractive to
those buyers who regard it not as a “fake” or “counterfeit,” but rather as a
resource for metaphorical creativity, a tool for self-fashioning through the
dialectics of appropriation and objectification.
This insight about the value of signs prompts a revision of Sidney
Mintz’s (1985) discussion of “inside” and “outside” meanings in the con-
sumption of worldly things—in his case, sugar. Mintz treats outside mean-
ings as structural power, that is, the imposition of constraints on the ability
of people to generate inside meaning—the symbolic and personal signifi-
cance of particular commodities, their role in everyday domestic life. For
Mintz, these constraints are above all questions of supply, of whether com-
modities are made available to consumers who, in turn, are or are not
allowed to consume them under certain circumstances, at certain prices.
Thus, U.S. service personnel were able to imbue Coca-Cola with strong
sentiments of god and country during World War II, but only within the
structural constraints imposed by the joint venture of The Coca-Cola
Company and the U.S. government (which exempted the company from
sugar rationing and granted it a near monopoly on military bases).
Coombe’s argument, by contrast, suggests that structural power also
entails the capacity to impose constraints on the mutability of commodi-
ties, that is, on the ability of consuming agents—or consumption work-
ers—to create “inside meaning.” Her claims are echoed by the authors of
several recent books that critique intellectual property regimes as not only
repressive of creativity, but also antidemocratic (e.g., Lessig 2004; see Vaid-
hyanathan 2005). Fights over copyrights, patents, and trademarks—for
music, pharmaceuticals, and software, for example—are increasingly char-
acteristic of economic globalization; corporations seek to defend and
extend their control over sources of commercial value opened to wider
access by new digital technologies and international disagreement over the
definition of intellectual property rights. Just as with its flexible franchising
arrangements, The Coca-Cola Company was a pioneer in its relentless
attempts both to establish exclusive property rights over the “materialized
goodwill” of its consumer base and to regulate how these consumers qual-
ified and requalified the product and its imagery.
Nevertheless, the entailments of structural power are internally contra-
dictory—or at least problematic in the case of marketing soft drinks, since
The Coca-Cola Company explicitly seeks to stimulate the creativity of
“inside meaning making” as part of its brand-building enterprise. Callon et
84 Coca-Globalization

al. (2002) similarly note the tension between a producer’s desire to render
the consumer’s purchasing behavior automatic and the risk posed to the
producer by losing touch with the motivations of a consumer whose
behavior has become unreflective and routine. Hence, the boundary
demarcating “inside” from “outside” meanings becomes ever more difficult
to define. The erasure of this boundary signals the ultimate sign of a
brand’s success—indeed, the achievement of a Lovemark or, from the per-
spective of the supply side, a perfectly qualified product. Its continual shift-
ing, however, often signals the agency of consumers. Encountering a
product branded in their own image, consumers revise their strategies for
attributing meaning (or use-value) to their consumption or, changing
their self-image, even reject the product altogether and thereby precipitate
for the brand owners a crisis of mediation.

The Power of Presence: Product Ubiquity

Throughout its history, The Coca-Cola Company has attempted to extend

the power of presence not only through trademark visibility, but also
through product ubiquity. In a 1923 speech to bottlers, Harrison Jones,
vice-president and director of sales, urged his audience “to make it impos-
sible for the consumer to escape Coca-Cola” (cited in Tedlow 1990, 34, orig-
inal emphasis). Jones favored a program of intensive distribution that
would make bottled Coca-Cola available in contexts that ranged from bar-
ber shops and construction sites to hospitals and pool rooms. This same
program was encouraged by the Sales Promotion Department of the
Export Corporation. In a 1948 Coca-Cola Overseas article, Frank Harrold
reminded readers that availability equals sales. He said, “To be constantly
available, Coca-Cola must be present 24 hours a day wherever people are,
whatever they are doing. They must find Coca-Cola where they shop and
move about, where they live, where they work, where they spend their leisure
time, where they go to school.” Harrold insisted that Coca-Cola was an
“impulse item”: if it is available, it is bought; if unavailable, it is forgotten.
Product ubiquity, however, served ends deeper and more enduringly
psychological than mere impulsive satisfaction of thirst. In a 1988 Coca-
Cola Company pamphlet, The Power of Presence, Don Keough (then
COO), explained that product ubiquity underlay the “special relationship”
of Coca-Cola to the consumer: “Coca-Cola is there. It is there throughout
life. It is at home. It is with every youngster as he or she grows up in what-
ever economic circumstances. It is at camp, whether it is a YMCA camp, a
Boy Scout camp or a luxurious camp for the children of the wealthy . . . The
name, Coca-Cola, is in front of every pair of eyes, every day, everywhere.”
Qualifying Products 85

In other words, product ubiquity ensures that Coca-Cola will become an

element of people’s individual biographies, an omnipresent witness to and
participant in the distinctive formative experiences of all consumers. Per-
sonal memories of summer camp will be intertwined with memories of
Coca-Cola, the universal commodity thus becoming a prop for the partic-
ular narratives through which individual consumers actively produce their
own pasts. The company’s 1999 Annual Report is explicit about the colo-
nization of inside meaning involved here, admitting that “consumer emo-
tions, memories and values” are, after all, more powerful than the brand
itself. The text asserts, “Life is a series of special moments, and each is an
opportunity for Coca-Cola to add its bit of magic. We’re using hundreds of
new ways to tap into these opportunities and generate refreshing, genuine
consumer experiences that reinforce a single moment that consumers
share all around the world: Coca-Cola.” While the text suggests that Coca-
Cola adds magic to people’s lives, it is equally clear that people’s lives—
physically embodied and locally situated—are being recruited as the
affective means for enchanting a global commodity. Such is the value-cre-
ating potency of consumption work.
This recruitment hinges on a jump in scale—from the global to the per-
sonal. That is, Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola brand soft drinks are not simply
found almost everywhere. Their ubiquity is part of the self-image of these
commodities, which in this respect differ significantly from other interna-
tionally marketed consumer goods, such as Wrigley’s chewing gum or
Pampers disposable diapers. Coca-Cola officials, in particular, understand
that the appeal of the brand lies in its capacity to impress consumers as
being both globally extensive and intensely personal, there and here, at the
same time; it is this peculiar capacity that makes Coca-Cola a worldly
thing. This scale-jumping relationship was built into the design of the
World of Coca-Cola Las Vegas, a retail exhibit that attracted about one mil-
lion visitors each year until its closure. As does the larger World of Coca-
Cola in Atlanta, the Las Vegas attraction displayed Coke’s ubiquity through
such devices as a video montage of international television commercials.
Likewise, the Las Vegas exhibit also included a video theater that showcased
different stories of how the global brand became part of the specific biog-
raphies of real-life individuals. These stories portrayed a couple that met at
a Coca-Cola memorabilia auction and married at the World of Coca-Cola
and an Indiana veteran who carried a Coke bottle with him through World
War II and kept it on his fireplace mantel. The show ended with an invita-
tion to the audience to type their own Coca-Cola stories on computers
outside the theater; in the first three weeks of the exhibit, 1,800 people
obliged (Rosenfeld 2000).
86 Coca-Globalization

I suspect that the 1,800 Coke stories furnished company marketers with
useful raw material for reflecting brand Coca-Cola back to its consumers.
This sort of managed consumer appropriation complicates any easy cele-
bration of the way in which impersonal commodities are transformed into
tokens of personal significance (see Carrier 1990 for another example). Put
differently, company officials think seriously about the problem of reem-
bedding. An interview with Jeff Dunn, then Coke’s North America Group
president, begins by recalling the halcyon days before Coca-Cola consoli-
dated its North American bottling system, when hundreds of small-town
bottlers dotted the landscape. He said, “When you were a kid, perhaps you
got your Coke by plunging a hand into the icy water of a store cooler, or
perhaps by sliding the bottle neck-first from a stacked-slot vendor. What
was the first thing you’d do to ‘bond’ with your fresh acquisition? Most
likely, you’d tilt the bottle base to your eyes to see which local swatch in
Coke’s nationwide quilt had birthed the thing” (Dawson 2000). The
imagery here is marvelous—it is the language of social intimacy and kin-
ship, of sensuously connecting with a newborn family member, of senti-
mentally recognizing a local community member (the Coke bottler). For
Dunn, the marketing challenge facing The Coca-Cola Company—Douglas
Daft’s “relationship company”—is how to “reestablish family-level connec-
tions” or, as the article suggests, “to recapture some of the depth of those
traditional ‘hometown’ relationships.” Put differently, the challenge is how
to enlist consumer agency in localizing—personalizing and embodying—
a very worldly thing
Let me offer my own family story. While waiting in one of many long
lines of cars for the British Columbia Ferry that would transport us from
Horseshoe Bay to Vancouver Island, I could not help noticing the strategi-
cally placed vending machines making cold Coca-Cola products available
to hot tourists—product ubiquity. It was only after a while, however, when
I studied the receipt for our ferry fare that I noticed the advertisement
printed on the reverse,“Always Refreshing, Always Coca-Cola” in red letters
on either side of the red disc logo—the power of presence. In the end,
despite entreaties from two young sons, we refreshed ourselves with some
bottled water (a local brand) from the trunk of our rental car. But The
Coca-Cola Company had nonetheless managed—even without a sale—to
entwine its presence with my experience and infiltrate my memories of our
family’s summer vacation. As Ira Herbert, former chief marketing officer for
The Coca-Cola Company, observed: “[Coke] has insinuated itself into the
lives of people to a point where it has become—you know, it’s there” (1996, 8).
Keough and Dunn’s observations explain how, from the company’s per-
spective, making Coca-Cola part of people’s lives involves inserting the
Qualifying Products 87

product into new and more contexts of consumption, contexts already

laden with meaningful associations supplied by consumers themselves—a
radical project of reembedding. This perspective was openly championed
in the 1997 annual report, which included double-page pictorial spreads of
how the strategy might be implemented. One especially ominous spread
featured a scenic overlook with a vast American southwestern desert
stretching into the background and two viewfinders and a water fountain
in the foreground. The picture was labeled, “BECAUSE: some fountain
drinks are easier to find.” At the bottom right of the picture, next to the red
disc logo, the following words were printed: “In many places, it’s easier to
find a water fountain than a Coca-Cola. That’s why we continue to
strengthen our distribution system. We’re working hard to make our
products an integral part of any landscape so they are always within easy
reach.” Other spreads suggested that the company sought to turn “coffee
breaks” at the office into “Coca-Cola breaks,” and to replace tea with
Coca-Cola as the preferred beverage of consumers in China, “that country
of 1.2 billion people.”
The baldness of the suggestion that Coca-Cola ought to replace water,
tea, and coffee did not escape scrutiny by Adbusters, a magazine dedicated
to anticonsumerism, which merely noted that the annual report offered
insight into Coke’s “global marketing strategy and corporate culture”
(Winter issue, 1999; see Chapter 5). The suggestion, however, was a logical
outcome of the marketing philosophy that characterized most of Roberto
Goizueta’s years as the head of Coke (as well as the few years of his loyal
assistant and immediate successor, Douglas Ivester). That philosophy con-
sisted of three As: acceptability, affordability, and availability. The achieve-
ment of these three conditions would effectively reconfigure the
space-time of soft drink consumption. That is, consumers could insert
breaks—pauses that refreshed—into their daily routines at any time and at
any place, especially outside the home. Or perhaps more accurately, con-
sumers could append pauses that refreshed to other activities—recreation,
work, commuting, and so forth. In this way, Coca-Cola consumption
would advance a double trend that Mintz (1986) saw as definitive of mod-
ern food habits: the move away from fixed meals to interval eating (snacks)
and the increase in consumption of food and beverages prepared outside
the home, whether eaten in restaurants or as “take-out” at home. The pre-
dictably absurd conclusion of this trend has been foreshadowed by Coke’s
“Occasion-Based Marketing” strategy. This strategy, according to a vice-
president of consumer marketing at Coca-Cola USA, “connects when
and why consumers drink with how they shop for [drinks]” (Wellman
1999, 79). In other words, shoppers might be persuaded to purchase a
88 Coca-Globalization

twenty-ounce bottle of Coke as they enter a supermarket; they would sip

the soft drink as they navigate the aisles and, in between sips, rest the bot-
tle in their “cart caddy,” “red cup holders bearing the Coca-Cola logo”
(Wellman 1999, 80). It thus becomes possible to consume Coca-Cola, and
to advertise it to one’s fellow shoppers, while in the very act of shopping for
Coca-Cola, or to “shop refreshed” as the marketing program was called.
Goizueta’s marketing philosophy was in some ways a corollary of his
overall vision of limitless growth in consumption of soft drinks (see Chap-
ter 2). (The 1997 annual report also proclaimed, “This year, even as we sell
1 billion servings of our products daily, the world will still consume 47 bil-
lion servings of other beverages every day. We’re just getting started.”) The
conceit here was that the product—as long as it was available and afford-
able (and first made locally acceptable through sponsorships and sam-
pling)—would effectively sell itself. Indeed, one of Coke’s top marketing
chiefs from 1978–86 and 1993–98, Sergio Zyman, regarded the “three As”
philosophy in similar terms. He referred to the premise of the three As as
“the Field of Dreams theory of marketing: if you build the distribution sys-
tem and make a product available, people will buy it” (Zyman 1999, 135).
For Zyman, such a plan only works as long as there is no competition; once
a competitor enters the scene, it is necessary to motivate consumers to buy
your brand, to recognize your brand as distinctive. Such is the nature of
competition in the economy of qualities. This necessity, in turn, requires
thinking globally and acting locally; that is, it requires recognizing that
consumers in different regional and national markets are different, and
that experience with local markets—an ability to speak to local con-
sumers—is required to execute centralized business strategy (Zyman 1999,
193ff).5 And this recognition means finding ways to persuade local con-
sumers to adopt your product (instead of finding ways to create products
adapted to local tastes, as Douglas Daft would later insist). So, for example,
Zyman could boast that he adjusted Coke’s advertising in Middle Eastern
markets to the temporal rhythms of Ramadan: “If you’re fasting and can’t
drink during the day, the last thing you would want to see is a nice, inviting
ad about how refreshing a Coke would be” (1999, 107). Micro-marketing
thus doubles as cultural sensitivity.

Advertising Global Commodities Locally

Zyman’s boasting raises a question: How has The Coca-Cola Company his-
torically managed locality in its advertising, attempting thereby to connect
with its worldwide consumers and to make its products meaningful? The
question is of interest beyond what I have already suggested with regard to
Qualifying Products 89

the World War II global high-sign campaign; for advertising, although

often a small part of the marketing mix, is one of the most public and dra-
matic instances of managed mediation—of the deliberate production of
external representations through which a society makes itself imaginable
and intelligible to itself. Michael Schudson (1984) has thus provocatively
called advertising “capitalist realism,” the distinctive genre through which
the values of capitalism—including fundamental assumptions about per-
sonal and social worth—are rendered natural as a way of life (even as con-
sumers might vigorously deny the truth of the claims made in any given
ad). How, then, did company officials think about and execute the man-
agement of mediation through advertising in postwar circumstances of
rapid and extensive international expansion?
In 1956, The Coca-Cola Company integrated its domestic and interna-
tional advertising with McCann-Erickson, an agency that had previously
handled international promotions for Coke. McCann-Erickson was, like
Coke, multinational in its operations; by 1971, 61 percent of its profits
came from overseas; one of Pepsi International’s agencies, J. Walter
Thompson, likewise drew 52 percent of its profits from overseas (Louis and
Yazijian 1980, 177). The move signaled a gradual increase in the worldwide
coordination of advertising for Coca-Cola, an increase that culminated in
the global campaigns of the 1990s. Marcio Moreira, a longtime McCann-
Erickson creative director with responsibility for Coke’s international
advertising, divides the history of international advertising into three
phases (Moreira n.d.) The first phase, exemplified by the pattern advertis-
ing catalogues described in Chapter 2, Moreira calls the “brown envelope
era.” In this phase, U.S.-made advertisements were examined after they had
been produced, and those advertisements thought to travel well were
shipped overseas for use with little or no modification. Alternatively, ads
were produced locally using the theme line then current in the United
States. In other words, Coca-Cola ads throughout the world were either
identical to or slight variants of the ads designed for the U.S. market (recall
the case of the Swedish billboards). The advertising thus reflected the bland
form of multilocalism to which the Export Corporation committed itself,
that is, a form of multilocalism in which difference was seen as superficial,
as minor variation on the putatively universal values represented by mod-
ern American society.
Moreira (n.d.) dates the beginning of the second or “multicultural”
phase of international advertising to the late 1970s, a response to the ever-
increasing importance of the company’s international business. This phase
was characterized by a deliberate effort to “centrally develop advertising
aimed at the international markets, as opposed to simply franchising U.S.
90 Coca-Globalization

advertising to the international markets” (O’Barr 1989, 4). By the 1970s,

Pepsi International, according to Louis and Yazijian, was already moving
toward a “strategy of centralized management and decentralized execu-
tion” by creating a pool of commercials shot in various locations around
the world: “[A] catalog of thirteen reels would be distributed to J. Walter
Thompson offices throughout the world, which would then snip and cut
commercials tailored for their particular markets and needs” (1980, 167).
While one reel might contain action or sports shots, another might show
couples in love.
McCann’s own in-house history (Alter 1994, 189) suggests that efforts
to think globally began as early as 1963, with the launch of the “Things go
better with Coke” campaign. This campaign implemented the “One Sight,
One Sound, One Sell” theory of advertising, the notion, according to
McCann’s newsletter, that “wherever an advertisement for Coca-Cola
appears, it will bear a strong ‘family’ resemblance to every other advertise-
ment for Coca-Cola” (Alter 1994, 190). Don Kendall was pursuing the
same strategy around the same time at Pepsi, but with limited success. Alan
Pottasch, a global marketing strategist for Pepsi International, explained in
an oral history interview that the reality of Pepsi’s modest market share
sometimes conflicted with the bold claims of its advertising:

As a matter of fact, the whole concept of the Pepsi Generation was not par-
ticularly successful overseas. Don Kendall very much wanted it—and
believed in One Sight, One Sound, One Sell universally—and we tried and
wherever it did make sense we did use it. We frequently used the music and
put other lyrics to it. But the concept of generation—the Pepsi Generation—
only works where it’s somewhat believable, where your total sales in the
country, whatever country, are sufficiently great to make that believable. If
you are in a very meager position, to try to name a whole generation after
your product doesn’t make much sense at all. You’re in the Hires Root Beer
Generation . . . (Pottasch 1984)

The Coca-Cola Company rarely worried about its “meager position” in

any market, domestic or overseas. When the 1969 “Real thing” campaign
was launched, the approach to integrated marketing and design covered
not only ads, but vehicles, vending equipment, and delivery uniforms.
McCann recognized that satisfying this “need for ‘universality’ in selling
concepts” (Alter 1994, 194) required input from people around the world:
“Sometimes creative people just needed to be brought together physically
to solve multinational advertising problems” (Alter 1994, 195). In 1979,
McCann created the InterNational Team based in New York, a unit of
international creative directors formed to “create, develop and produce
Qualifying Products 91

multicultural advertising” (O’Barr 1989, 6). With Moreira as its head,

InterNational Team took on Coke as its first and largest permanent
account. InterNational Team produced pattern advertising as before—ads
that could either run in different local markets or serve as blueprints for
local executions. But the ads were thought to be based on universal ideas
such as “first love” or “friendship” (Moreira 1991), ideas that putatively
transcended particular times and places; by contrast, ideas regarded as too
local or too topical were thought to be inappropriate. Similarly, the look of
the ad (costumes, props, settings) was designed to avoid local references,
such that viewers in Hong Kong would not see Chinese people, but rather
worldly young people who look like themselves—dressed similarly, danc-
ing to the same music, and living the same lifestyle. Moreira claimed that
he initially sought to cast the ads with people whose physical features
would work well everywhere—a middle-of-the-road Mediterranean look;
black, blonde, and Asian people were not cast. Later on, for the sake of
plausibility, these more “extreme looks” were built into the ads, not as a
gesture of tokenism, but as an attempt to add universality and ubiquity
(Moreira 1991).
InterNational Team, as Moreira described it, operated with an implicit
philosophical anthropology that posited a deep human similarity beneath
the manifest diversity of cultures and localities. (In this sense, it hardly
contradicted the implicit social science of marketing, which rests on a uni-
versal idea of perpetually needy individuals; see Applbaum 2004). It was in
some ways a return of the happy ethnocentrism of wartime advertising.
But in other ways it was not. For example, Moreira admitted that Coke’s
international advertising drew on Western—not American—values; he
claimed, however, that these values were, like blue jeans, no longer exclu-
sive to Western societies. They were part of an emergent global culture, a
world characterized by such an exchange of people from country to coun-
try that the issue of accurately portraying distinctive ethnic types for dif-
ferent local markets would soon be irrelevant (Moreira 1991).
InterNational Team of course recognized that, in some instances, their
ads would require modifications because of legal reasons (e.g., local con-
tent laws) or cultural conventions (e.g., about displaying women’s bodies).
In some cases, ads were explicitly designed with room to insert local con-
tent (sports or foods) in cut-and-paste fashion. In other cases, the central
idea or theme of the ad might need modification, as when the theme of
“You can’t beat the feeling” was changed to run in Japan (in English) as “I
feel Coke.” All of these modifications were imagined, however, as flexible
accommodations to ultimately minor impediments in communicating the
universal associations of brand Coca-Cola with summer fun and youthful
92 Coca-Globalization

social situations. Thus it was deemed possible to project one point of view,
one tone of voice, and one personality through different executions of
Coke ads to different audiences around the world.
The anthropology at work here was at once a weaker and stronger ver-
sion of the multilocalism of Coke’s 1950s international advertising. On the
one hand, it was self-consciously less ethnocentric: ads were deliberately
created for non-American audiences, by non-American creative directors.
On the other hand, the ads were deliberately less local due to their attempt
to depict ideas and situations imagined to be timeless and translocal. Put
differently, the uneasy balance between the particular (local) and universal
(global) in pattern advertising since World War II was tipping more and
more toward the side of the global. Moreira (n.d.) claimed that this balance
was decisively upset in 1991, when a third or “global” phase of Coke adver-
tising began. In this phase of advertising, the premise was that all execu-
tions must work everywhere; tolerance for local exceptionalism was very
low. From the point of view of phase two “multicultural” advertising,
global advertising ran the risk of falling into the “lowest common denom-
inator category” (Moreira 1991), a violation of the conviction expressed by
John Bergin (a long time creative director of first Pepsi and then Coca-Cola
advertising). Bergin observed, “If it works well everywhere, it is unlikely to
work exceptionally well anywhere” (Bergin ca. 1991).
The move toward “global” advertising in Moreira’s sense was bound up
with the increasingly influential notion of “the global teenager” (not to
mention the frenzied merger and consolidation of worldwide networks of
advertising agencies during the 1980s). A 1996 article in Beverage World by
Jim Lawrence (CEO Pepsi International, Asia, Middle East, and Africa) lays
out the Theodore Levitt-like assumptions about converging tastes lurking
behind this notion: “We at Pepsi and the global village having [sic] been
brought together by the vast worldwide improvements in communica-
tions, media and technology. Teenagers are, for Pepsi-Cola, the occupants
of the global village of greatest importance. They are brought together by
common experiences, common interests and they’ve now developed their
own worldwide language and voice. Media, such as MTV and the Internet
help to bring them together as well” (“The Thirsty Global Village” 1996).
Participation in a globalized mediascape of music, fashion, and extreme
sports has thus created a worldwide market segment; teenagers in Japan,
India, and the United States share more common experiences and interests
with each other than they do with adults in their own countries of origin.
Nevertheless, Lawrence cautions, local differences have not been totally
effaced: “While brand Pepsi certainly is global, we absolutely do not con-
sider our audience to be a single homogeneous global generation. Rather,
Qualifying Products 93

at Pepsi, we identify global marketing priorities with shared brand values.

These, then, must be interpreted and expressed in a relevant way in the dif-
ferent regional markets. Therefore, we need to strike the right balance
between international and local” (“The Thirsty Global Village” 1996). A
concern for managing the balance between local and global emphases still
exists, but the precedence of the global is apparent. Hence Lawrence’s
announcement of a new global alliance with MTV—“the first choice of
media of the global teenager”—and with international celebrities such as
Andre Agassi, Cindy Crawford, and Claudia Schiffer.
Such a strategy is not without risk; globalized images may provoke
localized responses on the part of competitors, including not only local (or
indigenous) competitors. In India, for example, The Coca-Cola Company
spoofed Pepsi’s glamorous spots by targeting Indian teens with customized
promotions and ads for Sprite, a clear lemon-lime flavored soft drink.
According to an article in Advertising Age International on the localization
of marketing for multinational companies, the ads showed “a youth who
appears to be immune or indifferent to Pepsi’s ads and clearly opts for a
Sprite instead. The text runs: ‘Sprite quenches your thirst. The rest is all
rubbish.’” Nonetheless, this “local” response to Pepsi’s “international” spots
is itself thoroughly inflected by global thinking—a reflex of the move
toward global advertising in two respects. First, the ad was a variant of
Sprite’s own international ad campaign, “Obey your thirst,” which ostensi-
bly criticizes all things superficial and blares in self-contradictory (or
knowingly ironic) terms that image is nothing. Second, as Venkatesh Kini,
senior brand manager for Sprite at Coca-Cola India suggests, the ad
appeals to the same vision of adolescence that informs the notion of “the
global teenager”: “Sprite is positioned at teens and young adults in the
process of establishing their own identity” (Chawla 1999). Herein lies
another anthropology.
The possibility of using one strategic message executed the same way
everywhere presupposes the particular way in which advertising agencies
imagine the global teen. In this view, teenagers the world over constitute a
distinct oppositional subculture—a bounded society with its own lan-
guage, rituals, and behavior, fortified against adult intervention. Although
this subculture might assume various manifestations from country to
country, it is always organized by a set of universal themes. These themes
capture the conflicts that all teens experience in struggling to develop and
form identities. For example, teens struggle to achieve autonomy and inde-
pendence from their families. This assumption is explicit in the following
description of how The Coca-Cola Company markets its Mr. Pibb brand
soft drink to young teens: “Mr. Pibb appeals to 12-to-15 year olds who are
94 Coca-Globalization

just gaining independence from home and looking for things to call their
own. Mr. Pibb enables them to have an uninhibited, fun and unconven-
tional attitude because it has the sweet, refreshing bold taste they need to
express their independence” (from the company’s Web site, cited in Girard
2004). But at the same time, teens yearn to belong to another community,
a community of peers. This conflict appears behaviorally as a combination
of authority-defying risk taking on the one hand, and rigid conformity to
peer group conventions on the other. Dressed in the uniform of their peer
group, teens experiment with sex and drugs in a manner that marks and
effects separation if not rupture from their parents.6
The advertising anthropology of the global teen is a perverse inversion
of Margaret Mead’s provocative conclusion in Coming of Age in Samoa that
adolescence, understood as a period of stormy (sexual) rebellion, is a cul-
turally specific condition, not a natural stage of human development. If
there is any recognition of the possibility of ethnocentrism—of projecting
a middle-class American definition of the teen years on the rest of the
world—then it is explained away by claiming that global youth culture
after all originates in the United States. And the recent work of anthropol-
ogists lends some support to this claim, or at least to the claim that the very
idea of “teenager”—of “youth” as a distinctive social category—is being
taken up as a novel collective identity by young adults in places as removed
from each other as Papua New Guinea (Gewertz and Errington 1991) and
Nepal (Leichty 1995). But the advertising anthropology of the global teen
makes another presupposition. Namely, that the global teen’s struggle for
identity is expressed and resolved through commodity consumption. So,
for example, the Indian teen who rejects Pepsi for Sprite enacts an idealis-
tic rejection of adult hypocrisy in favor of the authenticity and sincerity of
youth (sub)culture, membership of which is symbolized by his (not her)
consumption decision. Accordingly, sales pitches can position teen prod-
ucts ranging from shampoo and chewing gum to yogurt and soft drinks as
solutions to socio-psychological developmental conflicts that cross cul-
tures and transcend geographic locales.
In any case, not all advertising executives embraced the notion of the
global teen—or of global advertising in its most extreme version of single
executions designed to run everywhere. This resistance might well be
expected on the part of advertising agencies with worldwide networks that
distinguished themselves on the basis of the local knowledge and expertise
available to them. John Bergin, who handled the Coke account at McCann-
Erickson during the 1980s, protested on other grounds. He told his successor
in 1992, “I pray harder that we resist with all of our might the high-intensity
focus on the so-called ‘global teen.’ That ‘kid’ will kill Coca-Cola” (Bergin
Qualifying Products 95

1992a). Bergin felt that it would be a mistake to position Coca-Cola as a

kid’s drink, since people outgrow kid’s drinks. More importantly, he
expressed reservations over the extent to which global theme lines could be
used without local modification: “I am not so much afraid of how transla-
tors will struggle with our line or mangle it, but of how bland and trite our
line will have to be to be meaningful to so many different people” (Bergin
ca. 1991).
Nevertheless, it was Bergin himself who helped develop Coke’s global
campaign theme, “Always,” which ran from the mid- to late 1990s. As a tag
appended to other descriptors—always new, always real, always there,
always you—Bergin thought the theme met the double challenge of travel-
ling well and saying something specific about brand Coca-Cola. But in his
vision of the campaign’s execution (which was not, in the end, adopted),
the local and personal quality of global Coca-Cola was to be underscored.
Thus, for example, Bergin suggested a series of ads in which travelers
abroad—a Taiwanese Little League team in America, an American Little
League team in Japan, an American exchange student in Rome—would
experience wonder and comfort in seeing illuminated Coca-Cola signs so
far away from home. Indeed, Bergin emphasized that the brand had
become “a symbol of home to people who are far away from home” (Bergin
1992b). In effect, Bergin revamped the World War II global high-sign cam-
paign, divesting it of its Americo-centrism; instead of American soldiers,
all the world’s citizens would now see home reflected in the familiar trade-
mark. Coca-Cola, in this soft drink perspective, had effectively embedded
itself as a natural and taken-for-granted feature of the landscape every-
where. The conceit is perhaps warranted. James Watson (1997, 23) notes
that the status of McDonald’s as “official food service partner” to the 1996
Olympic Games in Atlanta was not only due to corporate clout: “Athletes
from around the world were familiar enough with McDonald’s fare to
accept it without question, thereby avoiding potentially disastrous encoun-
ters with strange foods.”
The industry debate over global advertising versus multilocal advertis-
ing continued into the new millennium. Proponents of the former argued
that in addition to the cost efficiencies involved, new forms of border-
crossing direct-satellite media encourage standardized branding. Propo-
nents of the latter argued that cultural and linguistic differences still matter
and that it is in these irreducible differences that one must find marketing
motives. Maintaining the balance between global and local also continued
to preoccupy soft drink marketing managers, and the pendulum continued
to swing between the two poles. At PepsiCo, the aggressive global teen cam-
paign known as “Generation Next” was deemed “too youth-centric and
96 Coca-Globalization

edgy” (Kramer 1999a). A new domestic campaign, “Joy of Cola,” featuring

a lip-synching little girl with Shirley Temple looks, promised broader age
appeal and a more upbeat mood; while outside the United States, the new
tag line “Ask for More” was introduced in 1999.
At The Coca-Cola Company, with the ascension of Douglas Daft as
CEO, the shift was “away from worldwide campaigns towards more locally
tailored work” (Hatfield 2000). But that shift seemed to have begun even
before Daft took over. In a 1999 interview, then chief marketing officer for
Coca-Cola, Charles Frenette, told Advertising Age (Kramer 1999b):

We’ve got to reconnect with consumers every day—that is our fundamental

marketing challenge. While there are 6 billion people out there in the world,
we can’t treat them as a homogeneous set. Even though globalization is
knocking down borders and allowing for the free flow of goods and services,
and money is moving around rapidly, people still have an identity based on
myth and mystery and superstition and folklore.
We saw that people are almost universally looking for comfort, connec-
tion, achievement, vitality. But when you dig deep and understand the
nuances around how it manifests itself, it is significantly different.

Frenette here promises to upend the anthropological wisdom that guided

Coke’s advertising—both multilocal and global—since World War II: sim-
ilarity is superficial; difference is what lies deep below. Radical relativism
seems to displace enlightened universalism, postmodernity eclipses
modernity. Even so, Frenette inverts but does not change the terms of the
dominant anthropology. Marketing a global commodity locally—making
products meaningful to an imagined world of diverse consumers—
remains a calculation of similarity and difference. Nor does Frenette chal-
lenge the modernist assumption of an individual self actively constituted
and reconstituted through reflexively monitored consumption, especially
consumption of branded commodities. That assumption is, after all, the
bedrock of “capitalist realism” (Schudson 1984).


Frenette’s comments allude to the extensive use made by soft drink mar-
keters of consumer research, including the ethnographic research of
anthropologists. In this sense, company officials engage the meaning-
making capacities of consumers quite differently than in their roles as
trademark police. As trademark police, company officials attempt to sup-
press the semantic generativity of consumers, limiting the ways in which
consumers can creatively appropriate and ascribe new meaning to
Qualifying Products 97

brand-name commodities. As market researchers, however, company offi-

cials attempt to identify and even stimulate this creative activity and to fold
it into to their own efforts to make commodities meaningful through
branding and advertising. For example, Sergio Zyman (Frenette’s prede-
cessor) claims that the “Obey your thirst” campaign for Sprite grew out of
interviews with “heavy users” of the product who cared little about the
drink’s lemon-lime flavor but stressed how Sprite “reflected their own atti-
tude, which was a bit cheeky or unconventional” (Zyman 1999, 92). Hence
the marketing decision to position Sprite not against other lemon-lime
drinks, but against Pepsi, well known for its consistent advertising appeals
to the unconventional.
Consumers—global teens, in this case—thus confront recycled images
of their own idiosyncratic usages in the mass marketing of soft drinks.
From the point of view of company officials, qualitative research enables
marketers to be relevant, “to depict real life” as Charles Frenette put it
(Kramer 1999b), and thus to (re)connect with consumers. Qualitative
research enables producers to qualify products with attributes that con-
sumers recognize—or ought to recognize—as their own. Regardless of its
efficacy, the use of market research as an instrument to uncover, appropri-
ate, and re-present the meaning of consumer commodities illustrates the
intensive recursiveness of social life in this era of globalization. Through
such recursiveness or reflexivity, “culturally informed ‘local’ actions can
have globalizing consequences” (Tomlinson 1999, 24). The individual
actions of a small group of people—teenage “heavy users” at a suburban
Los Angeles skateboard park, for instance—are linked with the lives of dis-
tant, unknown others watching TV in Mumbai or New Delhi. Such is com-
plex connectivity.
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Chapter 4

A Network of Perspectives
The Meanings of Soft Drinks in Papua New Guinea
To the expatriate executives of Shell, we Papua New Guineans are
working very hard to take our place in the modern world . . . We want
the world to know that we are civilised and decent and can survive
anywhere on this planet . . . Don’t treat us like primitives.
—From a 1995 letter to a PNG newspaper in
reference to a television ad for Shell gasoline

arketing officers for soft drink corporations regularly declaim them-

M selves in trade journals and business magazines; they even write
books expressing their points of view. By contrast, the points of view of
consumers themselves are more elusive, qualitative research notwithstand-
ing. Do consumers encounter in heavily marketed and advertised soft
drinks recognizable images of themselves (even if “realistic” in the highly
stylized way that Schudson attributes to capitalist realism)—images that
reinforce their decisions to purchase certain brands? Or do they confront
alienated versions of themselves that provoke resentment or, given the
inevitable gap between generic image and particular reality, frustration?
Or, perhaps, indifference? When these questions are posed in the course of
debating globalization, and especially with regard to Papua New Guinea,
they ineluctably lead back to the two opposing views represented by The
Gods Must Be Crazy and The Cup. That is, the issue ultimately concerns the
efficacy of consumption work: are people able to domesticate the global
commodities they use (consume) locally, and, if so, on whose terms? The
answer to this last question is rarely unambiguous—despite the predilec-
tion of anthropologists to line up on the side of The Cup and to celebrate
“the resilience of ‘local’ cultures against some of the exaggerated claims
that have been made in the name of globalization” (Jackson 2004, 165).
That the spread of worldly things such as Colgate toothpaste and Omo
laundry detergent betokens a threat to local cultural resilience in Papua
New Guinea is the premise of a 1996 film, Advertising Missionaries. The
100 Coca-Globalization

film documents the activities of a travelling theater troupe employed by a

marketing firm, HRD, based in Port Moresby. The troupe operated in PNG
through the 1990s and was still operating, though on a reduced scale, in
2000 (Phil Sawyer, personal communication). It visited some of the most
inaccessible rural areas of the country, areas that, in the early to mid-1990s,
were beyond the reach of most commercial mass media. Portraying a
mildly dysfunctional family, the troupe performs humorous skits to
demonstrate the nature and uses of brand-name consumer goods, includ-
ing Coca-Cola soft drinks.
In the memorable skit that opens the film,“Child” introduces “Uncle” to
Coca-Cola. Uncle asks, “What is it?” He expresses wonder and confusion at
both the bottle and can held before him—a reaction that recalls the World
War II Coca-Cola advertising image of Manus islanders stupefied by a
short wave radio (Chapter 2). The audience of Southern Highlanders—
men and boys, but no women or girls—laugh at Uncle’s shock and surprise
at the popping sound made when the can is opened, and at Uncle’s igno-
rant gesture of placing the bottle cap—the “eye of the bottle” (ai bilong
botel in Tok Pisin, Papua New Guinea’s main official lingua franca)—over
his own eye. Eventually, Uncle is persuaded to drink from the can. He rolls
his eyes with obvious delight, and then obeys Child’s exhortation to
“down” the entire can in a single gulp, a rowdy style of imbibing often asso-
ciated with men’s alcohol consumption. The audience responds with hoots
and laughter, and the camera lingers on one young man in the crowd, gulp-
ing his own bottle of Coke in apparently playful imitation of Uncle.
But what sort of imitation do we have here? The narrative thrust of
Advertising Missionaries laments the incorporation of “remote” and “tradi-
tional” populations into the global market of and for consumer goods. Like
The Gods Must Be Crazy, it suggests that this sort imitation is a regrettable
emulation of foreign ways that portends negative consequences. In so
doing, however, the film runs the risk of identifying the audience of South-
ern Highlanders with the character of Uncle—with a person utterly igno-
rant and thus wholly innocent of consumerism’s enticements. And
Southern Highlanders are surely not that, as the image of Agnes drinking
Coke and eating steamed rice obviously attests (see Figure 1.1).
When the skit portrayed in the film is understood as belonging to a
genre of auto-orientalizing performances of the transition from savagery
to civilization reported widely in PNG (Kulick and Willson 1992; Erring-
ton and Gewertz 1995; Young 1997; Knauft 2002), then it becomes clear
that other concerns are at work. The skit offers up to an ostensibly out-of-
the-way audience the image of a man—Uncle—who is truly marginal, a
“country bumpkin” (bus kanaka in Tok Pisin) who does not even know
A Network of Perspectives 101

what a Coke is. Uncle thus at once dramatizes and deflects a fear, an anxi-
ety that what ought to be taken for granted (something as banal and rou-
tine as carbonated soft drinks) is not, and that in not taking it for granted,
one’s exposure as not modern is publicized. Like the hoary ethnic joke
about the bus kanaka who “cooks” his tinned mackerel by tossing the
unopened can into the fire, the skit enacts and exorcises discomfort. That
is, the skit enables audience members to distance themselves from their
own not-so-distant past in the form of Uncle’s uncomfortable relationship
to material signs of “development.” The skit unfolds as “an acute semblance
of progress” fashioned out of “the opposition between local constructions
of tradition or history and those of being or becoming modern” (Knauft
2002, 106). But the performance is potentially discomforting for the audi-
ence, inasmuch as it leaves a lingering question: Is Uncle our past or (still)
our present? Am I/are we like Uncle after all?1
Neither a definite surrender to the juggernaut of Western consumerism
nor a triumphant instance of domesticating the foreign through local cul-
tural appropriation, the skit in the end performs uncertainty; specifically,
an uncertainty of perspective, in which Southern Highlanders are pre-
sented, momentarily, with the possibility that they appear in the view of
others as the Uncle whom they recognize, but do not recognize as them-
selves. This observation prompts us, in turn, to recover the notion of a
commodity or product network, and to trace, however tentatively, the net-
work of perspectives that forms around marketing, advertising, and con-
suming soft drinks (and other fast moving consumer goods) in Papua New
Guinea. How do the meanings of soft drinks take shape in and through this
network of perspectives? How is this product qualified as it moves from
“agents on the supply side” to consumers on the “demand side” (Callon et
al. 2002)?


What perspectives do people involved in marketing soft drinks in Papua

New Guinea take on both themselves and the people they address? How do
these people meet the challenge of the “marketing concept,”“the pursuit of
enhanced understanding and orchestration of consumers’ intentions,
starting with their perception of needs and ending with how they decide
between alternatives to satisfaction” (Applbaum 2004, 29). Perhaps we first
ought to ask how any company might think of marketing soft drinks in
Papua New Guinea, of all places, as a viable business proposition.
In May 1991, Coca-Cola Amatil announced the signing of contracts for
the acquisition of the two major Coca-Cola bottling operations in PNG at
102 Coca-Globalization

a price of 27 million kina (A$36 million). The operations were acquired

from Steamships Trading Company, which in 1969 became the first “local”
company licensed to bottle Coca-Cola in what was then the Trust Territory
of Papua and New Guinea.2 At the time, 51 percent owned by the U.S.-
based Coca-Cola Company, Coca-Cola Amatil (CCA) was Australia’s dom-
inant producer of soft drinks and snack foods, with market shares of 60
percent in each of these categories.3 It was also, until its split in 1998, The
Coca-Cola Company’s second largest “anchor bottler”; the split assigned
CCA’s European operations to a new bottler, Coca-Cola Beverages, based
in Vienna (Hays 1998b). CCA currently operates throughout Asia
(Indonesia, Thailand, South Korea) as well as elsewhere in the South
Pacific (Fiji, New Zealand).4 At the time of CCA’s purchase, one generous
estimate attributed 56 percent of the PNG share market to Coca-Cola and
44 percent to Pepsi-Cola; by 1997, CCA claimed two thirds of PNG’s entire
soft drink market (“Coca-Cola Amatil Claims PNG Sales Victory” 1997).
For most of the same period, the Pepsi franchise in Papua New Guinea,
Niugini Beverages, belonged to South Pacific Brewery (SPB), which
acquired it in 1985 from Burns, Philp & Company Ltd., the Australian-
based food group. SPB built a new soft drink plant in Port Moresby and
modernized an old plant in Lae. South Pacific Brewery, which in 1954 came
under control of Malayan Breweries Ltd., was by then the one and only
producer of beer in PNG, having absorbed San Miguel Brewery in 1983. In
2005, South Pacific Brewery Ltd. was a 75.8 percent owned subsidiary
of the Singapore-based Asia-Pacific Breweries Ltd., itself a joint venture of
Fraser and Neave Limited and the Heineken N.V. international brewing
group (2004 APB Annual Report). SP Holdings Ltd., a local umbrella com-
pany set up in 1973 that owned South Pacific Breweries and its subsidiaries
in PNG, relinquished its Pepsi franchise and withdrew from the soft drink
business in January 2000, when The Coca-Cola Company acquired bot-
tling rights to all Schweppes brands in PNG; Niugini Beverages had previ-
ously bottled these products. (SP Holdings was put into voluntary
liquidation in 2001, leaving South Pacific Brewery Ltd. as a surviving sepa-
rate entity.) By mid-2000, no PepsiCo brands (such as Pepsi-Cola and
Mirinda) were being bottled in PNG, although two years later I noticed
cans of Pepsi-Cola imported from Queensland, Australia, on supermarket
shelves in Port Moresby.
One might reasonably wonder what sort of potential such large
transnational corporations saw in the small PNG market for soft drinks.
(According to the 1999 CCA Annual Report, PNG had a population of
about 4.6 million, of which CCA estimated that it serviced 3.8 million; in
its 2003 report, CCA estimated five million potential consumers in the
A Network of Perspectives 103

country). CCA executives had a compelling and distinctive way of answer-

ing this question. In retrospect, they seemed to imagine all the markets that
the company was moving into in 1991 in much the same way as Roberto
Goizueta envisioned the almost infinite universe of Coca-Cola’s business.
And it was this shared vision of potential infinite growth that drove CCA’s
massive capital investments in new Asian markets, including the market in
PNG. Consider, for example, the comments of Dean Wills, who in 1991
was chairman and managing director of CCA, regarding joint ventures that
enabled CCA to capture 40 percent of Indonesia’s soft drink market:
“While the per capita consumption of Indonesia . . . is a far cry from Aus-
tralia, it has a 7 per cent growth in gross domestic product and, with a pop-
ulation of 180 million, that represents excellent opportunities during the
next few years.” From Wills’s point of view, the consumption gap between
Indonesia and Australia—much like the gap between Australia and Eastern
European countries where CCA formerly operated—would inevitably
close with increasing “economic and political sophistication”: “When
countries emerge from such controlled backgrounds they start getting the
taste for all things Western and while the cars and houses come much later,
a can of Coke is a cheaper, more easily identifiable and accessible status
symbol” (Cummins 1991). This is no doubt another conceit. It is also, how-
ever, an approximate mapping of other people’s meanings, a routine
instance of how the marketing of soft drinks happens within a network of
perspectives, in PNG as elsewhere.
It is unlikely that the use to which Huli women like Agnes put Coke cans
is what Coca-Cola Amatil officials had in mind when they talked about
“the development of a soft drink culture” in Papua New Guinea (CCA
Annual Report 1994). Such development requires “establishing the basics
of acceptability,” and acceptability, they imagine, is achieved through an
effort called “community based marketing”: “a host of grassroots promo-
tional and marketing activities including market impact teams (MIT’s),
sampling, door to door selling, special events sponsorships such as regional
fairs, sporting and music sponsorships and consumer promotions and
contests.” Indeed, in PNG, sponsorships and promotions/contests are the
prime vehicles for marketing soft drinks and other everyday consumer
goods—Trukai rice, Maggi noodles and stock cubes, Benson and Hedges
cigarettes, Nestlé’s Milo chocolate drinks and Nescafé, Wrigley’s PK chew-
ing gum, Gillette razors and deodorants. They are the practical means by
which transnational corporations, acting locally, seek to make themselves
and their worldly things at home in Papua New Guinea or, as one Port
Moresby marketing executive told me, to make products “become a per-
son’s friend.”
104 Coca-Globalization

It is through sponsorships in particular that CCA discharges its

“responsibility as a good corporate citizen.” As the CEO of operations put
it, “We strive not only to earn the respect of customers and consumers, but
of governments, authorities and communities where we operate. That is,
we involve ourselves in a range of activities over and above those dictated
by our operational imperatives” (CCA Annual Report 1995). In Papua New
Guinea, it is through sponsorships that CCA not only plays the role of good
citizen, but also practically assumes state functions by financially facilitat-
ing the delivery of health and education services to non-corporate citizens
(see Chapter 5). These state functions include a glocalized form of nation
making, whereby sponsorships enable Papua New Guineans to represent
themselves as a nation to each other and to the world at large. For example,
CCA undertook sponsorship of the PNG team sent to the 2000 Olympic
Games in Sydney. Special labels were produced for five-hundred-milliliter
bottles of Coca-Cola that exhorted consumers to “Send PNG to Sydney.”
Proceeds from the sales of these bottles went toward supporting the PNG
team. Hence, the advertising copy that linguistically performs nationhood
by merging the second person singular with the first person plural: “When
you drink a 500 ml ‘Coca-Cola’ you are donating to our Olympic team.”5
Olympic sponsorship—and sponsorship of World Cup soccer—is of
course a deliberate part of The Coca-Cola Company’s larger marketing
strategy of associating itself with “the world’s only truly global sporting
events” (2002 Annual Report). But it is worth noting how, in PNG, such
sponsorship is often construed by corporate officials and mainstream
media as an opportunity for a small, young, and under-resourced nation to
participate in a world forum. Mindful of the “competitiveness of such a
tough world class event,” CCA (PNG) Ltd.’s general manager Paul Dobb
was quick to temper hopes for winning a medal. “But what Papua New
Guineans should remember,” one newspaper report of CCA’s sponsorship
quoted Dobb as saying, “is that the country will be represented by a ‘special
group of athletes’ and they should take pride in the fact that PNG’s very
own athletes will be there at the world’s greatest competition, flying the
country’s national colours” (Liri and Banian 2000). Put differently, CCA’s
sponsorship gave PNG access to a global system of common difference,
and thus to a basic form of national legitimacy; the nation would be able to
make itself legible within the conventions of the international community.
But, of course, formal and equivalent representation did not guarantee that
the nation would be able to compete equally, as PNG athletes “would be up
against professionals from USA, Europe and the rest of the world.”
The nation making involved in corporate sponsorships not only enables
formal and equivalent representation of PNG as a definite nation among
A Network of Perspectives 105

many nations, but also the representation of PNG as a multicultural

nation-state. Through their sponsorship of annual cultural festivals—
regional shows or fairs highlighted by competitions among groups
performing traditional songs and dances in traditional costumes (see
Chapter 2)—consumer goods corporations publicize two related claims.
First, the sponsorships demonstrate that, alongside the diversity of tradi-
tional cultures in PNG, there is a uniformity of consumer products; that is,
the shared culture of PNG—the national culture—is in many respects a
commercial culture. Consumption of Pepsi-Cola soft drinks or Trukai rice
cuts across local cultural differences. There is a species of economic nation-
alism at work here as well, captured in the slogan and logo, “PNG Made,”
which began appearing on certain consumer goods, including cans and
cartons of Coca-Cola, around 1997—a clear assertion of the product’s self-
representation as simultaneously global and local. Consumption is thus
linked with citizenship and endorsed as a form of practical patriotism.
Second, the sponsorship of cultural festivals—the Port Moresby Show,
the Hiri Moale Festival, the Goroka Show—identifies consumer goods not
only with the multicultural nation(-state), but also with modernity itself. It
is in this context that soft drinks, for example, are qualified (not to men-
tion sold and consumed ) as the modern complements of indigenous tra-
dition. That is, it is in these contexts that soft drink companies bring their
unambiguously foreign products within the same frame as material arti-
facts defined, by contrast, as unambiguously domestic. This semiotic move
is not, however, the same as that effected by Huli women such as Agnes or
by the sign painter Kaipel Ka (see Figure 1.2), for it is a move that remains
forever incomplete. It generates a composite of discrete heterogeneous ele-
ments—bare breasts and Pepsi bottles; a juxtaposition, not a blending
(Chapter 2). Here, then, is a projection of Papua New Guineans—a map-
ping of other people’s meanings—as a new generation of people whose
collective identity derives from the ever present, infinitely repeatable
encounter of tradition and modernity. The national identity that crystal-
lizes from this imagery is a suturing of past and present, indigenous and
exogenous, tradition and modernity. The nation of PNG embodies or con-
tains, now and forever, an encounter between radically heterogeneous ele-
ments—much like a fetish (Pietz 1985, 1987, 1988). But whereas soft drink
marketers implicitly qualify the conjunction of modernity and tradition as
a positive coupling, not all Papua New Guineans share this perspective, as I
demonstrate later in this chapter.
Another state function discharged through corporate sponsorships is
that of moral education (a corollary of nation making). To a large extent,
the participation of consumer goods corporations—and especially soft
106 Coca-Globalization

drink corporations—in moral education follows naturally from a market-

ing strategy that targets youth as the most desirable category of consumer
(in a country where approximately 38 percent of the population is under
the age of fifteen). CCA and SP Holdings (when the latter was active in the
soft drink business) would regularly and with great publicity stage promo-
tions in the schools of Port Moresby, distributing T-shirts or athletic
equipment emblazoned with logos all in the name of healthy bodies. In
1996, the Australian pop group Hot Hot Hot—a sort of Spice Girls act—
toured primary schools promoting both Fanta Orange and a “say no to
drugs” message—a deeply ironic message given the history of sugar as a
narcotic instrumental in making the nineteenth century working classes
work (Mintz 1986). The following year, CCA teamed up with the National
Narcotics Bureau to sponsor an antidrug campaign that featured a speaker
who told young people about her struggles with addiction. An editorial in
the Post-Courier newspaper praised the campaign, observing that “without
corporate sponsors like Coca-Cola, such programs would not eventuate
because of the Government’s financial handicaps” (“Listen to the Message”
For several years, SP Holdings sponsored the annual nationwide Pepsi
Fun Run, a major fundraising activity of the PNG Sports Federation.6 In
1998, the event raised a record 147,510 kina (one PNG kina was equivalent
to forty-five U.S. cents in 1998) through its T-shirt auction, in which vari-
ous local companies purchased the Pepsi branded shirts, donated by SP
Holdings, for distribution to community schools around the country. So,
for example, the Post-Courier dutifully reported its own generosity on July
24, 1997, by picturing the newspaper’s administration manager amidst a
crowd of excited students at the Wildlife Community School in Port
Moresby, recipient of six hundred T-shirts. CCA similarly has “a close rela-
tionship with the Papua New Guinean Sports Commission” and is “proud
to have been able to sponsor the first PNG Sporting Calendar” in 2004
(, accessed February 14,
2005). In 1996, CCA donated one hundred sporting kits that included
equipment (various kinds of balls) and manuals for teaching “Coca-Cola
Pikinini Sport” as a supplement to physical education at schools in four
different provinces across the country (“New Equipment Gives the Kids a
Boost!” 1996). Just as with the antidrug campaign, such marketing spon-
sorships ally soft drink companies with state agencies and departments,
effecting a highly visible form of corporate citizenship (see Chapter 5). Not
much has changed since 1992, when then Prime Minister Rabbie Namaliu,
in an appeal to the public to support the fun run, noted the growing
importance of sponsorship for financing sports programs in PNG: “Sport
A Network of Perspectives 107

is becoming increasingly commercial and during these tough economic

times, the Government can only do so much” (quoted in Foster 2002, 93).
These sponsorships, moreover, connect products commonly character-
ized as unhealthy and inappropriate for children with official national
ideals of raising a population of strong, fit, healthy, and morally sound
Clearly, “community based marketing” is anything but “over and above”
CCA’s operational imperatives or the imperatives of any consumer goods
company operating in an environment like Papua New Guinea where mass
media are hardly pervasive and the availability of many products is highly
uneven; it is among the principal and integral means through which new
consumers are made—and made both brand-aware and brand-loyal. Mar-
keting executives with whom I spoke in Port Moresby sometimes expressed
ambivalence about this condition. One executive volunteered his concern
about the steady focus of his clients on children, on frequently organizing
product launches and promotional activities on school grounds—regard-
less of the donations these clients often make to the PNG Department of
Education. But he then quickly observed, noting the contradiction, that his
firm was about to organize a sports day at one school, where donations of
athletic equipment would be made and the students used to make an
advertisement for a sugary energy drink.
Another executive, responding explicitly to the critique of imported
consumerism dramatized by the film Advertising Missionaries, pointed out
that many of the consumer goods that he markets are not luxuries, but
affordably packaged basic products “designed to improve on people’s
lifestyles”; to improve on their “nutritional intake” and “personal hygiene.”
Hence, the strong educational component of many marketing campaigns,
as exemplified by the launch of Colgate Superstrong Toothpaste with Tok
Pisin packaging.7 The launch was undertaken jointly by the PNG Health
Department and Colgate-Palmolive (PNG) Ltd. The Health Secretary
thanked Colgate-Palmolive for its partnership, while the Colgate-Palmo-
live general manager said that a company survey indicated limited usage of
toothpaste in rural areas. The newspaper report of the launch recalled the
marketing imagination of per capita soft drink consumption in noting that
“PNG had much lower toothpaste usage than Fiji, whose people consumed
396 g per head to PNG with 28 g per head” (“Toothpaste in Tok Pisin Pack-
aging” 2000). The Colgate-Palmolive general manager was quoted as say-
ing, “With the Tok Pisin packaging, this new product will be accessible to
the low wage earners. The Colgate Super Strong is very affordable at K1
[thirty-three U.S. cents in 2005] for a 40 g tube, putting to rest the fear of
toothpaste being a luxury product.” Affordability enables consumer goods
108 Coca-Globalization

producers to represent themselves as sensitive to the needs of financially

strapped PNG consumers. For example, Paul Dobb wrote a letter to the
editor of the Post-Courier, published on July 5, 2001, in which he asked that
readers be reminded that CCA had not raised the price of its products in
twenty-two months: “As responsible corporate citizens, Coca-Cola Amatil
has focussed its strategy towards our own efficiencies in order to keep our
product affordable and good value for money. I would like your readers to
know how responsible Coca-Cola has been in these difficult times.” These
efficiencies included the closure of CCA’s Port Moresby plant in 2001 and
a reduction in CCA’s total PNG work force from 652 employees (CCA
Annual Report 2000) to 595 (CCA Annual Report 2001).
The focus on youthful physical activity and drug-free bodies brings the
aims of CCA and other transnational corporations in line with those of the
nation-state in promoting a healthy population. At the same time, how-
ever, other community-based marketing initiatives—initiatives perhaps
more in line with the image of the global teenager—appeal to youthful
participation in an age-specific translocal subculture of music and fashion.
For example, music sponsorship has been a key feature of marketing soft
drinks in Papua New Guinea since before the expansion of commercial
broadcasting during the 1990s, when the bottlers of both Coca-Cola and
Pepsi products began underwriting radio and television programs that
aired contemporary music (and music videos) from PNG and abroad. In
1989, Coca-Cola sponsored the first music video television show, Mekim
Music, closely modeled on MTV; in 1993, a second show, Fizz, devoted to
PNG local music, was sponsored by Pepsi-Cola (until July 1990, Mekim
Music showed only foreign produced material; see Hayward 1995). In 1996,
Pepsi was sponsoring five other music programs in addition to Fizz, one of
which (World Chart) was a Sunday morning syndicated Top 40 radio
countdown show that ran on the FM Kalang service of the National Broad-
casting Commission. World Chart competed with a Coke-sponsored Top
40 countdown show on another FM station. In 2000, Coca-Cola sponsored
Coca-Cola Connection, an EM TV variety program for children that fea-
tured cartoons.
While much of the community marketing done in schools targets
younger children, music sponsorship targets older youth and accordingly
appeals to the notion that teens and young adults everywhere embrace a
subculture of unconventional, even rebellious desires. Accordingly, both
the Mekim Music and Fizz programs ran afoul of the PNG Censor for
broadcasting material deemed sexually inappropriate, including Madonna
video clips and a locally produced video that focussed on women’s
(clothed) buttocks (Hayward 1995). (In the mid 1990s, Benson and Hedges
A Network of Perspectives 109

entered the music scene, assuming sponsorship of Mekim Music [renamed

Golden Mekim Musik] and nationwide tours of musicians from PNG and
abroad [such as, in 1997, Nigerian reggae musician, Ras Kimono]. These
sponsorships associated contemporary music with a product that was
banned from advertising on radio and television in PNG; not even images
of a closed cigarette pack were allowed to be shown in connection with the
Benson and Hedges Golden Tones music video program.8)
The distinction between marketing to and through children (which,
one executive admitted, dubiously presupposes the influence of PNG chil-
dren on their parents) and marketing to young adults reflects a series of
fundamental dualisms that orient a basic segmentation of PNG consumers
into moieties. This segmentation was articulated to me in July 2000 by
Peter Aitsi, then general manager of PNG FM, the company that owned
and operated the country’s two independent commercial FM radio sta-
tions, NAU FM (Tok Pisin for “Now FM”) and YUMI FM (Tok Pisin for
“Us FM”). NAU FM, the older of the two stations, was oriented to urban
youth between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five (gender was not a fac-
tor in this segmentation). Its male and female disc jockeys projected “atti-
tude,” in Australian-accented English, and supplied fast moving news and
entertainment, including Western pop music; its advertising spotlighted
fast moving consumer goods and high tech items such as personal com-
puters. Promotions for NAU FM featured wrestling matches and bungee
jumping from a crane. NAU FM endeavored to be edgy, to push the limits.
It had generated public controversy with its “Doctor Love” program, frank
discussions of sexual desires, and its decision to play the song “Sex on the
Beach,” by a Dutch-American band, the title of which refers to a cocktail
popular at night clubs (the song was banned in Fiji but the ban was defied
by a station owned by the Fiji-based parent company of NAU FM). The
point of NAU FM, Aitsi said, was not to make everyone comfortable, but,
rather, “to encourage youth to start to question” and “to start to think”—to
start to ask “Why?”
YUMI FM, by contrast, targeted rural audiences in the 30 years old and
up category. YUMI FM broadcasted in Tok Pisin and styled itself as “your
community radio station,” providing interviews and health and education
information for listeners. YUMI FM’s advertising featured consumer
goods whose producers sought to establish and expand a rural market—
tinned meat and fish, rice, frozen chicken parts. YUMI FM sought to “grow
consumers”; its listeners were imagined to be conservative, as Aitsi put it,
with “a bit of a culture zone around them.” YUMI FM promotions featured
appearances by its disc jockeys in towns around PNG that attracted huge
crowds of all ages and elevated the disc jockeys to almost celebrity status.
110 Coca-Globalization

YUMI FM also launched CDs of traditional music (e.g., bamboo bands)

and sponsored cultural shows in the country’s different provinces. Not sur-
prisingly, perhaps, YUMI FM “attracts no criticism.” I often heard the sta-
tion being played on the dusty sixteen-seater vehicles that serve as public
buses (PMVs) in Port Moresby.
The differences between NAU FM and YUMI FM can be summarized in
a list of paired opposites that, again and again, provide reference points to
commercial agents—not to mention, at times, anthropologists—for imag-
ining and representing Papua New Guineans:

English/Tok Pisin

To a large extent, this list defines the discursive parameters within which
marketers, advertisers, and consumers in Papua New Guinea all operate,
even if not always in alignment with each other. The oppositions often
mark interfaces within the network of perspectives that takes shape around
products such as soft drinks. But it is clear that marketing executives rec-
ognize the list’s limitations as a device for imagining their audiences and
thus for mapping approximations of other people’s meanings. For exam-
ple, Peter Aitsi observed that YUMI FM, which started up in 1997, three
years after NAU FM, crossed all demographic boundaries, attracting listen-
ers in the young adult category mainly because of the language of broad-
cast, Tok Pisin. He further suggested that, although relations between
village and town have indeed become “more stretched” or spatially exten-
sive for many Papua New Guineans, the basic opposition between rural
and urban obscures the extent to which new urban subcultures were devel-
oping among second generation youth born and raised in Port Moresby.
The same youth who, when asked where they are from, give the names of
their home suburbs—Gerehu, Boroko, Waigani, and so forth—rather than
their parents’ village or province of origin. I will return to this point
Promotions and contests, often connected with sponsorships (as in the
Pepsi Fun Run), form the second leg of community-based marketing of
A Network of Perspectives 111

soft drinks. This fact ought to be apparent to even the most casual observer
of material culture in the towns and villages of PNG. Legions of people of
all ages walk about in Pepsi and Coca-Cola branded hats and T-shirts, car-
rying backpacks, brandishing wristwatches, and kicking soccer balls all dis-
tinctively stamped with globally registered trademarks. The strategy is not
restricted to soft drinks. For example, Nestlé runs prize competitions for
Maggi Noodles and for its Milo energy drink. Thus, the text of a television
ad from 2000 that ran every evening during the six o’clock national news
program, complete with an Anglicized Tok Pisin catchphrase, read, “Slam
dunk na win with Milo! Five Milo packs to be won. Five lucky winners will
receive a Milo basketball backboard, a Milo sports pack, plus K100 cash. To
enter, write your name and address on the back of a Milo label and mail it
to Milo Slam na dunk, Lock Mailbag, Boroko. Entry forms with competi-
tion details and draw dates are available at participating stores and local
newspapers. Slam dunk na win with Milo!”
Marketing executives report that these contests and promotions are
enormously successful. In 1998, a Coca-Cola Amatil soccer ball promotion
was so successful that more than 100 percent of the forty thousand balls
budgeted for the promotion were redeemed by consumers who had pur-
chased cans with the word “WIN” marked inside (“Soccer Ball Contest”
1998). The company honored the promotion, however, going so far as to
take out urbanized/Anglicized Tok Pisin announcements (toksave) in Eng-
lish language newspapers explaining that it had run short of soccer balls
but was planning to distribute more the following month.9 One executive
complained to me of fatigue after having participated in so many of these
giveaways, a marketing strategy employed to retain consumers in
response to the devaluation of the kina. Another marketing executive, an
expatriate Australian, observed that giving away a hat for free was a big
deal in PNG; and one former advertising account and sales manager, also
an expatriate, bluntly asserted that promotions are obviously more popu-
lar in PNG than Australia: “people are poor here.” There seems to be a sim-
ple explanation for the success of such giveaways in the material
circumstances of most Papua New Guineans.
Nevertheless, a different explanation is possible. An executive in charge
of events and promotions for one of the soft drink companies, a Papua
New Guinean in his mid-twenties (who, although born in New Britain,
considers himself most at home in Port Moresby) related the success of
giveaways to the “handout mentality” of Papua New Guineans. He
explained the “handout mentality” as “a two-way thing for us in society:
you give, we take; we give, you take.”10 As a result, he continued, “the only
way a promotion works—normally, in most instances—is when giving
112 Coca-Globalization

away a commodity or premium . . . and that’s accepted. Otherwise, you find

that it just becomes a flop . . . It’s not that successful if you are not giving
anything in return” (or if the odds of winning a contest are only one in
twenty). In other words, contests and giveaways appeal to local expecta-
tions about reciprocity, about the give and take of social life. This perspec-
tive on marketing thus sees the giveaway not as “something for nothing,”
but as the return on a commodity purchase, thereby folding the commod-
ity purchase within the conventions of a gift relationship. Promotions
must measure up to the perceived expectations of reciprocity—even if it is
just a reasonable chance at reciprocity—or face failure. This marketing
perspective, then, imagines PNG consumers not as poor or needy individ-
uals, but as agents acting upon a set of conventions that put a premium, so
to speak, on engaged and symmetrical sociality. Nevertheless, if premiums
are given and received as gifts, they surely may be recirculated as com-
modities. When I asked a security guard at a guesthouse in Port Moresby
how he had acquired his Coca-Cola wristwatch, he told me that he had
bought it at an urban market for four kina (approximately U.S. $1.20
in 2002).
While most giveaways in PNG involve mass distributions of inexpensive
items, there are notable exceptions (which flagrantly violate the expecta-
tion of a reasonable chance at reciprocity). For example, in 1999, SP Hold-
ings sponsored the Pepsi Dream Home competition, in which a lucky
winner would collect a house and land package. The National reported that
Stan Joyce, SP Holdings marketing manager, called the winners, Mary and
Nepa Dawaong, a Port Moresby couple married for a year and expecting
their first child. According to the report, “Nepa is unemployed and [Mary]
was a domestic servant until her expatriate boss relocated to Lae. They
were both just getting by day to day selling betelnut” (“Dream Come True”
1999). The house and land package was a dream come true for the couple.
After the departure of Pepsi from the PNG market, CCA launched the
“Coke-Win-A-Haus” nationwide competition in which four contestants
won a complete home package. The promotion was one of “the biggest ever
held in PNG,” with about one million entries from all four regions of the
country (Metta 2001). The winner from the Mamose region (Madang,
Morobe, and Sepik Provinces), former health worker Maison Uranoli, had
his kit home transported from Lae to Aupik village in East Sepik Province.
He said his victory was “a miracle for him as his old semi-permanent house
was on the verge of collapse.” John Sarufa, a winner from Kerema in the
Gulf Province, had his home—complete with solar energy for hot water,
three bedrooms, a kitchen and toilet facilities—built at a cost of more than
K50,000 at Mahuru village (his birth place) in Port Moresby. Sarufa “said
A Network of Perspectives 113

that he had always dreamt of owning a home and the promotion had made
his dream a reality” (Dau 2001). If mass giveaways fit the received anthro-
pological description of gift exchange, then house competitions conform
more closely to classic accounts of “cargo cults” in which members antici-
pate and seek to bring about the arrival of vast amounts of Western mate-
rial goods (see Lindstrom 1995). A colleague thus told me that he had
recorded a few dream narratives from one particular informant in the East-
ern Highlands Province during the time of a Coke pickup truck giveaway.
The importance of the color “red” indicated that the dream had to do with
winning the Coke truck: “People invested a great deal of psychic energy
into dreaming about the potential cargo” (Tom Strong, personal commu-
nication, May 28, 2002).
Besides sponsorships, promotions, and contests, community marketing
in PNG takes the form of charity. Hardly a day passes without at least one
newspaper report of corporate generosity, complete with a photograph
of company officials presenting oversized mock checks to representatives of
local schools, churches, and health organizations. The amounts of these
checks are often exceedingly modest, and it is difficult not to remark how
cheaply transnational corporations can purchase positive publicity in the
PNG media. For example, The National reported on December 8, 1998,
that the Salvation Army was concentrating its Christmas food relief efforts
on families living at the Baruni garbage dump outside Port Moresby. The
article, titled “Coca Cola Gives 10 Cartons for X’mas Hamper,” quoted
the Coca-Cola sponsorship coordinator: “This shows that we are helping the
community.” Nevertheless, corporate charity is a visible and important
part of fundraising for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operating
in PNG, such as the Red Cross, the beneficiary of the annual Miss PNG
contest. In this way, community marketing enables companies such as
CCA to represent themselves as super-citizens, both discharging the
functions of a state too weak to do so itself and supporting the vital
efforts of NGOs in direct contact with the neediest of PNG’s population
(see Chapter 5).
Finally, CCA’s community marketing in PNG, like the company’s mar-
keting worldwide, involves an effort to insert the product into every possi-
ble context of consumption, until “you know, it’s there,” as Ira Herbert
explained. In 2000, when I returned to PNG after a hiatus of three years, I
observed this effort in the form of a pushcart program that enabled ven-
dors to sell cold CCA products at markets and bus stops in major cities
such as Port Moresby and Lae as well as along the sides of roads linking
these cities to rural areas. Errington and Gewertz (2004, 226) have noted
that each of these carts was conspicuously labeled in Tok Pisin as a “Coke
114 Coca-Globalization

Ples.” The phrase can be translated into English as “Coke Place,” but this
gloss loses the sense in which ples is the Tok Pisin word for “home.” Both a
wage-laborer in town referring to his rural village and a rural villager visit-
ing her neighbor might equally say “Mi go long ples nau” (I am going home
now). There is thus something alarming in Errington and Gewertz’s sug-
gestion that “at least according to CCA’s definition of geography, wherever
one travels in Papua New Guinea, one either is, or soon will be, at a loca-
tion that, whatever its local meaning, is a place of Coke.” Clearly, this mar-
keting effort appreciated the “mutability of home” and accepted the
challenge of reembedding worldly things in highly localized settings
(Chapter 1). Whether Papua New Guineans feel at home in a Coke place is,
of course, another question.


During the 1990s, four small Port Moresby-based firms handled the mar-
keting of worldly things—branded global consumer goods—in PNG.
These firms—HRD and Savi (which had merged by 2000), Pacific View
Multimedia, and Craft Works—also produced print, radio, and television
advertising for transnational clients.11 They were all headed by men, expa-
triate (mostly Australian) creative and managing directors, some of whom
had lived and worked in PNG for ten years or more; they employed Papua
New Guineans in a variety of capacities, including production and editing
as well as acting. Expatriate creative/managing directors often dealt with
expatriate marketing managers assigned to PNG on short term contracts,
some of whom enjoyed considerable latitude in making decisions about
promotional if not thematic advertising. These everyday operating condi-
tions—in which non-Papua New Guineans (white men) created advertise-
ments for Papua New Guinean audiences—bear directly on the question of
how cultural producers imagine the people whom they address. This ques-
tion is particularly relevant to understanding the network of perspectives
assembled by products such as soft drinks. For if the particular image of
audiences elaborated by producers shapes the products offered to con-
sumers, then this image no less shapes commercial media products such as
advertisements broadcast to mass audiences. Indeed, it is this image that
discursively constructs “the audience” as a social fact.
The virtual absence of market research in Papua New Guinea means
that the image of the audience that motivates cultural producers derives in
large part from a combination of folk theory and trial-and-error experi-
ence.12 In the early to mid-1990s, I sometimes heard advertising agents
make unilinear evolutionary claims that Papua New Guinea is where the
A Network of Perspectives 115

United States was in the 1940s or where Australia was in the 1950s. That is,
the Papua New Guinean media audience was, by and large, imagined to be
unsophisticated, capable of understanding only the most basic and
uncomplicated forms of advertising. Some marketing and advertising
agents recommended the general strategy of KISS: Keep It Short and Sim-
ple (or, as one agent put it, Keep It Simple, Stupid). This recommendation
was not restricted to expatriates. For example, a Papua New Guinean com-
mercial artist, who produced print ads for a weekly newspaper, responded
to my question about how he might advertise canned mackerel with a
sketch of a large tin beneath a single Tok Pisin word, in block capital letters:
KISSIM! (Take it!). The philosophy of Keep It Short and Simple requires
that ads always plainly say something about the product and issue an
unambiguous call to action. Ads should be single-minded and focused, lit-
eral statements about the specific product rather than metaphorical stim-
uli for warm and fuzzy feelings about the brand. Put differently, the KISS
approach defines an exceedingly narrow range of attributes (price and
taste) within which to qualify products.
This tactical requirement of single-mindedness was thought to be espe-
cially important when launching new products into the market, products
with which potential consumers were likely to be unfamiliar—a not
uncommon circumstance in Papua New Guinea. In 1992, for example, an
advertisement of epic proportions appeared on EM TV. (In December
2004, when EM TV was acquired by Fiji Television Ltd., the station had an
estimated audience of 2.5 million people, and a share of around 38 percent
of PNG’s advertising market.) It ran for what seemed like several full
minutes—a distinct possibility given the low price of media time in Papua
New Guinea.13 The ad, done by Pacific View, was for Maggi chicken stock
cubes. It featured protracted demonstrations of how to use the cubes as fla-
voring for a variety of one-pot stews, to which were added vegetables,
tubers, frozen meat pieces (e.g., lamb flaps and chicken parts), and—at a
decisive moment—the Maggi stock cube. At this point, the cooking
demonstration was interrupted by a dancing chicken, or more precisely, by
a person dressed in a chicken costume, the Maggi kakaruk (Tok Pisin for
chicken). In short, the ad was nothing less than a visual instructional man-
ual for using chicken bouillon cubes, reinforced by the deployment of
demonstration vans giving away free samples in PNG’s towns. Simple but
not short, the ad ended by emphasizing the low cost of the cubes which
(like Colgate toothpaste) were available in unusually small packages, three
cubes for fifteen toea (then about fifteen U.S. cents). According to the ad’s
producer, Andrew Johnston of PacificView, it was a tremendous success.
And by any account, the extensive spread of Maggi products—especially
116 Coca-Globalization

Maggi instant noodle (ramen) packages—throughout the country over the

last ten years has been impressive. Johnston reported receiving a personal
letter from a senior executive in Nestlé’s Asia-Pacific region, thanking him
for opening up a whole new market.
Similar educational ads could still be seen running in 1996. For exam-
ple, one lengthy television ad for “hair products for the modern woman in
PNG” featured step-by-step instructions on how to use shampoo, condi-
tioner, and scalp treatments. At the same time, however, ads were being run
in which the product made no appearance at all. One ad for Globe brand
meat products showed several squealing piglets, swathed in diapers, frol-
icking together while a whimsical doo-wop tune played in the background;
the only voiceover was the ending jingle: “The trusted brand of PNG.” A
skeptical representative of the agency responsible for the ad explained that
the client wished to associate his products with the idea of taking care of
children. By 1997, Phil Sawyer of HRD could say that advertising for Trukai
rice had entered its third generation, and that Papua New Guinean audi-
ences were indeed able to appreciate the latest campaign. A television ad
running at the time revealed a bowl of steaming rice only in the final frame,
but the images that came before were “heavily branded,” drawing on the
well established marketing connection between the Trukai rice and com-
petitive body building. In fact, one agency (Savi) specialized in the produc-
tion of exactly the sort of “warm and fuzzy” brand enhancing ads that are
anathema to the advocates of KISS. These ads were almost always produced
overseas, for international clients, and at a high level of technical quality
that distinguished them from most other locally produced ads.14
The professed contrast between didactic, literal ads and evocative,
metaphorical ads reflected some of the inconsistencies in the discourse
through which advertising agents constructed “the PNG audience.” On the
one hand, creative and managing directors would insist that Papua New
Guineans are brand loyal and brand aware. One director, for example,
claimed that logos and mascots were particularly important to consumers.
On the other hand, directors would point out that promotions and give-
aways succeed because they entice consumers to switch brands or that
availability rather than brand loyalty was the crucial determinant of pur-
chases. (Indeed, as an insightful colleague noted, this constant switching to
brands that give more away mirrors the strategies of PNG voters who
repeatedly switch allegiances to candidates running for elected office,
ignoring claims of party loyalty in favor of access to campaign distribu-
tions.) A marketing manager responsible for Pepsi soft drinks thus said,
with obvious frustration, that getting the product into stores and retail
outlets—which often meant supplying refrigeration units—was far more
A Network of Perspectives 117

important than advertising. In fact, by 1997, rival CCA had begun to install
vending machines at some of the precious few secure locations around
Port Moresby, for example, in the departure lounge at the airport and the
lobby of a high-rent apartment building. The contrast between literal and
metaphorical ads also reflected the tension, endemic to the advertising
business, between the desires and expectations of the client and the expert-
ise and intuition of the ad agency. One executive thus deflected my ques-
tion about whether Papua New Guineans appreciated “image ads” by
pointing out that such ads definitely appealed to many of the corporate
clients paying for them.
To what do Papua New Guineans aspire? The question is clearly relevant
to understanding how a network of perspectives takes shape around con-
sumer goods, including soft drinks; advertisements are among the few
media vehicles through which Papua New Guineans can contemplate rep-
resentations of themselves (especially on broadcast television, which is
dominated by foreign programs ranging from Australian soap operas to
American situation comedies and police dramas). All the advertising direc-
tors with whom I spoke took it for granted that these representations
should be aspirational—images of the desirable. These images are often
intended to address (and perforce construct) a Papua New Guinean urban
middle class, a segment of the population imagined to be relatively small
but with the greatest disposable income available for purchasing worldly
things. One director, for example, explained that he would never show
products being used by people living in an urban settlement—one of the
many unofficial makeshift housing clusters that have sprung up around
Port Moresby and other towns in PNG. He claimed that, on the other hand,
product endorsements by expatriate celebrities no longer carry mimetic
force with consumers. Another creative director, however, pointed out that
he had no qualms about putting expatriates in ads when they are part of
the market for the product being sold, such as bottled water, and perhaps
in such cases their presence would provide a stimulus for emulation by
some Papua New Guineans. A Papua New Guinean production assistant
who had also worked on the bottled water ads said that he enjoyed the
project since it promoted a “neutral” product, something that anyone
might consume—unlike, for example, products for age- or gender-specific
market segments (cigarettes, cosmetics, and so forth).
The ideas that marketers entertain about the aspirations of Papua New
Guineans affect the ways in which “culture”—custom or tradition (kastam
in Tok Pisin)—is or is not represented in ads. For example, a Pepsi market-
ing manager summarized his sense of the audience’s aspirations with the
assertion that people living in villages aspired to the lifestyles of people
118 Coca-Globalization

living in towns. Accordingly, he was not interested in making ads in Tok

Pisin, or in portraying people in traditional dress or in village settings. He
specifically dismissed one television ad in which an Asaro mudman drank
Pepsi as simply “not real” and “unpersuasive.” The Asaro mudmen are
masked dancers from the Goroka area, well known in PNG and popular
among foreign tourists for their costumed performances. Whereas the use
of Asaro mudmen in commercial advertising has engendered controversy
over rights to cultural property and respect for indigenous traditions (Otto
and Verloop 1996), the objection here was differently motivated: qualifying
Pepsi-Cola as Papua New Guinean was a flawed marketing strategy.
To some extent, this objection was a pointed reaction to the previous
marketing manager’s strategy of localizing Pepsi—with the long running
slogan “It’s Pepsi in PNG.” The new manager claimed that Pepsi was from
America, not PNG, and that Papua New Guineans not only knew this fact,
but also accepted it without prejudice. There was no need, he continued, to
“flog nationalism” to Papua New Guineans; marketing Pepsi as a sign of an
American—that is, modern, cosmopolitan—lifestyle might equally pro-
voke national self-consciousness. Papua New Guineans are comfortable
with the fact that they share consumer tastes and habits with people in
Australia or the United States (implicitly, the people whom Papua New
Guineans in towns aspire to be).15 While this sort of awareness might not
be typical of the masses, it was thought to be typical of the market segment
that the new manager hoped to address, namely, the relatively small group
of mostly young consumers who were able to make choices about the bev-
erages they consumed, including both soft drinks and alcoholic drinks
(since Pepsi was bottled by South Pacific Brewery). This was the same small
upscale group that was targeted in ads for new lines of beer, such as Niug-
ini Ice, that featured a handsome couple, attractively outfitted, drinking
beers in upscale lounge settings. Here, he explained, was a woman doing
something that her mother never could have done—enjoying a beer, and in
a public place no less.
Other advertising directors were much more open to the representation
of tradition and custom in ads, by which they usually referred to images of
traditional dress (bilas in Tok Pisin), songs, and dances. For example, one
creative director aimed to produce images of an “authentic” or “grassroots”
PNG, images mainly associated with rural village life. One series of his tel-
evision ads for a regional airline thus featured spectacular aerial shots—
taken from a camera mounted to the tail wing of a small prop plane—of
takeoffs and landings at some of the remote, hair-raising grass airstrips
serviced by the airline. The tagline of the ads was, “When you want to see
the real PNG. . . . ” Similarly, this director insisted on a degree of authenticity
A Network of Perspectives 119

when representing traditionally dressed performers, such as in ads

announcing the sponsorship of regional cultural shows by a transnational
tobacco corporation. Performers were not represented wearing any West-
ern clothing; bras and wristwatches, for example, were not shown. How-
ever, in cases where female performers preferred to wear breast coverings,
they might replace their bras with tapa cloth—even if the tapa cloth was
associated with an ethnic or regional culture other than that of the per-
formers themselves or if the resultant assemblage of traditional dress
amounted to a generic invention. The definition of tradition at work here
was, in effect, a negative one; tradition amounts to what remains after all
traces of modern/Western material culture are removed.
This particular creative director, when asked if he thought that the use
of custom and tradition for commercial purposes might offend some
viewers, responded by saying that, on the contrary, such advertising might
even contribute toward the preservation and revitalization of tradition for
future generations. While I have no doubt that this director’s sense of
authentic traditional culture was motivated by nothing but affection and
respect for local culture, other expats involved in marketing and advertis-
ing took a more cynical view. One claimed, in particular, that the represen-
tation of tradition in the form of bare-breasted women was an instance of
“expat perv,” little more than a poor excuse for soft pornography directed
at expatriates. The comment usefully reminds us how agents on the supply
side imagine not only prospective consumers, but also other rival agents
involved in the qualification of competing products.
The search for authenticity and locality in advertising did not always
lead to a stark choice between full-blown representations of Western
modernity and colorful images of bird-of-paradise plumes and nubile
women. For example, a marketing and events manager for Coca-Cola
Amatil explained that he tried to represent a hybrid urban youth culture
that he observed around him in Port Moresby and other PNG towns. A key
feature of this hybrid culture was its distinctive form of Tok Pisin, replete
with English words and slang neologisms. So, for example, when con-
fronted with the task of translating a Coca-Cola jingle into Tok Pisin from
the “Always” global ad campaign, this manager sought to communicate
“attitude” with the slang word, kusai. The words “Whenever there’s a pool,
there’s always a flirt” were thus rendered as “Sapos i gat graunwara, kusai
bai plenti tru” (“If there’s a pool, there’s a lot of kusai”).16 Kusai describes
someone acting a little crazy—not quite showing off, but performing in
over-the-top fashion—for example, jamming on an “air guitar” like a
histrionic rock star. What is worth emphasizing about this perspective,
however, is how it at once recognizes and creates a creolized blend of
120 Coca-Globalization

indigenous and exogenous symbolic forms and practices. It neither rejects

all markers of locality—including, of course, Tok Pisin, itself a creolized
language—nor projects a version of tradition purged of visibly Western
elements. Instead, like the perspective of the NAU FM manager, this per-
spective conjures up something imagined to be new and different—a kind
of local globality, perhaps—emerging in and spreading through the towns
of PNG but rapidly making its way into rural villages, too. As this CCA
manager observed, referring to his fellow Papua New Guineans, “We
move around.”
The creolizing, domesticating impulse manifest in certain Coca-Cola
advertisements was no doubt in part a function of the brand’s historic
associations with “tradition” and in part a market position vis-à-vis Pepsi-
Cola’s longstanding self-qualification as a pro-modern, antitraditional
brand. In any case, the impulse took creative shape in commercial media
representations of the actual urban contexts in which Papua New Guineans
consumed soft drinks. For example, during its promotion in connection
with the 2000 Olympic Games, CCA also launched the “Caught Red
Handed” campaign. Members of the company’s sales division would scout
around the Port Moresby area for people drinking five-hundred-milliliter
bottles of Coke. Individuals who were spotted would be given a promo-
tional T-shirt, and their photograph (posing with a CCA sales representa-
tive) would appear in the newspaper as an advertisement with the
deliberate look of a news story. One photo featured a somewhat timid
looking unnamed woman receiving a shirt from the hands of a CCA sales
supervisor. Its caption read, “This young lass was caught Red-handed with
her favourite drink 500 ml Coke at Waigani Second Hand Clothes Market.”
The photo situates the young woman’s consumption in a recognizable but
homely setting—an open-air market for used clothes; a setting readers
would perhaps find more familiar and plausible than aspirational
and inspiring.
These images recalled a much more elaborate print and television
advertising campaign that ran in 1997 and featured a University of Papua
New Guinea theater arts student as the intrepid on-the-scene reporter,
Derek Dawk. In the television ads, Dawk survives various humorous
mishaps in his efforts to report on a new phenomenon—the then newly
introduced five-hundred-milliliter PET bottles of Coca-Cola. The print
campaign took the form of ersatz newspaper reports, columns of text and
a photo beneath a headline all contained within a fine-lined box and
marked in small print with the word “advertisement.” More than a dozen of
these faux news items appeared, with stories and photos from around the
country. Many depicted situations that had a distinctively local flavor,
A Network of Perspectives 121

including some that referred to PNG’s notorious problems of “law and

order.” For example, beneath the headline “Smuggling Tip-Off a Hoax,” ran
a story that began “Mount Hagen police surprised a Hevi Lift charter and
its crew when they flashed search warrants to strip the plane for smuggled
arms.” Instead of finding arms, the police discover a cache of cartons of
five-hundred-milliliter bottles of Coca-Cola, which were selling at “an
alarming rate.” Another similar story, from Central Province, was head-
lined, “PMV truck caught at Roadblock!” Yet another story announced the
opening of a new trade store by the playfully named successful business-
man, “Mr. Opina Sto.”
All the ads in this campaign were humorous and whimsical, and all fea-
tured photos of ordinary Papua New Guineans holding Coke bottles in
poses staged for the “news” story. Many ads represented the consumption
of Coke as an inherently social activity, enjoyed in the company of others.
Fictional families picnicked together with Coke; a mother rewarded her
children with Coke bought at a roadside stand (Coke Ples); a golf champion
accepted two cartons of Coke instead of a trophy, claiming that while the
trophy would only gather dust on a shelf, the Coke could be shared with his
family and friends at a feast to welcome the victor back home. This empha-
sis on the social context of consumption—no doubt a deliberate contrast
with brand Pepsi’s uncompromising individualism—was even more evi-
dent in a television ad running about the same time. The ad depicted an
older woman wearing a Mother Hubbard blouse and carrying a string bag
(bilum)—dress marked as neither radically “traditional” nor self-evidently
“modern”—buying a two-liter Coke bottle and bringing it home. There
she served it (implausibly, to my eyes) in coconut half shells to people
seated at a table. This ad was unusual, however, in depicting the consump-
tion of Coke inside the home—a mode of consumption rarely seen in
advertisements in PNG. But it was completely in line with the candid
reflections of Ira Herbert on marketing soft drinks: “The trick to selling
Coca-Cola is to get it into the house, because it will move out. A case will
move out of the house practically as fast as a sixpack if it’s there . . . So the
trick is to have consumers stock an inventory—to increase how often they
drink and how much they drink and when they drink it . . . If I get a two-
liter in that house, it’s gone. Especially if it’s a house with kids” (Herbert
1996, 14).
While the Pepsi marketing manager felt that “flogging nationalism” was
inappropriate for his flagship product, other creative directors had few
qualms about addressing their audience as a national audience or, in other
words, using an appeal to nationality as a device for selling a product (see
Foster 2002).17 Local clients often specifically request this strategy in the
122 Coca-Globalization

briefs that they provide to advertising agencies. For example, a television

ad for a popular brand of tinned meat, Ox and Palm, attempted to induce
a certain national nostalgia, drawing upon the brand’s longtime presence
in the country. Both client and advertiser thus implicitly constructed an
audience with a shared product history and memory. The ad, moreover,
included representations of the diversity of the country—highlands and
islands, towns and villages, and so forth, all unified by the consumption of
the same brand: “The best bully beef in PNG. It’s made right here in PNG.”
In fact, imagining PNG as a diverse, multicultural nation provides adver-
tisers with a ready-made way of projecting the country to its citizens,
namely, through visual forms that combine images of people or places con-
ventionally recognized as belonging to a certain ethnic group or a certain
geographical region. This strategy was commonly used in the early 1990s
in producing station identification tags for EM TV, sixty second sequences
set to stirring music (including the national anthem) that summoned an
imagined community—the national audience of the one and only broad-
cast television station in PNG.
Advertising agents in Papua New Guinea struggled with the challenge of
addressing an audience (and representing that audience to itself) that they
imagined to be ethnically and linguistically diverse in the most extreme
sense of the word, as well as largely unable to read. A creative director
explained to me, for example, how he had approached the brand manager
for Mirinda, an orange-flavored soft drink in the PepsiCo portfolio of
brands, with the suggestion that ads then running overseas would be “bril-
liant” for use in PNG. These ads featured three mime performers, known as
the Blue Man Group, uniformly dressed in black; in the ads, however, the
bald heads and clean-shaven faces of the performers were painted not their
standard shiny blue but, instead, orange. No words were spoken in the ad;
the only sound heard was a straw going into a can and the words, “Ahhh-
hhh, Mirinda”: “What a perfect visual for PNG! It doesn’t matter what lan-
guage you spoke, and what color or creed you were, because these were
orange men.” The ads thus transcended the famous linguistic and ethnic
diversity of PNG, a country of over eight hundred different languages and
correspondingly wide cultural variation.
A television advertisement for Shell gasoline, featured every night dur-
ing the six o’clock news, similarly ran without narration but was accompa-
nied by a dynamic theme song with a pulsating electric bass guitar. The ad
was an apparent semiotic attempt to nationalize and corporatize the bod-
ies of various athletes—swimmers, runners, soccer players, weight lifters—
by dressing them in uniforms of red, black, and gold, the colors of both the
PNG national flag and the advertising schemes and logos of Shell gasoline
A Network of Perspectives 123

(see Foster 2002). In this ad, the issue of ethnic diversity was subsumed
within a representation of PNG as a nation of fit, competitive athletes, all
belonging to the same team. In other ads, however, the question of repre-
sentation presents certain difficulties, especially given the dictates of “cap-
italist realism,” in which actors portray not individuals but, rather,
archetypes.18 One creative director claimed to try to include actors that
appear to come from different regions within the country whenever possi-
ble. He showed me one of the few music videos he had produced as an
example. As we watched, a Papua New Guinean production assistant com-
mented on the various female dancers: “She’s Trobriand; she’s Kerema;
she’s Goroka.” Ultimately, decisions about regional/ethnic representation
hinge on the nature of the product. A television commercial for a brand of
ice cream available at the time only in the Highlands was accordingly shot
with Highlands-looking actors in a recognizably Highlands setting.
Another creative director said that he preferred to portray a “generic”
Papua New Guinean look, paying more attention to representing lifestyles
than regional/ethnic diversity. Sometimes this search for a “generic” look is
motivated by the desire to use the ad in a regional market that includes not
only PNG but also Vanuatu and Fiji. If this “generic” look often seems to
favor light-skinned, straight-haired (so-called mixed race) Papua New
Guineans, it is often as a result of the client’s specific requests. I was told a
revealing story about how an ad for a particular brand of milk, which
included several actors with the conventional look of Highlanders, was
rejected by the Australian-based representative of a transnational company
on the grounds that people in the ad were “ugly.” Here, as in the case
of brand enhancing “image ads,” a client’s prejudices about his company or
the product inflect the ways in which advertisers represent Papua New
Guineans to Papua New Guineans, in some cases contravening the adver-
tisers’ own sense of what counts as a locally appropriate and persuasive
representation. A disjunction or misalignment within the network of per-
spectives between differently situated cultural producers thus has potential
ramifications for the perspectives taken up by other actors elsewhere in the
network, especially Papua New Guineans consuming images of themselves
circulating through commercial mass media.
These disjunctions or misalignments can also occur when global clients
deliver briefs to PNG advertising and marketing companies based on the
client’s marketing experience in other developing countries, such as coun-
tries in sub-Saharan Africa. (For example, Benson and Hedges sponsored
concert tours in Africa—where Louis Armstrong toured on behalf of Pepsi
International in the 1950s—before pursuing the strategy in PNG in
1997.) Such large clients, I was told by one advertising agent, often show
124 Coca-Globalization

no inclination toward customizing or localizing ads, although they might

be open to slight non-thematic modifications. Another long-time cre-
ative/managing director remarked to me that, while he used to argue with
such clients, he now believes that global advertising, with slight modifica-
tions such as in pattern ads, can work in PNG.19
Advertising agents in PNG engage in acts of self-censorship in order to
prevent disjunctions in the network of perspectives that entangles them
and the audience that they address. Most advertising agents would readily
agree that Papua New Guineans are deeply conservative and highly sensi-
tive with respect to two topics in particular: religion and sex. These con-
cerns are not, in my view, unwarranted. Consider this letter from Alu K.
Taliko of Port Moresby to the editor of the Post-Courier, published on
December 10, 1997: “An advertisement by Globe [for its brand of cooking
oil] uses the slogan ‘A marriage made in heaven’ which is very disgusting.
The first marriage I know of is that of Adam and Eve (Gen 2:22) by God.
I’ve never read in any of the 66 books in the Bible where God arranged a
marriage in heaven between a chicken and a cooking oil.” Whence charges
of blasphemy might ensue can never be fully anticipated in PNG.
Advertisers try to avoid charges of not only blasphemy, but also pornog-
raphy. They worry more, however, about immodest “modern” dress for
women than about the bare breasts and penis sheaths associated with “tra-
ditional” garb. I was thus shown by a marketing manager two versions of a
print ad for a line of premium beer, one of which depicted an attractive
woman seated on a barstool wearing a tiny, tight miniskirt. This version of
the ad was never released, but instead replaced by one in which the same
model sits in a more modest business suit with knee-length skirt. Another
creative director said that he avoided images of any romantic display
between men and women. It would be acceptable to depict men walking
hand in hand with other men, a public display of friendship, but not men
and women walking hand in hand. In this regard, a male university student
from the Highlands complained to me about a particular television ad in
which a young man carried his girlfriend on his shoulders, a posture that
the student regarded with utter disgust.
Nevertheless, there seems to be evidence of more attempts to expand
the limits of using sexuality than to sell products by invoking God or reli-
gion. A television ad for Lux soap, for example, caused a stir by depicting a
lathered young lady in her shower, as did the depiction of a young woman
wearing jeans in a Pepsi ad. And images of male bodies—maximally mus-
cled and minimally clothed—abound in commercial advertising con-
nected in one way or another with the promotion of fitness and, more
specifically, body building. These images of male bodies have not, to my
A Network of Perspectives 125

knowledge, attracted any public criticism, and creative directors apparently

use them without hesitation, thereby qualifying the products so advertised
as strong and healthful.


How do Papua New Guineans receive and perceive the advertisements that
are addressed to them? How do they qualify and consume the worldly
things that are marketed to them? What are their perspectives—explicit
and implicit—on the perspectives that motivate the advertisers and mar-
keters of consumer goods?
Answers to these questions sometimes suggest radical disjunctions in
the network of perspectives that form around the movement of commodi-
ties in PNG, disjunctions motivated by profound differences in cultural
orientation among actors assembled by the network. For example, Jerry
Jacka (2001) reports how the discovery of a case of empty but unopened
cans of Coca-Cola at a new supermarket in a rough Highlands mining
town led to the performance of a healing ritual that had not been under-
taken in over thirty years. Clan elders reasoned that ancestral spirits, hun-
gry for the offerings that had previously been made on the site of the new
supermarket, had consumed the Coke (and possibly some tins of meat and
fish). In order to remedy the situation and to prevent further consumption
of “white people’s food” (one tomo in the local vernacular), clan elders sac-
rificed pigs beside the supermarket, the blood of which flowed into the
ground, sending the ancestors back whence they had come. This sacri-
fice—the first made since widespread conversion to Christianity in the
1960s—demonstrated ongoing claims to the land on which the supermar-
ket was situated and perforce claims to future compensation for its use.
From the perspective of the mining company, however, the event was sim-
ply a manifestation of superstitious belief, described in the official com-
munity newsletter as a feast to drive away evil spirits and ensure the
prosperity of the supermarket business. Jacka argues that company officials
thus failed to appreciate how local people appropriated Coca-Cola, per-
haps the preeminent worldly thing, to articulate claims for compensation
in the local vernacular of gift exchange.
Ancestral spirits are not the only ones consuming Coca-Cola and other
branded soft drinks in Papua New Guinea. Through the 1990s, soft drink
bottlers announced that Papua New Guineans were consuming more and
more soft drinks, at least in aggregate; happy evidence of a convergence of
interests and alignment of perspectives in the soft drink commodity net-
work. In its 1995 annual report, CCA described Papua New Guinea as “a
126 Coca-Globalization

great success story,” noting a 13 percent increase in sales volume and 16

percent increase in trading profit. Halfway through 1996, CCA reported
itself extremely pleased with “strong double digit growth in sales volume”
and a 20 percent increase in trading profit, which doubled the following
year. Similarly, SP Holdings announced in April 1997 a before tax profit of
25 million kina (approximately U.S. $18.5 million). The company’s general
manager, Mr. Tan Ang Meng, explained the 8.9 percent increase in profits
over the previous year despite the liquor bans declared in many provinces
of the country: “Our result of the last financial year was affected by the
ongoing prohibition in the Highlands. However, growth in soft drinks is
very encouraging and managed to offset the downturn in beer sales” (“SP
Holdings Posts K25m Profit” 1997). Although it is difficult to measure this
increase in consumption accurately, urban household surveys carried out
in the 1980s suggest that expenditures on soft drinks already accounted for
as much as 7 percent of all food and beverage purchases (Gibson 1995).
Through 1999 and 2000, CCA could claim growth in its sales volume in
PNG, largely due to increased availability, despite a dampening in con-
sumer demand caused by price increases resulting from the depreciation of
the PNG kina and high inflation. CCA also increased its capital expendi-
ture in PNG, investing in cold drink equipment following its acquisition of
Schweppes brands and the withdrawal of PepsiCo brands from the coun-
try. Similarly, the annual report of Asia Pacific Brewery for 1999 admitted
that depreciation and inflation were putting pressure on its Pepsi brand
sales in PNG, but also noted that several other soft drinks bottled by SP
Holdings (including Mirinda and the Schweppes brands) held the number
one position in their markets. In 2001, however, and for the next two years,
CCA reported a decline in trading profits for PNG, the result of a decline
in the value of the kina and an increase in the costs per unit case due to
inflation. Exact figures for sales volume are not readily available, since the
CCA annual reports bundle the figures for Oceania (PNG, Fiji, and New
Zealand), but in 2001, the decline in profits from PNG was great enough to
offset gains in New Zealand and Fiji.
How can we account for the growth in soft drink consumption in PNG,
at least before the post-2001 economic crisis? My own survey suggests that
growth in soft drink consumption accompanies the proliferation of new
contexts for food and beverage consumption outside the home. I con-
ducted the survey with the assistance of a class of journalism students from
the University of Papua New Guinea in July 1997. Sixty-nine people (forty-
six male, twenty-three female) in the Port Moresby area were interviewed
about their soft drink preferences and consumption habits; their ages
ranged from six to sixty, but 58 percent were between the ages of twenty
A Network of Perspectives 127

and twenty-nine. University students were heavily represented, but this cir-
cumstance allowed for participation of respondents from a wide variety of
ethnic backgrounds and from regions throughout the country.
Survey responses indicate that soft drink consumption is part of a
whole range of social transformations that involve the emergence of sched-
uled consumption contexts associated with wage-labor—contexts such as
“lunch” or “work break.” More generally, soft drink consumption is one
dimension of a new urban lifestyle that routinizes the consumption of
food outside the home—with or without meals in restaurants or at snack
bars, at school, or in the marketplace. Survey participants infrequently
indicated that they drank soft drinks at home, where many said they pre-
ferred to drink water. Instead, soft drink consumption occurred in the con-
text of shopping, lunching with fellow workers or students, “spinning”
(pleasure outings), or attending sporting events. Most soft drink con-
sumption therefore occurred in the presence of others—with others also
consuming—as a manifestly extra-household social activity. It was fitting,
then, to read a report published in the Post-Courier on December 29, 1997,
“Soft Drink Demand ‘Always’ a Problem at Christmas Time,” that claimed
soft drink demand was five times greater during the Christmas season than
at any other time of the year—not an unlikely result of the intensified
demands of holiday sociality, often funded by urban wage laborers visiting
their rural homes.
Little of this will come as unexpected to readers of Sidney Mintz’s book,
Sweetness and Power. Mintz described therein how the eating habits of the
working poor in eighteenth and nineteenth century Britain were trans-
formed by increasing sucrose consumption (especially in the form of stim-
ulating hot beverages such as sweetened tea). Much of his description
seems directly pertinent to contemporary soft drink consumption in
Papua New Guinea, including the way in which soft drink consumption is
often seen as the natural complement of high-calorie fast food consump-
tion (the equivalent of an English worker’s jam on bread). Thus the justifi-
cation given on the survey by one twenty-five-year-old woman, a secretary
at Telikom, for her preference for Coke: “Coke is more preferable [sic]
because it helps to dissolve unnecessary fat in the body. After taking greasy
and fatty food, I take Coke, coz it helps break down the fat. That’s why I like
Coke [more] than other drinks. Other drinks are too soft for me.” Or, as
another twenty-six-year-old woman answered the question of when she
usually drank soft drinks: “When I am having Big Rooster”—Port
Moresby’s humble answer to Kentucky Fried Chicken.
I must point out that many Papua New Guineans involved in the survey
emphasized that they consumed soft drinks in contexts in which no other
128 Coca-Globalization

choice was available to them: away from home in public spaces devoid of
drinking fountains. But much like the people Mintz wrote about, many
Papua New Guineans explicitly described soft drinks as a cheap food sub-
stitute: “I can just drink Coke and go without food for lunch,” or “It makes
me feel full when I’m hungry.” A thirty-five-year-old security guard from
Mt. Hagen working in Port Moresby told me that when he drank Coke, he
felt amamas (“happy” in Tok Pisin). Why? “Taim mi hangre, mi pulap tru!”
(“When I am hungry, it really fills me up!”) There is no denying, then, that
certain material constraints are shaping the emerging patterns of soft drink
consumption in Port Moresby. At the same time, there is no denying that
urban Papua New Guineans are using soft drinks as material supports for
the creation and recreation of social intimacy (especially intimacy among
men). The same security guard, when I asked about his strongly stated
preference for Coke over Pepsi, responded after a few seconds not by com-
paring the tastes of the two colas, but by telling me about how he would
play darts with other men, each contributing twenty toea (less than ten
U.S. cents in 1997) to the pot in a friendly competition to win Cokes.
Responses to a survey question asking when the last time the participant
had a soft drink often took the form of this one from a forty-two-year-old
unemployed man from Bundi, in the mountains of Madang Province:
“The last time I had a soft drink was 2 days ago. I drank a bottle of Coke. I
drank it at the bus stop at 6 mile while waiting for the bus. I was standing
with one of the guys whom I used to work with. He had bet on a winning
horse. So, when he saw me, he went into the shop, bought two bottles of
Coke and came and gave one to me.” Or this one, from a twenty-year-old
anthropology student from Koroba, in the Southern Highlands: “The last
time I had a soft drink was on 27-07-97 [3 days earlier]. I had a Coke. It was
for lunch. At about 1PM at Erima [a settlement in Port Moresby]. I wasn’t
alone. I was with 2 other boys who brought me the Coke and others attend-
ing a funeral were there as well. Actually, the guys bought the Cokes. I had
half of each bottle.” I had half of each bottle. Similar instances of sharing
soft drinks, as well as buying them for others, were common enough that
some survey participants explained why they acted otherwise. Thus, an
anthropology student from Manus reported that she had the day before
drunk one of the newly introduced five-hundred-milliliter bottles of Coke
at lunch time: “I had it all and I was definitely alone coz I didn’t want to
share.” A twenty-three-year-old art student from Madang confessed,
“When I’m drinking Coke, I hate to share my drink, because I always have
this fear of my colleague/friend could use it to make puripuri [sorcery]. If a
friend buys a drink, I buy it for him if I have enough. Otherwise I say, sorry
A Network of Perspectives 129

I can’t share my drink. I’m thirsty. Really, [inside of me] I’m scared to death
of puripuri.”
Here, then, is the Melanesia we anthropologists all know and love, land
of compulsive reciprocity and threats of sorcery. Put differently, here is the
Melanesia in which foreign imports are revalued in terms of domestic
agendas, where within the material constraints of tight budgets stretched
by the cheap calories of a Coke, other projects are accomplished. But in an
important way, this is not the Melanesia we all know and love; the socio-
cultural contexts in which urban Papua New Guineans appropriate a for-
eign import such as Coke or Pepsi differ from the contexts in which the
Papua New Guinean villagers of most ethnographies appropriate such
imports. In Port Moresby, the context in which Coke is consumed is often,
like the bottle of Coke itself—indeed, like the very space of the city—an
artifact of the spread of capitalism and its temporal routines: “lunch” or
“snack time” or “weekend.”20 In other words, the perspectives on the prod-
uct held by consumers in Port Moresby are likely to differ from perspec-
tives held by other otherwise situated consumers in PNG; these
perspectives imply qualifications that vary as a product makes its way
through the network of agents it assembles and, with more or less success,
holds together.
Although little market research has been conducted in PNG (especially
rural PNG) by either anthropologists or commercial firms, the ethno-
graphic record does afford occasional insight into the perspectives that
some Papua New Guineans have taken on the marketing efforts of Coca-
Cola Amatil and SP Holdings, the former Pepsi franchise holder. Given the
preoccupations of anthropologists, these insights bear mainly upon the
perspectives of Papua New Guineans on representations of “culture” or
“tradition” promoted and circulated by soft drink bottlers. For example,
Gewertz and Errington (1996) have discussed reactions to the Pepsi-spon-
sored television program, Fizz, on the part of Chambri youths and elders
living in a settlement on the edge of the East Sepik provincial town of
Wewak in 1994. The music videos—like the one I saw six years later in
Tanga—were interrupted by a commercial that proclaimed “a Papua New
Guinea variant of PepsiCo’s internationally proclaimed message”: “All over
this nation there’s a growing relation . . . as the young at heart . . . while
working or playing [learn that] nothing stays the same again . . . [Pepsi] is
the choice of the new generation, the voice of the new generation . . . [It’s]
the sign of the new generation, the time of the new generation . . . Let your
feelings show . . . drink Pepsi, PNG, [yes] Pepsi, PNG” (Gewertz and
Errington 1996, 478). The commercial depicted a variety of “types” of
Papua New Guineans drinking Pepsi—from young men and women dancing
130 Coca-Globalization

on a yacht or at a disco to a hard-hatted construction worker to a boy gaz-

ing at his village off in the distance to the aforementioned Asaro mudmen,
seeking a moment of refreshment in the course of their cultural perform-
ance. Together the images amounted to an unambiguous juxtaposition of
tradition and modernity, rural and urban, tribal and cosmopolitan. Cham-
bri viewers, according to Gewertz and Errington, expressed neither unease
nor anxiety with regard to these polarities, but instead seemed to embrace
the ad’s democratic promise that the pleasures of consumption were avail-
able to everyone in PNG. While the younger Chambri notably endorsed
the ad’s portrayal of a world of personal choice, in which one’s subjective
identity took shape as a result of individual experiences and feelings and
freely entered relationships, senior Chambri also approved the ad: “Indeed,
senior Chambri [men] often praised Pepsi Fizz because it helped young
people to learn their culture and to value that culture” (Gewertz and
Errington 1996, 479). (This particular view thus aligns with the pro-tradi-
tion perspective of at least some expatriate advertising directors, but not
with that of the marketing manager who explicitly criticized the image of
Asaro mudmen drinking Pepsi.) That is, senior men regarded both the ad
and other videos that similarly juxtaposed images of traditional warriors
with modern music performers as a compelling synthesis of past and pres-
ent, while junior men felt a positive nostalgia for images of tradition that
they imagined as left behind in the village.
Gewertz and Errington’s friend, research assistant, and informant, God-
fried Kolly, exemplifies the positive Chambri response to the commercial
use of images of tradition and clarifies how such images might intersect
with the perspectives that Papua New Guineans adopt on both their actual
and ideal selves. Godfried had toured Europe in 1990 with a group called
the Sepik Performers, and the experience of educating foreign audiences
about his traditions—for example, his ceremonial dress (bilas)—
prompted him to seek official certification as a “cultural actor.” Such certi-
fication, he thought, would enable him to apply for sponsorships of his
group from companies such as Pepsi (which, Godfried knew, sponsored
Fizz) and Arnott’s Biscuits, which had produced and distributed a promo-
tional calendar for its line of Paradise biscuits, a calendar that Godfried
highly appreciated:21 “Featured on the calendar and representing the
Arnott’s Biscuits product line was a bare-breasted young native woman in
traditional finery. She was painted in a design of extensive tattoos and wore
a feather headdress and grass skirt. Holding a cracker in one hand, she ges-
tured with the other toward an array of multicolored, cellophane-wrapped
products of Arnott’s Biscuits. It was as though she were offering something
for every Papua New Guinean taste.” Godfried, according to Errington and
A Network of Perspectives 131

Gewertz (1996, 116), regarded the young woman pictured on the calendar
as just the sort of cultural actor that he aspired to be. Here was a fortuitous
conjunction or alignment in the network of perspectives that, although
most likely unintended by the company that distributed the promotional
calendars, brought culture and commerce into a single frame of reference.
At the same time, it is important to emphasize the disjunctions that
Godfried’s perspective implies. Unlike the anthropologists, Godfried did
not worry about the commodification of tradition; on the contrary, he
actively sought commercial sponsorship for his cultural performances.
Similarly, unlike cultural purists who might object to bras and wrist-
watches, Godfried was not haunted by specters of inauthenticity (see Jolly
1992). He saw nothing untraditional, for example, about wearing loin-
cloths made from bright yellow packages of Spear brand tobacco while
performing for Western tourists. In this regard, Godfried reflected an
indigenous understanding of tradition as a process of constant innovation
that especially involved importation of resources capable of sustaining and
augmenting one’s own collective powers. (In this regard, Godfried might
find common ground with the CCA media manager so attuned to the
hybrid developments of contemporary urban youth culture in PNG.) Nor
did Godfried think anything culturally suspicious about the young woman
on the biscuit calendar, despite the protest by the anthropologists that she
was an invented tradition—a cultural composite made up of decorative
signifiers drawn from different and disparate regional and ethnic reper-
toires. Godfried countered by identifying not only the woman’s specific
cultural group, but also her precise village. His perception was like those of
other Chambri: “although no two people named the same culture (sugges-
tions ranged from ones in the Gulf to ones in New Ireland Province), all
insisted she was a traditionally attired member of the particular culture
they had specified” (Errington and Gewertz 1996, 116).
Eric Hirsch’s (2004) discussion of the photos that his Fuyuge-speaking
friend, Alphonse Hega, composed and shot for entry into a Coca-Cola
Amatil-sponsored competition also sheds light on the perspectives that
Papua New Guineans take on themselves and on the perspectives of other
people to whom they imagine themselves connected in a translocal com-
modity network. One of these photos had been selected as a winning entry
and used to illustrate the company’s promotional calendar for 1998.22
Alphonse Hega’s pictures (see Figures 4.1 and 4.2) depicted a senior man
(Donato, Alphonse’s kinsman) dressed entirely in traditional adornment
and surrounded entirely by traditional artifacts—with the salient excep-
tion of the contoured five-hundred-milliliter Coke bottle in Donato’s hand
132 Coca-Globalization

Figure 4.1 Alphonse Hega’s winning entry for the 1998 Coca-Cola PNG national calendar competition.
Photograph by Alphonse Hega (see Hirsch 2004).

and net bag, or the cardboard cartons of Coca-Cola placed at the foot of
Donato’s hammock, on which he reclined drinking a can of Coke.
As Hirsch notes and Hega himself recognized, the format of these pic-
tures is a familiar one—the gently shocking juxtaposition of tradition and
modernity familiar from numerous soft drink ads in PNG; in short, the
motif of radical heterogeneity that I have identified with the film, The Gods
Must be Crazy and, more generally, with the aesthetics of fetishism. The
format was chosen deliberately to create an appropriate impression on the
judges and to compete effectively in what Hega imagined as a competition
among “cultures,” as he put it (Hirsch 2004, 28). Hega’s entry was thus part
of a larger effort to represent his culture in a positive manner and, more
specifically, to dispute and dispel the reputation of the Fuyuge (and all res-
idents of the Goilala District outside Port Moresby) as criminals and gang
members (raskols in Tok Pisin). Hega, who as a young man participated in
A Network of Perspectives 133

Figure 4.2 Alphonse Hega’s second entry for the 1998 Coca-Cola PNG national calendar competition.
Photograph by Alphonse Hega (see Hirsch 2004).

church-sponsored campaigns to steer village youth away from Port

Moresby’s gang life, would read such descriptions of the Goilala in the
national newspapers, when he could obtain copies. Put differently, Hega
was concerned with publicizing local Fuyuge culture translocally, with elic-
iting a positive evaluation of his culture vis-à-vis other distinct cultures in
Papua New Guinea and, perhaps, beyond. Like Godfried Kolly, Alphonse
Hega engaged with the perspectives of people over the horizon, people
whom he imagined but with whom he did not interact in his immediate
local setting.
Unlike Kolly, however, Hega regarded his culture as a bounded entity
that ought to be preserved and insulated against the incursions of other
people’s culture—especially white people—such as the infiltration of
“disco” style (string band) music into traditional performances. His per-
spective thus was more in line with that of cultural purists such as the
advertising director who did not want to mix wristwatches and grass skirts
in the same image (or, for that matter, the marketing manager who found
no use in mixing traditional and modern imagery in Pepsi ads). Hega’s per-
spective also diverged from that of another Fuyuge man, Kol, who asked
Hirsch to take a photograph of him (Kol) posed exactly as he aspired to
appear: standing stiffly at attention and looking directly at the camera,
dressed in a collared shirt and long trousers and wearing what looks like
a beret—a disposition that recalls not traditional culture but rather the
134 Coca-Globalization

discipline and punishment meted out by colonial patrol officers lining up

village residents for the annual head count.
Hirsch (2004, 36) points out that the winning photograph appears to
suggest that worldly things such as Coca-Cola are at home or reembedded
in Hega’s local experiences. In this view, the message of the photograph
recalls the words of the Pepsi ad that Chambri viewers enjoyed watching.
But Hega’s view of “culture” and cultural authenticity suggest otherwise.
Unlike Godfried Kolly, Alphonse Hega worried deeply about commodifi-
cation and inauthenticity. If there were any value in the format of Hega’s
photos for expressing his view, it might lie in the stark contrast of local and
foreign, juxtaposed but obviously and irreducibly alien to each other (see
Foster 2002, 50–51). If not, then Hega’s photograph must be regarded as a
compromised response to the rare opportunity presented by the CCA cal-
endar competition—a chance to further his project of portraying Fuyuge
(Goilala) culture in a positive light to his fellow Papua New Guineans.
Hega, Hirsch says, “can only make use of what he has at his disposal” (2004,
36). Thus the very terms in which he presents his perspective on his culture
to other actors in the network of perspectives—the terms required to
make Fuyuge culture legible—risk that his perspective will be miscom-
municated, subsumed (or co-opted) within the interests and intentions
of promoting the sale and consumption of carbonated soft drinks in
Papua New Guinea.
While the Chambri response to the “Pepsi in PNG” commercial bespoke
the possibility of a worldly thing becoming reembedded in local experi-
ence, Hega’s view of culture led him to regard worldly things as, so to
speak, other-worldly. A similar divergence in perspectives was evident in
the reactions to advertisements for soft drinks running on PNG television
in the late 1990s. These reactions were recorded in the 1997 survey, which
asked specifically about two ads, one for Pepsi and one for Coke, informed
by the dictates of global marketing campaigns. Local renditions of a single
global marketing campaign are intended to produce a sense of familiarity
such that one would recognize a Coke commercial in Colombia and a Coke
commercial in Holland as variations on a single theme (Chapter 3). As
Marcio Moreira, former head of InterNational Team, put it, “Becoming
part of people’s lives, belonging, is the name of the game” (O’Barr 1989, 5).
How was this game played in PNG?
In answering this question, we meet again the twin conceits of soft
drink executives operating in the Asia-Pacific region, namely, that soft
drinks are affordable items of Western provenance, and that the desire for
“all things Western” is itself to be taken for granted. This first conceit has
some merit to it; as Sidney Mintz (personal communication, March 20,
A Network of Perspectives 135

1997) notes, products like Coke and Pepsi are notably “democratic” in
character. They combine recognizability as specific trademarked forms of
sweetness with relatively low price (at least until the devaluation and
decline of the PNG kina). Andy Warhol was, somewhat earlier, also keenly
aware of this aspect of consumer democracy: “What’s great about this
country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers
buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and
see Coca-Cola, and you can know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Tay-
lor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke
and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum
on the corner is drinking” (1975, 100–101). Warhol’s words, incidentally,
were displayed with apparent approval to visitors at the old World of Coca-
Cola in Atlanta—minus the final sentence.
The second conceit about desire for Western goods, however, has dubi-
ous merit, despite its infiltration of Melanesianist anthropology through
the post–World War II fascination with cargo cults. As Lamont Lindstrom
suggests, writings about cargo cults are allegories that effectively normalize
a definition of desire as unremitting and never fully satisfied—the sort of
desire appropriate to Goizueta’s vision of infinity. This normalization sub-
verts the manifest effect of cargo writings in depicting cargo cultists as rad-
ically alien. It is, in fact, just the opposite: “We are all cargo cultists in that
we wait eternally for an end to desire that will not end. The Melanesian
cultist merely reads our lines” (Lindstrom 1995, 56). And these lines
include “Olgeta Taim Coca-Cola” (“Always Coca-Cola” in Tok Pisin).
The two television commercials ran in Papua New Guinea on EM TV in
1997 (the Coke ad was still running three years later). These commercials
project different but related versions of modern consumerism in which the
identity of individuals (singular or collective) is constructed through the
consumption of trademarked or brand-name commodities. The commer-
cial for Coke was filmed in Papua New Guinea but produced by personnel
from the Sydney office of McCann Erickson’s global network of advertising
agencies. The commercial for Pepsi was filmed in Queensland, Australia,
and produced by Savi (now HRD-Savi), the PNG-based advertising agency
that handles advertising for global commodities such as Shell gasoline and
Benson and Hedges cigarettes. It ran as a “locally” executed version of a
global Pepsi campaign known as “Change the Script” (forerunner to “Gen-
eration Next”)—a campaign theme which the Pepsi marketing manager in
PNG thought necessary to revise on the sound assumption that not many
Papua New Guineans would be familiar with the concept of “The Script.”
Both thirty-second commercials were made by non-Papua New Guinean
136 Coca-Globalization

creative directors in accordance with the client’s brief and global marketing
strategy; both were slickly produced.
First the Pepsi commercial:

To the sound of a pulsating bass guitar, a red balloon rises in the air. A young
man pops the balloon and many blue balloons rise up instead. Male and
female voices chime: “Do what you wanna do. Be what you wanna be. Pepsi.
Break Free.” A series of images follows quickly: A young woman’s smiling red
lipstick changes to blue. Youthful roller bladers swirl in a disco-like blue
haze. The camera pans over a blue can of Pepsi-Cola, its surface beaded with
small drops of sweat. A platform diver flips languorously into a pool. The
lyrics repeat, more passionately.
A man and women walk across a street; their formal attire (long sleeve
white shirt and tie for the man; a mini-skirt suit for the woman) change into
leisurewear (baggy shorts for the man, blue jeans for the woman) and they
begin to dance in the crosswalk. The camera returns to the can of Pepsi.
A can of blue paint splatters against a red brick wall. Red paint oozing
down a stairway turns blue. A woman paints over her red fingernails with
blue polish. Red balls bouncing down concrete steps turn blue; a young man
in a blue T-shirt and dark sunglasses lounges on the steps as the balls bounce
by. The camera returns again to the can of Pepsi, which rolls forward toward
the viewer. “Break Free,” written in white script appears across the television

The lyrics of the jingle accompanying this ad explicitly peddle con-

sumer agency, a hallmark promise of modern materialism: “Do what you
wanna do. Be what you wanna be.” This invitation to exercise individual
self-determination exhorts a break from convention—not only the con-
ventional red of rival Coca-Cola, but also the conventions of work clothes
and perhaps even work itself. All the images evoke youthful leisure and
play, including (fantastically, for Papua New Guinea) roller blading and
platform diving. Here, then, we encounter one of the themes of cargo-
ism—our projection onto them of a deep longing for paradise, an Edenic
world without work. In addition, the appearance of a woman’s painted lips
and nails tinge the ads with sexual highlights. The slogan “Break Free” thus
suggests the emancipatory and eroticized potential of self-construction
through commodity consumption. All this is very much in keeping with a
marketing theory of global youth culture that recommends questioning
authority through universal appeals to individual autonomy and defiance
of conformity.
These ads found some admirers among Papua New Guinean university
students and other young to middle-aged adults who participated in the
soft drink survey—even among participants who professed to drink only
A Network of Perspectives 137

Coca-Cola and even to dislike the taste of Pepsi-Cola. (It would be difficult
to establish any correlation between preferences for colas and preferences
for the ads; Pepsi drinkers often expressed the same misgivings about the
Break Free ads as did Coke drinkers.) For example, several respondents
characterized the ads as “eye-catching” and “colorful” or referred to both
the ad and the actors in it as “cool.” But these ads also drew as many if not
more negative responses, and certainly attracted far more criticism than
did the ad for Coca-Cola.
In general, three interrelated objections were made to the images in
Pepsi’s Break Free ads. First, the people depicted in the ads were described
as “show offs” or as “pretending to be somebody while they’re not.” That is,
the notion of not being like everyone else—which brand Pepsi explicitly
endorses—was interpreted as a form of illegitimate and inauthentic dis-
tinction. This association of Pepsi with social pretension even came from a
thirty-four-year-old Milne Bay man who enjoyed the Break Free ads and
accepted the message of the lyrics: “I think Pepsi is drunk by people who
just pretend to be different.”
Second, the images in the ad were interpreted as being exclusionist and
discriminatory, including only teenagers and young adults. Put differently,
the images associated with Pepsi denied the democratic potential of soft
drinks as accessible mass commodities. One thirty-five-year-old man
claimed that Pepsi is “only for the new generation”—a sign of the dubious
success of Pepsi’s previous ad campaign—while another older man from
Bougainville claimed that Pepsi “is only for people in the towns. The youth
of the life in town.” Other respondents associated Pepsi with “rich people”
and “superstar” endorsers, such as Cindy Crawford—an association per-
haps strengthened by Pepsi’s sponsorship of a television show that show-
cased glitzy, foreign music videos.
Third, the Break Free images associated Pepsi in some people’s view
with a morally disreputable kind of person—“fancy people,”“dancers,” and
“party goers.” (One student similarly linked Pepsi to the morally objec-
tionable activities of one of its past spokespersons, Michael Jackson.) Sev-
eral respondents commented unfavorably on the “sexual connotations” of
Pepsi, specifically objecting to the image of a young woman in “tight jeans”
as demeaning to PNG women and “irrelevant” to the context of PNG soci-
ety. Elizabeth Solomon, sounding very much like an ex-school teacher, said
that she associated the very sound of the word Pepsi with the hissing noises
that young people use in public to attract each other’s attention from afar.
A twenty-three-year-old young man wondered about what the couple
crossing the street in the ad were trying to break free from: “Is it telling us
to break our marriages by going out to have fun with Pepsi? . . . I don’t
138 Coca-Globalization

know.” All these responses qualified Pepsi with associations most likely
unintended and unwanted by agents on the product’s supply side.
The Coke commercial is predictably different:

To the strains of a few tentatively plucked guitar strings, a man emerges onto
a porch from inside a house; a tropical bird perches on the porch railing. He
nervously scans the horizon.
A Coca-Cola delivery truck rolls to a stop in front of a tree fallen across
the road.
A young man, shirtless in a red laplap (loincloth), opens a red cooler and
rakes his fingers through the ice cubes; the cooler is empty. In the back-
ground, villagers prepare for a singsing (traditional dance performance); a
man wipes his brow.
Back at the truck, the red-shirted driver waves at a passing airplane; he
shouts into his radio. “Take it through!” The music quickens, and the guitars
screech and grind.
An aerial shot of the tidy village below with its thatched houses. A small
child points at the plane. From the side of the plane, two red-shirted Coca-
Cola employees drop a large red cooler, with Coca-Cola script in white visi-
ble on its sides. The cooler parachutes downwards while a group of young
boys, all in red shorts, run to collect it. The cooler gently splashes into a
stream. The young boys merrily slide down the muddy bank of the stream
into the water. They retrieve the cooler and haul it up the bank.
Back in the village, the cooler is now full of Coca-Cola bottles. The sings-
ing proceeds, with traditionally decorated men pounding hourglass drums.
The man who was first awaiting the delivery at the start of the commercial
quaffs a bottle of Coke. An older man congratulates the young man who had
worriedly inspected the empty cooler, both drinking thirstily from bottles of
Coke. The Coca-Cola logo appears on the screen, encircled with the words
“Fun bilong yu, fun bilong Coca-Cola.”

Like the Pepsi ad, this Coke ad projects an image of the product consis-
tent with its globally asserted associations—in this case, associations with
inclusive sociability, innocent good times, and the celebration of tradition.
Unlike the Pepsi ad, the Coke ad includes children, young adults, and, in its
closing frame, a senior man. And unlike the Pepsi ad, the exclusion of girls
and women from the foreground of the action obviates certain messages of
sexual impropriety.23 Indeed, the overt message of this Coke ad appears to
be summarized in the mixed English/Tok Pisin of the logo: “Fun bilong yu,
Fun bilong Coca-Cola” (“Your fun, the fun of Coca-Cola”). In other words,
Coca-Cola is easily incorporated into local traditions—a piece of moder-
nity entirely compatible with valued ancestral customs. Here, then, is the
modernity of certain anticolonial nationalisms as sold by a transnational
corporation: the material and technological wonders of modernity can be
A Network of Perspectives 139

happily married to the spiritual and moral values of indigenous traditional

culture. The cargo has, at last, arrived. Papua New Guineans can determine
themselves collectively—as a collective individual—not by breaking free
from tradition and joining an international youth culture, but rather by
staying put, incorporating and domesticating the material culture brought
in, no matter what the obstacle, from the outside.
One respondent who participated in the survey—a male anthropology
student at the University of Papua New Guinea—criticized this Coke ad
because it “demeans/exploits traditional dancing.” Another student,
although a devoted Coke drinker, remarked, “They shouldn’t use tradi-
tional clothes when advertising Coke. Coke is not part of our tradition and
it should not interfere with our traditions.” Opinions of this sort, advocat-
ing a clear separation between commercial enterprises and traditional or
customary practices are not uncommon in PNG; they would probably
elicit agreement from Alphonse Hega, for example. But on the whole, par-
ticipants in the survey approved of this Coke ad in much the same way as
Chambri viewers endorsed the videos and commercials aired during Fizz.
Several people recalled it without prompting as their favorite advertise-
ment, and the reasons given for approving the ad generally invert the
objections to the Pepsi Break Free ad. Simply put, respondents saw the ad
as “more Papua New Guinean” because of its recognizably local setting.
The village setting, moreover, evoked the democratic character of Coke. As
one twenty-six-year-old male art student put it: “[The ad] says that Coke is
not for white men only but blacks can drink it too. With/without clothes in
villages/towns—anywhere.” This comment recalls the World War II ad
depicting the Admiralty Islanders (without Cokes) staring at the American
Seabees (with Cokes), as discussed in Chapter 2. A former racial divide has
now been bridged by the advance of consumer democracy.
Similarly, the village setting communicated an inclusive and intergener-
ational kind of sociality, in which children and adults both participated. At
least one respondent claimed that watching the ad made her feel happy.
Even Elizabeth Solomon, who associated Pepsi with hissing adolescents
and decried soft drinks as bad for one’s health, yielded to the memories
that the ad provoked for her. This fifty-four-year-old grandmother, who
had come to town only several months earlier to baby-sit, confessed, “I like
village situations. [The ad] reminds me of home. I want to go back
quickly.” Other respondents claimed—again, much like Chambri consider-
ing the Arnott’s Biscuits calendar girl—to recognize the provenance of the
dancers’ decorations or even the general location of the village pictured in
the ad. They recognized “home”—if not their own, then at least someone
else’s—in an ad for a worldly thing.
140 Coca-Globalization

The terms in which university students and other urban Papua New
Guineans talked about the Coke and Pepsi ads were the organizing terms of
the ads themselves. These terms include the familiar litany of dichotomies
that orient market segmenters, such as the PNG FM general manager:
modernity and tradition, present and past, foreign and local, town and vil-
lage, youth and elders. A twenty-six-year-old secretary from New Ireland
Province was thus able to devise her own marketing analysis of the Pepsi
campaign as follows: “For us, the civilized, educated people in towns, I
don’t think the lady in the mini-top is insulting. Let’s face it, it’s today’s
fashion, but I guess those in the villages and elders will disapprove and say
its sexist.” “But,” she concludes in a way that echoes the Pepsi ad’s lyrics,
“like I said, people are different and have their own opinions.” Here is an
unambiguous example of the complex connectivity involved in a network
of perspectives: one perspective, a mapping of other people’s meanings in
the form of an ad, incites a woman’s awareness of/construction of a per-
spective that she knows she does not share—that of the “less civilized” and
“less educated”—but which she knows nonetheless impinges uncomfort-
ably on her own perspective.
The Pepsi ads, in particular, generated this disjunctive effect among uni-
versity students, who often objected to the ads as “irrelevant” to PNG on
behalf of other, “illiterate” people whom they imagined would not under-
stand the ads. Put differently, the Pepsi ads provoked the students to imag-
ine themselves both as marketing critics and as misaddressed objects of
other marketers’ perspectives. Similarly, a thirty-nine-year-old secondary
teacher—an apparent proponent of the KISS formula of advertising—
noted that the Pepsi ads did not show people drinking Pepsi: “Imagine a
person who does not know the drink. He/she will think it a fashion ad.
Wake up! We are Papua New Guineans, not whitemen where Pepsi comes
from.” The same conclusion about perspectives impinging upon perspec-
tives could also be applied to Elizabeth Solomon’s imaginings: an ad for
Coca-Cola made by a transnational agency incites both her desire to return
to the village and her construction of a perspective in which she does not
feel at home—a perspective on the white man’s world entangling her chil-
dren and grandchildren in urban Port Moresby.

Culture and Commerce: Approximate

Mappings of Other People’s Meanings

In PNG, advertising for consumer goods other than soft drinks similarly
engages people’s perspectives on themselves and their traditions, especially
when people imagine their traditions as either under attack or misused by
A Network of Perspectives 141

corporate and/or state agents. For example, a television advertisement for

Wrigley’s PK brand chewing gum provoked commentary aired on a popu-
lar radio call-in program in 1992.24 The ad followed the strategy of offering
health education to the citizens of PNG:

“This is a message from the PNG Department of Health.” The narrator

reminds the viewer how betel-nut chewing is banned in many public places
and also considered to be a cause of mouth cancer. An image of a man chew-
ing betel nut appears; at the bottom left, a superimposed universal sign for
“no betel-nut chewing”; at the bottom right, an inset picture of an unidenti-
fiable man with mouth cancer. This image gives way to one of two boys,
dressed in T-shirts decorated with a picture of PK chewing gum. One of the
boys addresses the camera, “When we want to chew, we chew PK.” The ad
closes with an image of a packet of PK gum and words advising not to pay
more than ten toea (worth approximately ten cents at the time).

The ad apparently suggests that the state, in the guise of the Department
of Health, endorses the substitution of chewing gum for betel nut. This
endorsement entails the supposition that chewing gum and chewing betel
nut are alternative but equivalent forms of chewing. The ad consequently
urges consumers to choose the clean and safe PK, the more hygienic and
non-life threatening form of chewing. In the same week of June 1992, how-
ever, two male callers to the radio program Talkback voiced their refusal to
accept the state’s definition of “health” and its associated campaign to elim-
inate or replace betel chewing. Talkback was then a morning phone-in
show heard daily throughout metropolitan PNG on the Kalang Service of
the National Broadcasting Commission. Although the program originated
from Port Moresby, callers from as far away as Mount Hagen or Rabaul
sometimes rang the station to speak live on the air with host Roger
The first caller, John, expressed skepticism about the connection
between betel nut and mouth cancer, and wondered where the man whose
cancerous mouth is featured in the PK ad came from. John argued that in
his home area (Kairuku/Bereina) that people routinely swallowed their
betel instead of spitting; they did not “litter.” He also observed that in his
home area, lime was manufactured from shells, and that this lime was
probably not cancer-causing, unlike alternatives made from coral or fibro
(fiberboard). Furthermore, John pointed out the local (Mekeo) practice of
issuing betel nut to invite guests to a feast. He asked, What would replace
betel nut “as far as our culture is concerned, our custom is concerned” if
the Health Department were to ban it “for the good of our health”?
142 Coca-Globalization

Roger replied by agreeing that betel spit was a major problem in Port
Moresby, but he reiterated that there is a “clean way to chew betel nut,” one
that is “traditional and kastam,” namely, “to swallow everything that you
put in your mouth instead of spitting it out.” He also agreed that John’s
people probably know how to chew betel nut properly, and suggested,
“Maybe the Health Department, instead of trying to discourage betel nut
chewing altogether, should look at ways which are safe to chew betel nut.
People have been chewing it for generations before the Health Department
came into being and they knew how to chew the betel nut safely. Maybe
they could recommend a certain way of chewing betel nut which will go
down better because its part of the traditional culture of the people.” Roger
then claimed that “the Western culture had introduced its deadly poisons,
like alcohol and cigarettes, and then tried to ban ours.” John agreed enthu-
siastically, and asked pointedly if, after all, “we were trying to bring in the
Western type of living and do away with our proper one.”
Two days later, the second caller, also named John, resumed the discus-
sion: “Betel nut is good. It’s how people chew and spit, throw rubbish all
over the place, that’s spoiling the image of betel nut.” John enlisted Roger’s
support as a fellow chewer, but as one who is “clean and healthy about it.”
The problem, as John saw it, was with people who were new to betel chew-
ing and have only recently come across it. They are the ones who chew in
an untidy, unhealthy way, spitting indiscriminately and littering the
ground with betel-nut skins. The answer—and here John took up Roger’s
earlier suggestion—was to get the Health Department to institute a chew-
ing awareness program and to educate people about “the correct habit of
chewing—getting rid of your rubbish, keeping the place clean and tidy, free
from germs and things like this.” Here, mass media functions as a site for
constructing ethnic or regional identities; for the “people who are new to
betel nut” are people from the Highlands, where betel nut was not tradi-
tionally available because the areca palm does not grow at high altitudes.
The opinions of these three men hardly constitute radical liberal chal-
lenges to state authority. But they do reject the state-backed corporate
equation of “health” with the elimination of betel chewing. And they do
reject this equation in part by appealing to some notion of traditional
Melanesian culture. In this regard, they can be distinguished from M. Gavi
of Boroko whose letter to the Post-Courier published on December 30,
1991, holds up Singapore as an example of “what a small former colony can
do if it has pride, discipline and a sense of national purpose.” Gavi points
out that, among other things, “Singapore does not tolerate the disgusting
practice of spitting betel nut juice on whatever is close by (whether it is
moving or not) nor does one see abandoned, burnt out vehicles littering
A Network of Perspectives 143

the streets.” Gavi then goes on to explain this situation as a failure on the
part of both citizens and the government, a failure that is excused, more-
over, “by telling the world it is the ‘Melanesian Way.’” Gavi thus devalues
“custom” in relation to “development” (see also the letter from Anti-Buai
Spit published in the Post-Courier on February 12, 1991).
It is precisely this relationship between “development” and “custom”
that advertisements stimulate consumers—such as the young New Ireland
woman already mentioned—to produce discursively, perforce articulating
perspectives on themselves and on other people’s perspectives, including
those of the advertisers themselves. For example, the following letter,
signed by Jack Kagoi of Port Moresby, appeared during 1995 in the Post-
Courier under the heading “Shell’s Television Advert Portrays PNG
Wrongly.” The ad depicted, without narration, a family of Highlanders in
traditional ceremonial dress who pull up to a Shell gasoline station in a
rickety vehicle and wander around the station’s convenience store with
a look of wonder at all the goods on the shelves.

The new Shell television commercial showing a Tari [Southern Highlands]

man and his family dressed in traditional gear driving to a Shell station with
a pig in the car, is in low taste, and portrays a very primitive PNG society.
In case Shell hasn’t noticed, we Papua New Guineans do not walk or drive
around in grass skirts carrying pigs with us.
Maybe a small group of people up in the Highlands still do this, but the
rest of us don’t.
To the expatriate executives of Shell, we Papua New Guineans are work-
ing very hard to take our place in the modern world.
Generally we try to speak English, wear clean clothes and most of us
make an effort to behave in a civilised and decent manner.
Where I come from which is the Momase region, we do not cheapen the
value of our traditional clothes by using them to sell petrol.
I have my sense about PNG and the fact that we the people are still lack-
ing in some areas of human development, but I value my culture so much
that I do not allow business houses to mock it and use it for their own pur-
I believe most of us Papua New Guineans want to go forward, whilst pre-
serving our traditions.
We want to take our place in the 21st century.
We want the world to know that we are civilised and decent and can sur-
vive anywhere on this planet.
Please Shell, don’t keep us down there.
Don’t treat us like primitives. You’ve convinced the poor Tari man that he
is still in the Stone Age, and he has never been to a service station, let alone a
trade store in a village in Tari.
144 Coca-Globalization
As for me, I refuse to go to a service station where there are people shop-
ping with pigs.

Kagoi’s letter, in asserting a claim to be recognized as “modern” while

recognizing that perhaps a small number of Papua New Guineans remain
“primitive,” echoes the anxieties generated by the missionizing dramas of
the bus kanaka, “Uncle.” Moreover, like the Talkback conversation, it force-
fully demonstrates not only how talk about advertisements has itself
become an element of commercial mass media in Papua New Guinea, but
also how this talk engages complex issues of identity: cultural, national,
regional (ethnic), and personal. Kagoi invokes a collective identity (“we the
people”) expressed in national terms (“us Papua New Guineans”) at the
same time that he distinguishes the coastal Mamose region from the High-
lands. This distinction is again invidious, representing the Highlands as a
region perhaps “still lacking in some areas of human development.” But
Kagoi does not wholly embrace “the modern world” signified by the Shell
station; instead, he argues for the recognition of the value of “our tradi-
tions” and, moreover, for the recognition of tradition (culture) and busi-
ness as properly separate domains. This recognition serves to distinguish
Kagoi and his fellow Papua New Guineans from the “expatriate executives”
presumed (correctly) to have created the Shell ad. Kagoi concludes with an
assertion of self-determination (“as for me”), that is, with a declaration
of his intention as an individual consumer not to shop at Shell service
Kagoi’s letter articulates a perspective on himself and on other Papua
New Guineans, and on the perspectives of the “expatriate executives” imag-
ined to be behind the ad and indeed connected to Kagoi in the network
tenuously held together by a particular product. Interestingly, expatriate ad
executives with whom I spoke in Port Moresby likewise articulated per-
spectives on the perspectives of the makers of the Shell ad. One marketing
manager, who saw no use for images of tradition in ads, thought the Shell
commercial to be “misdirected” and criticized its lack of words, while
another creative/managing director criticized the ad for saying nothing
specific about the product. Yet another creative/managing director simi-
larly noted that the advertisement seemed to market Shell as a kind of
tradestore rather than a brand of gasoline. More tellingly, however, this
same director claimed that the ad would have been better off running over-
seas, implying that it was not only made by an “expat,” but effectively
addressed to expatriates as well. His view was supported by the observa-
tions of Papua New Guinean creative arts faculty member at the university,
who complained about the relentless use of “culture, culture, culture” in
advertising—as if Papua New Guineans were naturally cultural. She, too,
A Network of Perspectives 145

pointed out that this way of representing Papua New Guineans would be
more appropriate for non-Papua New Guinean audiences. Similarly, an
independent commercial producer—originally from the United Kingdom,
now living in PNG with his Papua New Guinean wife—confessed that his
favorite advertising campaign was a set of television spots for Nescafé
instant coffee. These spots all showed images of Papua New Guineans
doing “a job well done”—students studying, a bank teller at the office, fac-
tory workers taking a break—all mercifully without any reference to cus-
tom, tradition, or culture.
By 1997, the Shell advertisement was no longer running in PNG,
replaced by a new campaign with the tag line “Go well, go Shell,” a vintage
slogan revived for worldwide use. An advertising executive at the agency
that had produced the Shell ad criticized in Kagoi’s letter told me that the
client, like Kagoi, was not at all pleased with the ad. The executive claimed
that the client regarded the ad as too “parochial” and too customized, and
consequently rejected a follow-up proposal in the same vein. The client
instead reportedly insisted on an ad that was more “international” and cos-
mopolitan. This executive personally regarded the client’s perspective as
“arrogant,” but he also offered the example as evidence of how brand-
enhancing “image ads” often respond more to the client’s self-perspective
than to the perspective of the ad agency on the imagined perspectives of
the potential consumers of the product. Disjunctions and misalignments
in the network of perspectives have multiple sources that are rarely easy
to predict.
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Part 2

Globalization, Citizenship, and

the Politics of Consumption
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Chapter 5

Corporations, Consumers, and

New Strategies of Citizenship
The Coca-Cola Company has always endeavored to conduct business
responsibly and ethically. We are committed to creating value in the
marketplace, enriching the workplace, preserving and protecting the
environment, and strengthening the communities where we operate.
—Statement on citizenship,

n April 17, 2002, The Coca-Cola Company held its annual share-
O holder meeting inside the Theater at Madison Square Garden in mid-
town Manhattan. The meeting had been relocated to New York City as a
public gesture of solidarity in the aftermath of the previous September’s
terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Representatives of the New
York City convention and visitors bureau thanked Coca-Cola shareowners
in a letter included in the folder of materials that was distributed to the
approximately twelve hundred people, including myself, attending the
meeting: “Our city is more vibrant than ever in part due to the support we
have received from the business community. Your solidarity with our City
is greatly appreciated and has helped us all get through these difficult
times.” In a videotaped address, Mayor Michael Bloomberg personally
thanked the company and its shareowners for supporting the city’s efforts
to recover from the trauma of 9/11.
The Coca-Cola Company might count the 2002 meeting as one instance
of keeping the promise declared in its mission statement: “The Coca-Cola
Company exists to benefit and refresh everyone it touches.” This promise
was highlighted in a booklet, attractively printed in color on heavy stock
(containing “recycled paper content from postconsumer waste”), that was
also included in the folder distributed at the 2002 meeting. The booklet
was titled, “Keeping Our Promise: Citizenship at Coca-Cola,” and it
asserted up front that “The Coca-Cola Company is a vibrant network of
people, in nearly 200 countries, with the vision, values and capabilities to
150 Coca-Globalization

put citizenship into action.” It opened with a statement from then CEO
Douglas Daft in which Daft asked, “How does a local business, global in
scope, demonstrate citizenship?” The booklet in effect answered this ques-
tion, providing a summary in words and pictures of how the company acts
as a “local citizen,” striving “every day to refresh the marketplace, enrich the
workplace, preserve the environment, and strengthen our communities.”
During the spectacular “marketing showcase”—“Coca-Cola: The Power
to Connect”—that preceded the scheduled business of the shareholder
meeting, the company’s concern with “social responsibility” was put on
display in between appearances by sports celebrities (Joe Gibbs and Tony
Stewart) and musical stars (Jon Bon Jovi and Wynton Marsalis). Video
clips of an interview conducted by television talk-show host Charlie Rose,
who also emceed the marketing showcase, featured Daft talking about
“doing well by doing good.” Daft noted, for example, how the company got
children to read through its marketing partnership with the latest install-
ment of the wildly popular Harry Potter book series. Nelson Mandela and
Robert Redford both appeared on the big screen to thank the company,
respectively, for helping to fight AIDS in Africa and sponsoring the Sun-
dance Film Festival. There seemed to be no limit to what or whom the
company “touches.” As the Boys Choir of Harlem sang on stage, the show-
case approached its climax when the actor Donald Sutherland introduced
the quintessential global celebrity Muhammad Ali, who waved to the
applause of the crowd and exited without speaking.
Outside Madison Square Garden on Seventh Avenue, before and during
the meeting, another form of asserting solidarity and putting citizenship
into action took shape. Representatives of different interest groups handed
out fliers. One of the groups marched in a picket line holding red and white
posters that read “Racism at Coke” and “Coca-Cola Still Discriminates”
(see Figure 5.1). Several members of the Grassroots Recycling Network
struggled to inflate a gigantic Coke bottle lettered with the words “Support
Bigger Bottle Bill” (see Figure 5.2). The various fliers accused the company
of social irresponsibility, specifically, racial discrimination against black
employees with regard to pay grade and job category; violation of human
rights and worker rights in Colombia, Zimbabwe, the Philippines, and the
United States; and denial of medical treatment for HIV/AIDS to workers at
Coke’s bottlers and distributors in Africa. One apparently lone protestor
distributed fliers that linked the company through its donations to Emory
University, where it was alleged that abusive animal experiments were con-
ducted at the Yerkes Primate Center. At least one public figure that
appeared at the street events, James P. Hoffa, president of the Teamsters,
added a dramatic flavor distinct from that of the marketing showcase.
Corporations, Consumers, and New Strategies of Citizenship 151

Figure 5.1 New York, NY: Protestors at annual shareholder meeting of The Coca-Cola Company, April
17, 2002.

Hence the report of the New York Times (Winter 2002): “Standing beside a
car-sized inflatable rat draped with the Coca-Cola logo in Manhattan,
[Hoffa] accused the company of standing by and abdicating responsibility
for the murder of eight union leaders who organized workers at Coke bot-
tling plants in Colombia over the last decade, a charge the company vehe-
mently denies.”
The 2002 shareholder meeting effectively functioned as a vehicle for
contesting the meaning of citizenship. Two opposed but linked political
rhetorics and modes of political action converged in and around Madison
Square Garden. That is, the meeting pitted corporate definitions of social
responsibility against alternative definitions advocated by an assortment of
actors in their market roles as investors, employees, and especially con-
sumers. Put differently, the meeting redefined an old annual rite of busi-
ness as a new opportunity for civic engagement between the agents of
“consumer citizenship” and the representatives of “corporate citizenship.”
Both of these political rhetorics and modes of political action derive from
long lineages, but their specific manifestation at the 2002 shareholder
meeting indicated a more recent and encompassing transformation in the
relations among states, citizens, and corporations—and hence a dramatic
change in the performance of citizenship. This transformation, I suggest, is
an effect of multiple factors, economic and otherwise, that are often bun-
dled together and called globalization; factors that include the shrinking of
152 Coca-Globalization

Figure 5.2 New York, NY: Protestors at annual shareholder meeting of The Coca-Cola Company,
April 17, 2002.

the welfare state, on the one hand, and the expansion of information flows
made possible by new media technologies, on the other.
In this chapter and the next two, I will discuss corporate citizenship and
consumer citizenship by turns, treating them as sometimes opposed but
often complementary modes of reembedding soft drink companies and
their products in local social settings. I begin by examining the rhetoric of
corporate citizenship that animates The Coca-Cola Company’s citizenship
reports, including the reports from 2002 and 2003 available on the com-
pany’s Web site. My goal is to identify the assumptions of this rhetoric and
to point out the contradictions and tensions inherent in likening profit-
driven corporations to socially responsible citizens.
Consumer citizenship is a blanket term for an array of market-oriented
political initiatives that I illustrate with various examples drawn from the
network of soft drink perspectives. These examples, including recent
attempts to mobilize soft drink consumers as ethical or smart shoppers,
Corporations, Consumers, and New Strategies of Citizenship 153

have precedents in a history of consumer politics that reaches back to the

fair-labor labeling campaigns and consumer cooperative movement of the
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I also critically evaluate newer
forms of alternative consumer activism generated by the current economy
of qualities, such as “ad busting” and “culture jamming,” that seek to dis-
rupt the efforts of corporate agents in qualifying products such as brand-
name soft drinks.
In Chapter 6, I return to the scene of the 2002 annual meeting in New
York, tracking shareholder resolutions as a way of describing how con-
sumer citizenship unfolds within the corporation. That is, I look at the
attempts of shareholder activists to reform corporate practices by exercis-
ing the available mechanisms of corporate governance and engaging the
rhetoric of corporate citizenship directly. Finally, in Chapter 7, I discuss
how consumer citizenship took the form of parents organizing around the
issue of selling soft drinks in their children’s public schools. I offer this par-
ticular case as a vehicle for identifying, with modest optimism, some of the
prospects for agency and change offered by consumer politics or, more pre-
cisely, a “politics of products” (Micheletti 2003).
In each of these three chapters, I wish to demonstrate how two forms of
activism, corporate and consumer citizenship, engage each other; for
example, when The Coca-Cola Company sets up a Web site (,
since taken down) to rebut charges of complicity in anti-union violence
publicized on the Web site of the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke
( Or, for example, when the Center for Science
in the Public Interest, a nutrition-advocacy organization, sets up the Web
site of the Save Harry (Potter) campaign (, since taken
down) to urge children and parents to protest the marketing partnership
between the company and Warner Bros. and to join the fight against cor-
porations selling “junk food.” How does this engagement between corpo-
rate and consumer citizenship, increasingly conducted in cyberspace, bring
competing soft drink perspectives on globalization to bear upon each
other? How does this engagement put the qualification of a product and its
vendors at the center of a globalized politics of consumption?
In particular, I wish to demonstrate how the regulation of corporate
activity occurs by means other than public policy in order to identify the
possibilities and pitfalls of contesting social responsibility within the ambit
of the market. “Corporate citizenship” and “consumer citizenship” are in
effect two sides of the same coin. Both describe responses to the effects of
economic globalization on conventional modes of governance and on con-
ventional definitions of what constitutes the locus of citizenship, namely,
the state/society relationship. That is, both modes of political activism
154 Coca-Globalization

signal attempts on the part of corporations, on the one hand, and con-
sumers, on the other, to fill the space carved out by the erosion of the terri-
torial nation-state’s capacity to govern—to regulate and address issues of
concern that impinge upon the everyday lives and practices of national cit-
izens. In this sense, both modes represent rival strategies for embedding
transnational corporations in local settings and for holding together
translocal commodity networks, networks that might recruit state agencies
and agents but which state agents and agencies in no way inevitably mobi-
lize let alone dominate. What is at stake in this contest?

Keeping Our Promise: The Discourse of Corporate Citizenship

We pledge to be a good corporate citizen in all the places we operate

worldwide. We will maintain the highest ethical standards, comply
with all applicable laws and regulations, and respect local and
national cultures. We are dedicated to running safe and environmen-
tally responsible operations., cited in Matten and Crane 2003
Corporate citizenship has become an integral part of every decision
and action we take. We believe corporate citizenship is demonstrated
in who we are as a company, how we conduct our business and how
we take care of our employees, as well as in how we interact with the
world at large., cited in Matten and Crane 2003
Our vision is to be an innovative and inspirational global citizen in a
world where our company participates. Every day we drive responsi-
ble business practices that contribute to profitable and sustainable
growth., cited in Matten and Crane 2003
Our goal is to be a good corporate citizen wherever we operate, as a
responsible and contributing member of society., cited in Matten and Crane 2003
With the aim of becoming a corporate citizen respected by interna-
tional society, Toyota is conducting a wide range of philanthropic
activities throughout the world. Its activities cover five major areas:
education, the environment, culture and the arts, international
exchange and local communities., cited in Matten and Crane 2003

According to Matten and Crane (2003, 2), who collected the quotes repro-
duced here, the term “corporate citizenship” moved during the late 1990s out
of the realm of management practice and into the discourse of “corporate
Corporations, Consumers, and New Strategies of Citizenship 155

social responsibility” produced by corporate actors (see Vogel 2005). Ford,

for example, has issued citizenship reports since 1999; The Coca-Cola
Company issued its first citizenship report in 2001. At the World Economic
Forum in New York in February, 2002, CEOs from three dozen of the
world’s largest corporations (including The Coca-Cola Company) signed a
joint statement on “Global Corporate Citizenship—The Leadership Chal-
lenge for CEOs and Boards” (Matten and Crane 2003, 1). The statement
opens with the claim that the potential for “increased political participa-
tion and economic prosperity” created by globalization is not necessarily
being realized: “Many people are still facing high levels of inequality, inse-
curity and uncertainty, as well as new sources of conflict, environmental
decline and lack of opportunity” (
GCC_CEOstatement.pdf). The preamble accordingly concludes that
“leaders from all countries, sectors and levels of society need to work
together to address these challenges by supporting sustainable human
development and ensuring that the benefits of globalization are shared
more widely. It is in the interests of business that these benefits continue
both for companies and for others in society.”
Although something of a new term, corporate citizenship often refers to
long established practices of philanthropy and community investment. In
general, the term invokes four different and widely recognized sorts of cor-
porate social responsibility: economic, legal, ethical, and philanthropic
(see Caroll 1979). Its appearance, moreover, signals perhaps merely the lat-
est round of tactical responses to periodic upswings in public concern
about the power and size of corporations. It is not wholly cynical to inter-
pret the new discourse of corporate citizenship as a protective measure
taken in the wake of the raucous protests at the 1999 WTO meeting in Seat-
tle and the subsequent parade of corporate malfeasance scandals epito-
mized by the stunning collapse of Enron. In this regard, corporate
citizenship marks another chapter in the history of “creating the corporate
soul” (Marchand 1998), the century-long story of public relations and
image marketing whereby corporations have attempted to animate their
legally fictitious persons with a sense of moral and social legitimacy.
Notwithstanding these historical continuities, I wish to argue that there
is something discontinuous in the circumstances—political and eco-
nomic—that have given rise to the discourse of corporate citizenship.
These circumstances include changes in the source and site of value cre-
ation for commodities (Chapter 3), on the one hand, and of governance—
the state/society relationship—on the other. In order to make my case, I
start with an examination of the assumptions and tensions latent in the
current discourse of corporate citizenship.
156 Coca-Globalization

A World Economic Forum document defines corporate citizenship as

“the contribution that a company makes in society through its core busi-
ness activities, its social investment and philanthropy programmes, and its
engagement in public policy. It is determined by the manner in which a
company manages its economic, social and environmental impacts and its
relationships with different stakeholders, in particular shareholders,
employees, customers, business partners, governments and communities”
( Corporate citi-
zenship focuses on the activities of the corporate person or, more specifi-
cally, on the activities of the managers who operate in the name of the
corporate person. In this regard, corporate citizenship divides the world
between corporate persons and non-corporate persons, and simultane-
ously bridges that division. That is, corporate citizenship assumes that “the
economy”—a function of universal requirements and needs—always and
already exists independently of “culture(s),” which operate according to
particular requirements that might, on occasion, warrant connection with
economic practices (Applbaum 2004)—but not necessarily on all occa-
sions.1 Put otherwise, corporate citizenship presumes that in the world of
corporate persons, the first and foremost responsibility is to shareholders.
Shareholders are owed the greatest return on their investments, and the
managers of the corporate person are mandated to deliver this result by
whatever means possible. This imperative—and no other—provides the
moral force behind business.
From the perspective of the world of non-corporate persons (including
corporate managers in their ordinary social roles as parents, neighbors,
and friends), the morality of the corporate (person) world appears limited
at best, absent at worst. Accordingly, the good corporate citizen must do
more than operate in the incidentally moral or even wholly amoral world
of business; it must do more than focus on the bottom line. Corporate cit-
izenship entails responsibilities to “stakeholders” other than sharehold-
ers—stakeholders whose interests are not increased profits and whose
moral concerns are diverse and often contradictory. Stakeholders range
from individual corporate employees to the governments of countries and
members of local communities in which corporations operate. The popu-
lation of stakeholders is thus potentially vast, but, in principle, it is finite.
The extent of a corporation’s stakeholders defines the limits of its obliga-
tion or, by analogy, the boundaries of the polity in which it ought to act as
a good citizen. Like the nation-state, this polity might be open to new
members, but by definition it does not include everyone. As already men-
tioned, however, with regard to The Coca-Cola Company—which qualifies
Corporations, Consumers, and New Strategies of Citizenship 157

its products as ubiquitous and indeed operates almost everywhere—this

polity might very well be coextensive with the planet.
The notion of corporate citizenship is thus at base paradoxical. It
emerges as a remedy to a bifurcated situation brought into being by the
very constitution of the corporation as a person with both singular dedica-
tion to maximizing profits and limited liability for its actions in so doing.
Corporate citizenship is also strictly speaking, as Bakan (2004) argues, ille-
gal. Managers acting in the name of corporate persons—and thus manag-
ing money invested by other people—are legally beholden not to spend
that money on causes which do not enhance shareholder assets. In other
words, corporate citizenship, in order to be acceptable in the first place,
must never lose sight of the corporation’s fundamental goal of profitabil-
ity. Corporate citizenship must, as the Nike Web site honestly puts it, “con-
tribute to profitable and sustainable growth.” As a legal activity, corporate
citizenship must be nothing other than self-interested altruism, doing
good for others only if doing well by shareholders. How is this paradox
negotiated in The Coca-Cola Company’s proclamations of corporate
The paradox is, first of all, recognized. Thus the company’s 2002 Citi-
zenship Report, “Living Our Values,” characterizes its efforts as an attempt
to “balance and align” the pursuit of (shareholder) value with (stake-
holder) values: “global opportunity with cultural sensitivity; continued
growth with responsible use of natural resources; competitive advantage
with ethical management; and commercial success with respect for the
individual.” CEO Daft argues in the report, moreover, that “More than ever,
the boundaries are blurring between . . . profit and principle.” This blurring
is a purported effect of increasing interconnection between the world’s
“cultures and businesses,” such that consumers now make purchase deci-
sions on the basis of a company’s social contributions. In this blurry world,
then, “responsible practices make sound business sense.” That is, corporate
citizenship does not violate the company’s legal obligation to maximize
revenue for its owners. Indeed, as Daft puts it in The Coca-Cola Company’s
2002 Annual Report, creating new value (earnings) requires “living our val-
ues” (integrity, quality, accountability, diversity, and so forth).
The company’s citizenship reports all refer to the quadripartite division
of activities first outlined in Keeping Our Promise, namely, activities that
concern the marketplace, workplace, environment, and communities.
(This division corresponds broadly to the four aspects of corporate social
responsibility identified in Caroll’s [1979] model.) Within these categories,
it is often more or less obvious that activities promoted as socially respon-
sible citizenship are economically beneficial to the company and, in some
158 Coca-Globalization

instances, probably required by law. For example, the company strives “to
refresh the marketplace” by offering business training and equipment to
entrepreneurs, such as the Luciano family in Zimbabwe, who started sell-
ing Coca-Cola as street vendors and ended up owning three superettes.
The Lucianos are pictured in the report standing in front of what appears
to be one of their superettes. A company supplied sign, with the Coca-Cola
logotype, reads, “Luciano Kiosk.” A stack of plastic cartons of bottled Coke
is visible in the lower left corner of the photo. Similarly, the 2003 report
describes “microenterprise in Vietnam,” a project undertaken with the
Vietnamese Women’s Unions in which “2,000 women in Hanoi and Ho Chi
Minh City have gone into business selling Coca-Cola beverages from push-
carts.” The company provides product and sales training to the women and
characterizes the program as a way “to improve economic opportunities
for women.” But the program—like the program supporting the
Lucianos—is manifestly also a simple way to recruit and train employees
for the purpose of expanding further the availability of company products
to consumers. Employing and training workers, a precondition of making
a profit, is thus offered with self-congratulations as evidence of good
citizenship—especially in Africa, where the Coca-Cola system is the conti-
nent’s largest single private sector employer with sixty thousand employees.
These programs for creating a pool of skilled workers are not restricted
to the developing world. In the United States, the company has created an
internship program that identifies “150 top-performing students of diverse
heritage who are entering their junior year of college.” The students are
invited to participate in a two-year program that provides, for two consec-
utive summers, about ten weeks of “real-world work” with a mentor and a
ten-thousand-dollar-per-year scholarship. This program is represented in
the 2003 citizenship report as part of the company’s efforts to promote “a
culture of inclusiveness.” But, once again, the program is also manifestly a
managerial recruiting and training initiative, one that responds tactically
to the highly publicized charges of racial discrimination and ensuing class
action suit brought against the company in the late 1990s (for details, see
Hays 2004; Girard 2004). Compliance with the law—at least to the extent
that “cultures of exclusiveness” are illegal—is offered as evidence of good
There is a more general way in which corporate citizenship always
serves the interests of shareholder value: almost every socially responsible
initiative on the part of the company doubles as a marketing opportunity.
This doubling effect is one of the main attractions of corporate sponsor-
ship. For example, in 1993, the Coca-Cola Foundation granted $320,000
to the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg for an art restoration
Corporations, Consumers, and New Strategies of Citizenship 159

laboratory. More recently, the company contributed to the restoration of

the State Hermitage’s entrance on Palace Square by issuing, through its
bottler, four commemorative cans, each depicting a recognizable St. Peters-
burg scene, such as Palace Square. Proceeds from sales of the cans support
the restoration project. The program is called “Let’s Preserve the Cultural
Heritage Together.” The design of the cans blends the trademarked script
of Coca-Cola with public spaces in St. Petersburg, such that instead of
the script adorning a commercial billboard on the landscape, the land-
scape is reembedded in the surface of the product—as if by courtesy of
the trademark.
Even projects that seem to have little to do with selling and publicizing
the company’s products bear traces of its overall marketing strategies. Con-
sider, for example, the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, an initiative
established in 1984 in Texas and since replicated in Brazil. The program
aims to reduce the dropout rate of elementary and middle school students
by providing peer mentoring and tutoring—a goal admirable enough to
render peevish any complaints about the branded T-shirts worn by peer
mentors. However, the program typifies the company’s relentless emphasis
on youth (valued, indeed) in almost all of it corporate citizenship projects.
Look through the entire 2003 Citizenship Report and among the dozens of
listed projects worldwide, and you will not find one that targets senior cit-
izens and only a few that cater to people of all ages. It is hardly irrelevant to
note that most programs—in their focus on schools and sports—aim at
the company’s most valued market segment, the group of heavy-using
teenage consumers responsible for drinking most of the world’s carbon-
ated beverages. This focus is self-serving in two related respects.
First, the company’s involvement in sponsoring sports for youth allows
it to display concern for fostering a healthy and active lifestyle. The 2003
Citizenship Report for Europe, Eurasia and the Middle East observes: “As
young people lead increasingly sedentary lifestyles, we are providing
opportunities for exercise and athletic competitions across the region.”
These opportunities took the form of soccer tournaments in Italy and
Poland, playgrounds in Croatia, and physical education programs for sec-
ondary schools in Great Britain. The public concerns behind these initia-
tives were translated in the 2002 Citizenship Report: “In recent years, the
related issues of diet, lifestyle and physical activity have received increased
public attention. According to government data in the United States, over
the past twenty years caloric consumption has remained fairly constant
while physical activity has declined by 13 percent. The Coca-Cola Com-
pany believes that healthy lifestyle includes a variety of foods and beverages
and physical activities.” This particular way of phrasing things reframes the
160 Coca-Globalization

issue of rising rates of obesity, especially among children, as a matter of

personal responsibility rather than corporate strategies to increase per
capita consumption of non-nutritious, high-calorie soft drinks. As a cor-
porate citizen, then, the company pledges itself to encouraging youth to
take responsibility for themselves, “to incorporate physical activity into
their daily lives in a way that is easy and fun” (The Coca-Cola Company
2002 Citizenship Report). When asked to address concerns about the obe-
sity issue, CEO Daft prefaced his reply with this point: “Every product we
sell is refreshing, enjoyable and of the highest quality. Whether it’s Coca-
Cola or one of our waters or juices, any one of our brands can be enjoyed,
any time, as part of a healthy and active lifestyle” (The Coca-Cola Com-
pany 2003 Summary Annual Report). Once again, in a jujitsu move of
qualification, responsibility is deflected from the product, and perforce the
producer, to the consumer. Corporate social responsibility, by this logic,
entails changing the consumer’s habits rather than revising corporate mar-
keting imperatives (such as Roberto Goizueta’s self-heralded vision of
almost infinite growth in worldwide consumption).
Second, the company’s youth-focused philanthropy gives it access to
schools, and thus to concentrated groups of potential consumers. Outside
North America, the company’s initiatives even involve building schools
(inside North America, soft drinks and schools have become a controver-
sial issue; see Chapter 7). For example, according to the 2003 Citizenship
Report, the Coca-Cola Foundation Philippines has for several years under-
taken the Little Red Schoolhouse project: “Designed to help address the
country’s shortage of rural educational facilities, the project is a partner-
ship with the Philippine Department of Education and Philippine Busi-
ness for Social Progress (PBSP). The Little Red Schoolhouse project
provides school buildings and equipment, teacher training and workshops
for parent-teacher community associations.” The report notes that more
than five hundred thousand students have been reached by the project.
These students presumably include those at the Bulajo Elementary School,
pictured in the report. The new single-story building is fronted by a well-
groomed plaza in which a pole stands flying the national flag of the Philip-
pines. A sign proclaims the name of the school in block letters, to the left of
which, in ever familiar red and white, is a rectangular Coca-Cola logo. The
sign resembles the one on top of the Lucianos’ superette in Zimbabwe.
The report’s representation of schools in the Philippines contrasts sig-
nificantly with the one that emerged at the 2000 annual shareholder meet-
ing of Coca-Cola Amatil, held in the Grand Ball Room of the swank ANA
Hotel in Sydney. 1999 was a tough year for CCA’s operations in the
Philippines, then CCA’s largest business.2 Sales volume declined nearly
Corporations, Consumers, and New Strategies of Citizenship 161

10 percent; trading profit margin fell from 15 percent the year before to 5.8
percent, partly as a result of rising prices for sugar. CCA responded by
announcing a major restructuring of the Philippines business that
included consolidating production for Mega-Manila by closing down two
older bottling plants, and making adjustments in packaging and price “in
order to improve convenience and value to consumers and reduce cost per
case sold” (CCA Annual Report 1999). Shareholders at the April 2000
meeting, including myself, were also informed about CCA’s plans to deal
with performance in the Philippines by trying to target school children, in
schools. The audience watched a video and heard the voice of a Filipina
employee of CCA, described as an “educator,” who explained how she
sought to make Coke “natural ” to students. She remarked that 17 to 18
million students in the Philippines spend six to eight hours a day in school.
Schools were thus the perfect place “to nurture consumption habits and
brand reverence for Coca-Cola.” In effect, then, by building schools in the
Philippines, the company was expanding its market and cultivating brand
loyal consumers. The similarity of the signs on schools and superettes is
thus more than coincidental; it is incontrovertible proof of doing well by
doing good.
The Coca-Cola Company’s discourse of citizenship and corporate social
responsibility presumes and asserts that operating a “sustainable”
business—and ensuring “sustainable growth” and “enduring value”—
hinges on trust. Daft was asked what the company was doing “to address
the crisis of trust that pervades the business climate today” (The Coca-Cola
Company 2003 Summary Annual Report). He replied that building trust
entailed “paying attention to details and making sure they reflect your val-
ues.” These details include the political relationships that the company
deems important for furthering its interests. So, for example, the 2003 Cit-
izenship Report explicitly describes the company’s Prato Popular program
in Brazil as an attempt to join President Lula da Silva’s campaign to eradi-
cate malnutrition and hunger in the country (Zero Hunger Program).
What might be gained in such an alliance? Here I speculate. Lula de Silva’s
economic policies—his stated skepticism of “free trade” and privatiza-
tion—might be perceived as potential threats to the company’s operations,
which also risked implication in any campaign against poor nutrition. An
opportunity to join with the president would go some way toward demon-
strating citizenship in one of the communities where the company oper-
ates. Significantly, the Prato Popular program, which involves building and
outfitting restaurants to serve subsidized meals of meat, beans, rice, and
salad, is perhaps of all the company’s projects the least obviously in line
with its youth-focused marketing imperatives: “The pilot restaurant
162 Coca-Globalization

opened in Porto Alegre in April 2003 was a real success. Today, 320
meals/day are served—20 beyond the initial goal—to a group of . . . people
comprising unemployed and homeless, youngsters, elders, needy families
and retirees” (The Coca-Cola Company 2004, http://www2.coca-cola
_project_include.html). Hardly the company’s target market. Porto Alegre,
of course, was home to the first annual World Social Forum in 2001 (and
several subsequent meetings), organized by a network of Brazilian trade
unions and NGOs as a public attempt to protest the neoliberal policies of
economic globalization represented by the annual World Economic Forum
meetings in Davos.
The new marketing emphasis on international corporate citizenship is
consistent with the shift from numerous independent local bottlers to the
singular product or brand itself as the primary means for creating trust
overseas—for reembedding the company in diverse national and local set-
tings (Chapter 3). Of course, The Coca-Cola Company cultivates political
trust at home in the United States through more conventional means as
well, such as financial donations to political candidates and political action
committees (PACs). The Center for Responsive Politics reports that during
the 2000, 2002, and 2004 election cycles, individuals (including employees)
and PACs associated with The Coca-Cola Company and Coca-Cola Enter-
prises were among the top contributors in the food and beverage industry
to federal candidates and parties. For example, in 2002, the company’s
associates contributed $849,208 (42 percent to Democrats, 58 percent to
Republicans), while associates of Coca-Cola Enterprises contributed
$436,956 (16 percent to Democrats and 84 percent to Republicans; Furthermore, Ruskin and Schor (2005)
report that two of the 2004 “Rangers” who contributed at least $200,000
each to the Bush/Cheney campaign were Barclay Resler, vice-president for
government and public affairs at The Coca-Cola Company, and Robert
Leeborn Jr., president of federal affairs at Troutman Sanders PAG and a
lobbyist for the company (two other lobbyists qualified as one-hundred-
thousand-dollar contributors). In addition, both Coke and Pepsi gave one
hundred thousand dollars each to underwrite George W. Bush’s inaugura-
tion in 2005 (Ruskin and Schor 2005).
Besides making political donations, the company also maintains a
“Civic Action Network” (
civic.html), an “organized grassroots effort” whose purpose is to “influence
change in government.” In response to the FAQ, “Why should I join?” the
company replies, “Over the next ten years, special taxes and burdensome
governmental regulations will cost our industry, and our customers, over
Corporations, Consumers, and New Strategies of Citizenship 163

one billion dollars. We must reduce this cost. As a network member, you’ll
add your voice to thousands of others across the country who are ready to
speak out for just treatment for our business.” These “burdensome” regula-
tions include, for example, state initiatives to enact returnable bottle
(“forced deposit”) laws or to enact taxes in order to raise revenues to pro-
tect water resources. The August 2000 issue of Network News, an irregular
publication of The Coca-Cola Company Governmental Relations Depart-
ment, thus reports how Civic Action Network (CAN) members opposed a
“hidden tax” on bottled water. According to one brief item, hundreds of
CAN members in the state of New Hampshire were contacted “to commu-
nicate to their senators and representatives” that the proposed two cents
per container tax on all bottles of water “was a selective and discriminatory
tax.” The revenue from the proposed tax was “to be used to purchase land
or easements from municipalities to protect water resources.” It is not clear
from the item if these water resources included the sources of the munici-
pal water system of Londonderry, New Hampshire, where a plant
reprocesses tap water as The Coca-Cola Company’s branded bottled water
product, Dasani (Clarke 2005).3
Nevertheless, the preoccupation with cultivating trust seems motivated
less by immediate political considerations than by long-term economic
ones. I suggest that this circumstance—and perhaps the recent enlarge-
ment of the discourse of corporate citizenship—is itself a function of the
shift in the source of value creation from tangible product to intangible
brand (Chapter 3). That is, corporate social responsibility has become a
necessary expense of doing business if not for all companies then for con-
sumer goods companies that rely on the reputation of their brands for sales
(Klein 1999; Vogel 2005). The Nike Web site duly summarizes its experi-
ence with extensive and well publicized campaigns against its use of low-
paid labor to manufacture athletic shoes when it equates corporate
citizenship with protecting and enhancing its brand. As Noreena Hertz
(2001, 191) puts it, “In the age of the logo, reputation is paramount. It is no
longer enough that corporations produce high quality goods at reasonable
prices, they also have to be seen to be making a positive or at least not a neg-
ative contribution to society.” Or, as Douglas Daft himself put it in the com-
pany’s first citizenship report: “Ensuring that we operate as a good corporate
citizen is essential—to the strength of our brands, to the value we build for
share owners and to our success as a company.” Corporate citizenship is
from this angle an investment, a means to create a future for the brand—
a purpose also well served by the company’s focus on youth development.
Invocations of sustainability and stewardship—words appropriated from
the vocabulary of environmental activists—refer, at bottom, to the brand
164 Coca-Globalization

as a renewable source of profits. But this renewal requires, above all, value-
producing consumption work, and it is precisely this work that is put in
jeopardy when the company tarnishes its reputation (as in the Belgian
recall fiasco) or abuses the trust of consumers (as in the New Coke fiasco).


The notion of corporate citizenship contains another ambiguity. It implies

that as persons, corporations can play a role as citizens analogous to that of
ordinary individual citizens. That is, the corporation is one among many
citizens—though perhaps first among equals because of its more extensive
resources. However, the notion also implies that corporations are not only
entities that, like citizens, claim rights and recognize obligations, but also
entities that administer and guarantee these rights (Matten and Crane
2003). In this respect, corporations are less like citizens and more like
states. Welfare states, to be precise. That is, corporations actively take upon
themselves state functions that, in cases such as that of PNG (see Chapter
4), are not or are no longer being discharged by the current government
and its agencies. Hence the contention of Matten and Crane (2003, 11) that
“corporate citizenship” properly designates how “‘corporation’ and ‘citi-
zenship’ in modern society come together at the point where the state
ceases to be the only guarantor of citizenship.” Put differently, corporations
take their place beside NGOs (with whom they often partner) and inter-
state institutions such as the United Nations in performing outsourced
state functions and, thus, a new mode of government (Ferguson and Gupta
2002). In particular, entities such as The Coca-Cola Company that fashion
themselves as simultaneously global and local become “integral parts of a
transnational apparatus of governmentality” (Ferguson and Gupta 2002,
994). This mode of government clearly exceeds and confounds the space
and scale of the territorial nation-state.
How does this new mode of government appear in the pages of the
company’s citizenship reports? Here are a few pertinent illustrations.
According to the first report, Keeping Our Promise, the company offered
“the gift of water” to the rice farmers whose fields surround the Coca-Cola
bottling facility near the village of Neung-Hyun Ri in South Korea. The
facility developed the means to store treated processed water and to direct
it to the rice fields during dry summers. This arrangement is presented as a
creative and wise exercise in environmental sustainability. A local farmer is
quoted as saying, “The quality of treated process water from Coca-Cola
is as good for rice as the water from our natural sources, and is there when
we need it.” This particular example of corporate citizenship is perhaps
Corporations, Consumers, and New Strategies of Citizenship 165

ironic, given the company’s current problems dealing with farmers in India
who accuse it of stealing groundwater (see Conclusion). It also raises but
sidesteps the question of whose water the bottling facility was treating in
the first place and giving secondarily. But my point is simply to note how a
quintessential rural development project—once the hallmark of develop-
ment-oriented liberal democratic and socialist states alike—is here carried
out not by the South Korean state, but by a transnational corporation. It is
the corporation, not the state, that guarantees rice farmers their rights to
make a living from the land.
In its reports, the company celebrates its partnerships not only with
state agencies (the Ministry of Education in Egypt; the Ministry of the
Environment in Lebanon), but also with a range of NGOs. In India, these
partnerships have delivered educational services to “young people lacking
resources” (NGOs include Child Relief and You, and Literacy India), med-
ical services to the poor (NGOs include Indian Red Cross and St. John’s
Ambulance Brigade), and rainwater harvesting systems to local communi-
ties (NGOs and Resident Welfare Associations as well as state agencies are
involved in this initiative). In Africa, the company—through the Coca-
Cola Africa Foundation and its bottlers—has partnered with UNAIDS, a
United Nations body, to implement outreach efforts and promotional
campaigns designed to increase awareness about and reduce the spread of
HIV/AIDS. In Zambia, for example, nationwide free delivery of educa-
tional materials was offered through the Coca-Cola distribution network.
By 2003—in apparent response to vigorous protests such as the one at the
2002 shareholder meeting—the company could report that “all of the
nearly 60,000 employees of The Coca-Cola Company in Africa and its 40
African bottling partners—including family members—are provided
access to antiretroviral medication and confidential testing and counsel-
ing” (see Chapter 6). As in other developing countries, then, the company
in Africa takes over “those functions that are clearly governmental func-
tions in the framework of liberal citizenship” (Matten and Crane 2003, 11).
The withering of the state in Africa and elsewhere does not therefore
automatically mean less government; it can equally mean a new mode of
extraterritorial or “deterritorialized” governmentality, in which global cor-
porations as well as transnational NGOs and international agencies all play
a part. And while this new mode of governmentality shuts down certain
avenues for making claims on the basis of national citizenship, it opens up
new avenues for asserting claims on the basis of a deterritorialized—
perhaps cosmopolitan—consumer citizenship. Put differently, agents con-
nected within a commodity network, although legal citizens of different and
distant nation-states—might resist and/or redirect the agenda of corporate
166 Coca-Globalization

social responsibility in the name of another form of citizenship—

consumer citizenship, to which I now turn.

Consumer Citizenship and the Politics of Products

Consumer citizenship is the flip side of corporate citizenship. Consumer

citizenship engages individuals in their roles as market agents—con-
sumers, above all, but also investors—in order to effect goals that might
equally and otherwise be achieved through political regulation, such as
adherence to environmental standards or respect for the rights of workers.
Consumer citizenship, like corporate citizenship, functions as an alterna-
tive to conventional modes of government; consumers lobby corporations
directly instead of indirectly lobbying political representatives to regulate
corporations. In many respects, consumer citizenship is a consequence of
frustration with and/or indifference to government—a frustration and
indifference registered, for example, by both decreasing rates of voter par-
ticipation and the increasing appeal of market solutions to what were once
government problems. The response is not irrational. If corporations are
indeed taking on the functions of government in delivering goods and
services to the people, then it makes a certain sense for the people to deal
directly with corporations, leveraging influence as consumers and, as I
show in Chapter 6, as shareowners. The question consumer citizenship
poses about itself is, therefore, should we regard it as a legitimate form of
civic engagement or as the degradation of civic ideals—or as both at the
same time?
Political consumerism—the species of consumer citizenship in which
individuals exercise political will via purchasing choices—has a long line-
age in the United States. It could be argued that it is coeval with the birth of
the republic inasmuch as the American Revolution can be regarded as a
consumer protest against British imports (see Breen 1988). In a strict
sense, political consumerism is a form of “individualized collective
action”(Micheletti 2003) in which the everyday actions of individuals who
do not belong to any single association nonetheless generate a collective
effect. But the “politics of products” (Micheletti 2003) often goes beyond
individualized collective action to embrace concerted collective action, that
is, the formation of social organizations dedicated to the use of consumption
for political purposes. In many cases, it is these social organizations that
make a more individualized and anonymous political consumerism possible
in the first place. Two examples from the long nineteenth century illustrate
both sorts of market-oriented practices. They deserve brief mention for
what they can tell us about the contemporary possibilities of consumer
Corporations, Consumers, and New Strategies of Citizenship 167

agency: first, the White Label campaign and, second, the consumer coop-
erative movement.
The White Label campaign, which ran from 1898 to 1918, was an
attempt on the part of the National Consumers’ League—a progressive
women’s organization—to construct “an imagined community of con-
sumers and producers” (Sklar 1998, 17). In order to qualify for the White
Label, garment manufacturers were required to meet minimum labor stan-
dards, including prohibitions on subcontracting, overtime, and child labor.
By 1904, the League had licensed sixty factories that produced the sorts of
goods regularly purchased by middle-class women, such as stitched white
cotton underwear, corsets and petticoats. Although women were then
legally denied the right to vote, the campaign promoted notions of con-
sumer agency that shared assumptions with an electoral model of purchas-
ing power—namely, that mass-based consumer demand was central to the
national economy and that consumption was all about making choices in
the marketplace. However, the campaign linked these assumptions to
another one: that consumer agency requires both knowledge about the
working conditions of producers and moral obligations to reject goods pro-
duced under exploitative circumstances. The campaign was conducted on a
national scale, but rooted in local communities, educating middle-class con-
sumers about the working conditions within their own communities.
The consumer cooperative movement emerged throughout Europe and
in the Americas during the early to mid-nineteenth century and sustained
itself until the mid-twentieth century before stagnating and declining. (Its
history is complex and understudied, but see Storrs 2000; Frank 1994; Fur-
lough and Strikwerda 1999.) Urban workers and rural farmers organized
themselves around a consumer identity that comprehended more than free
choice and self-expression: “As consumers they demanded fair prices,
unadulterated foodstuffs, and goods made under just conditions by union-
ized workers. As consumers, they built institutions that returned profits on
the basis of consumer purchases rather than on the basis of shares owned.
As consumers they constructed vast wholesaling enterprises, founded
political parties, and debated the nature of the good society of the future”
(Furlough and Strikwerda 1999, 5). The cooperative movement empha-
sized associations of consumers rather than individual consumers; its
ideal—unlike that of later consumer advocates, for example—was that a
retail system run on cooperative principles was an alternative to and pro-
tection against private capitalist enterprise. Associations of consumers—
which could be connected nationally and internationally, and extended
into wholesaling and manufacturing operations—committed themselves
to “community self-reliance, democratic governance, profits returned to
168 Coca-Globalization

consumers rather than corporations, and economic justice” (Furlough and

Strikwerda 1999, 27).
Consumer tactics such as boycotts, label promotions, and “unfair” lists
have been an important aspect of the labor movement in all periods of U.S.
history. As Frank notes, “The politics of consumption . . . have been central
to class conflict and working-class self-organization . . . in periods of both
expansion and retrenchment (1994, 5).” In short, in the United States at
least, discourses of consumer agency and ideals of social justice have been
entangled for a long time, and it is against this historical background that a
contemporary politics of products must be understood (Micheletti 2003;
see Cohen 2003 on New Deal consumer politics). Contemporary political
forms reprise older ones: public protests against sweatshop labor in the
garment and footwear industries, labeling schemes for fair trade chocolate
and equal exchange coffee, consumer coops, and a whole slew of boy-
cotts—perhaps the most venerable tool of political consumerism. They
also include new sorts of consumer-based initiatives such as community-
supported agriculture and socially responsible investing. Many of these
initiatives are explicitly caught up in the larger politics of globalization,
that is, in the operation of transnational activist networks, movements, and
organizations committed to addressing the inequalities associated with
economic globalization.
It is my hope that by situating current consumer-based initiatives in a
respectable genealogy of political consumerism, I will temper any impulse
to dismiss consumerism—political or otherwise—as the polar opposite of
progressive politics, a debilitating ideological effect of industrial capital-
ism’s prodigious capacity to create wealth. Put differently, I wish to resist
the temptation to regard consumer citizenship automatically as nothing
but oxymoronic or to lament the transformation of citizens into con-
sumers, of civic engagement into self-indulgent shopping (cf. Ewen 1992).
I refuse, then, the axiomatic equation of consumer citizenship with the
reduction of democratic freedoms and civil rights to an ultimate and illu-
sory freedom of market choice. Yet I am mindful of these criticisms and
more. I recognize the risk that political consumerism—for example, in the
form of labeling campaigns for organic foods (Guthman 2004)—lends
itself to co-optation and constraint by the very institutions (such as the
conventional food system) that it seeks to reform. I similarly recognize the
risk that certain articulations of subversive consumer rebellion are by now
the hum of business as usual (Frank 1997, Heath and Potter 2004). Aware
of all this, I nonetheless want to ask whether there is a form of progressive
political agency available in the politics of products and in political con-
sumerism, more specifically. I can suggest what is possible by reviewing
Corporations, Consumers, and New Strategies of Citizenship 169

how such a politics is taking shape around carbonated soft drinks such as
Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola; in so doing, I address the limitations of these
possibilities. I address more generally the limitations—as well as the posi-
tive potential—of a politics of consumption at the end of Chapter 7 and in
the Conclusion.


The politics of products shifts the site of political agency from production
to consumption precisely in order to highlight the connections between
both sites, that is, to connect consumers with producers as agents held
together (though not always with equal force) by a product network. In the
form of political consumerism, it tries to consolidate and leverage the pur-
chasing power of individuals who might otherwise remain unassociated and
to use this power to reform the practices of corporations—especially con-
sumer goods corporations that rely heavily on their brands as a source of
value creation. Political consumerism that targets brands—Nike, Gap,
Mattel—and that attempts to make visible the conditions of workers who
produce branded commodities has become one of the hallmarks of so-called
antiglobalization activism (see, for example, Klein 1999 or the Web site of the
National Labor Committee, Individuals are encour-
aged to write directly to retail store managers and corporate officials,
invoking their authority as consumers to express moral concerns about
products that bear certain brands. This form of political consumerism
does not presuppose a unified body of individuals; it is network-based,
mobilizing and recruiting participants who do not necessarily share the
same perspective on a particular commodity. In this regard, political con-
sumerism takes on the social morphology of other so-called antiglobaliza-
tion initiatives and coalitions, organized in often informal and ad hoc ways
through the new media technologies of e-mail and Internet that also
enable such brutal efficiencies of economic globalization as Wal-Mart’s
integrated transnational supply chains. Indeed, it takes on the morphology
of the very networks assembled by the products that provide the focus of
political activism (Graeber 2002; Klein 2000).
Nevertheless, political consumerism often requires, entails, and pro-
motes a more encompassing politics of consumption that seeks to establish
institutional alternatives for consumers (such as cooperative stores) or
institutional arrangements to validate guarantees made to consumers
(such as the Worker Rights Consortium set up to monitor compliance of
garment producers with minimum labor standards; http://www.worker These institutions make it possible for individuals to practice
170 Coca-Globalization

everyday political consumerism with relatively little effort and less than
passionate commitment. It is this very possibility, of course, that renders
political consumerism both attractive and vulnerable. That is, political
consumerism can be easily built into a person’s routine shopping and pro-
visioning, but it can also be easily rendered impotent when, for example,
labeling schemes are misleading or weakly enforced, or when, as I argue in
Chapter 7, political consumerism becomes an end in itself, detached from
other modes of civic action.
Political consumerism and the politics of products challenge the dis-
tinction between the market and the world outside the market—the cos-
mological divide that corporate citizenship mediates but never seeks to
eliminate (and not only for legal reasons). In so doing, they equally chal-
lenge familiar distinctions between public and private, political and eco-
nomic, citizenship and consumption. In this light, not only consumption,
but all market activity must be conducted in morally informed ways—
guided by values, virtues, and ethics as well as by self-interest. This dictum
applies especially to the conduct of relations between employers and wage-
laborers, but in principle the extent of its application is almost boundless.
Such a possibility is perhaps most readily apparent when considering the
environmental or ecological ramifications of globally produced and con-
sumed products (consider, for instance, a PET bottle of spring water
imported from Fiji and drunk in Canada). For a global corporation like
The Coca-Cola Company, the politics of products potentially represents a
loss of control over delimiting exactly who or what the company “touches”
and who or what the company is obliged to “refresh”; a loss of control over
the borders of the polity in which the company obliges itself to act as a good
citizen. This loss of control is, in other words, an inability to align perspec-
tives within a product network or even to keep the network—ever responsive
to the agendas of its diverse constituent agents—from falling apart.
The politics of products, moreover, when coupled with an emergent
form of transnational governmentality that includes but exceeds the agen-
cies of territorial nation-states, means that the legitimate concerns of con-
sumer-citizens need not be restricted to their own countries of political
citizenship. Consumer-citizens, like anthropologists, are free to follow the
thing, to track branded consumer goods through value chains of vast geo-
graphical extensiveness, reacting in Rochester, New York, to morally trou-
bling situations unfolding in Colombia or South Africa. These reactions,
like the operations of NGOs and interstate agencies, form a dimension of
transnational governmentality. They potentially open up a new space for
the creation of transnational alliances and deterritorialized communities
in which some of the inequities of neoliberal economic globalization can
Corporations, Consumers, and New Strategies of Citizenship 171

be redressed if not eradicated. Douglas Daft’s question is thus pertinent:

“How does a local business, global in scope, demonstrate citizenship?” We
might similarly ask, “How do local consumers, with an eye toward
translocal connections, demonstrate citizenship?” What are the ways in
which a globally aware form of consumer-citizenship is taking shape
in and around the far-flung network of soft drink perspectives? And with
what, if any, effects?

Soft Drink Perspectives on Political Consumerism

Fire up your search engine and enter “boycott Coca-Cola.” You will find
unequivocal evidence of the risks of being a high profile global consumer
goods corporation in this moment of the politics of products. Reasons for
boycotting Coca-Cola include protests over groundwater takings in India
and over corporate support for the state of Israel. In addition, groups
including the Pacific Green Party of Portland, Oregon, and the National
Union of Students in the United Kingdom have called (the latter unsucess-
fully) for boycotts of Coca-Cola products in solidarity with trade unionists
in Colombia, who have accused the company of complicity with anti-union
violence (Chapter 6). Updated reports of consumer tactics directed against
the company and its bottlers can be found on Web sites including Coke- There is no doubt that new media technologies have expanded
the possible scope of an old weapon of consumer politics—the boycott.
Long lists of ongoing boycotts can be found on the Web sites of groups
ranging from the Ethical Consumer Research Association to the American
Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).
Boycotts are a form of negative political consumerism, a kind of anti-
shopping well suited to the quick and unambiguous expression of moral
outrage. For example, in the wake of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March
2003, consumer boycotts were initiated across Europe against American
products, including Coca-Cola (see Figure 5.3). While it is difficult to
assess the effectiveness of this antiwar action, it is worth noting that the
most recent spate of boycotts in connection with accusations of labor vio-
lence in Colombia has prompted the company to respond publicly, using
the same sort of electronic means available to consumer activists. For
example, a Google search of “boycott Coke” in 2005 called up a “sponsored
link” to, a company Web page with the heading, The Truth
About the Coca-Cola Company Around The World. The page not only
responds to allegations about human rights abuses in Colombia, but also
provides background on the history of the company’s operations there and
a copy of a commissioned report that “found no instances of anti-union
172 Coca-Globalization

Figure 5.3 Anglet, France, March 2003. Three members of a Basque antiwar group stage a “die-in”
inside a supermarket. The group protested the U.S.-led war against Iraq and called for a boycott of Amer-
ican goods. AP IMAGES/Bob Edme.

violence or intimidation at Coca-Cola bottling plants.” In this case, at least,

persistent and well-publicized allegations about the company’s operations
posed enough of a risk to reputation and image that the company devoted
resources to a substantive rather than dismissive reply.
The controversy over The Coca-Cola Company’s operations in Colom-
bia (see Chapter 6) exemplify how transnational governmentality remains
open to contest through reconfigurations of a product network. A transna-
tional network of consumers effectively pressured a transnational corpora-
tion to clarify its role in a labor dispute that pitted trade unionists against
a national state which over the previous two decades of IMF-imposed
reforms had used both legislative and paramilitary means to debilitate
unionized labor (Gill 2004a). Indeed, the anthropologist Lesley Gill, who
has written about the situation in Colombia, has suggested steps that
would bring another NGO—the American Anthropological Association—
into this network and thus apply further pressure on The Coca-Cola Com-
pany “to change its business practices” (2004b, 2). Nor is this controversy
unique. As I write these words, the New York Times (Greenhouse 2005) is
reporting on a controversy over hourly wages at Wal-Mart, which are
below the national average for all retail workers. A campaign called “Love
Mom, Not Wal-Mart,” undertaken by is encourag-
ing consumers to buy Mother’s Day gifts “from companies that treat our
nation’s mothers and all women with fairness and respect.”
Corporations, Consumers, and New Strategies of Citizenship 173

The Mother’s Day campaign has provoked two responses worthy of

note. First, five members of the U.S. Congress have lent their support to the
campaign to reform Wal-Mart’s labor practices. That is, state representa-
tives are in effect joining an initiative started by the thousands of Ameri-
cans (385,000 as of 2007)—self-described “grassroots leaders, community
groups and activists” (or consumer-citizens)—who compose WakeUpWal- The state follows rather than leads on this issue of corporate
social responsibility. Second, Wal-Mart has—apparently for the first
time—gone out of its way to invite journalists to a company-sponsored
conference at its headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, to hear its views.
Wal-Mart rejects proposals to increase wages or medical benefits on the
grounds that such increases would eliminate price advantages and thus
“betray our commitment to tens of millions of customers, many of whom
are struggling to make ends meet.” George Whalin, of Retail Management
Consultants, put the matter in terms that starkly outline the limits of cor-
porate citizenship: “Wal-Mart has a responsibility to serve their cus-
tomers—to give them a good product—and to their shareholders. They
don’t have a responsibility to society to pay a higher wage than the law says
you have to pay” (Greenhouse 2005). But Whalin’s comments also fore-
shadow the limits of consumer citizenship by implying that unless political
consumerism results in a change in public policy—“the law”—then its effi-
cacy is measured only by the vulnerability of corporate bottom lines.
According to Micheletti (2003, 88–89), most boycotts neither mobilize
large numbers of consumers to participate nor achieve their stated goals:
“Many are complete failures because they are ill-conceived and are more
similar to spontaneous, short-lived, grassroots urgent expressions of
protest than serious commitment to a political cause.” Nevertheless, to the
extent that boycotts publicize allegations that might harm a corporation’s
reputation and image, they will remain a basic tool of political provocation
(and of forcefully denying corporations the opportunity to reembed their
products in value-creating community relations). The following review of
several manifestations of a politics of soft drink products considers forms
of “positive political consumerism” (Micheletti 2003, 80) in addition to
refusals to buy particular branded goods—“buycotts,” so to speak, as well
as boycotts.

Ethical or Smart Shopping: The New Anti-Coca-Colas

Ethical consumption or smart shopping functions like a tax earmarked for

specific purposes. Consumers buy a particular brand of goods because
some portion of the sales price will be donated to a particular cause; or,
alternatively, consumers pay a premium price for a product guaranteed to
174 Coca-Globalization

have been produced under fair working or environmentally safe condi-

tions, or exchanged for a fair price with its producers. The latter arrange-
ment is almost unknown in the carbonated soft drink industry; “fair trade”
colas are scarce. The former arrangement, “cause marketing,” is common,
however, as the example of CCA’s sponsorship of the Papua New Guinea
Olympic team through sales of five-hundred-milliliter bottles suggests (see
Chapter 4). Similarly (and ironically, given the “Love Mom” campaign),
according to Hertz (2003, 202), “Coca-Cola calculated that in 1997 it expe-
rienced a 490 percent increase in sales of its products at 450 Wal-Mart
stores during a six-week campaign allied with Mother’s Against Drunk
Driving, to whom the company donated a proportion of its sales.” Hertz
remarks that it is not surprising, therefore, that Direct Marketing can report
that 85 percent of American corporations now use cause marketing tactics.
Recently, calls for ethical consumption and smart shopping have been
issued in the name of anti-coca-colonization, active resistance to American
political, economic, cultural, and military domination. Anti-coca-colo-
nization has often taken the form of boycotts—not only against Coca-Cola
but also against all goods perceived as American, of which Coca-Cola and
McDonald’s are perhaps the epitome. The U.S.-led war in Iraq has pro-
vided only the most recent stimulus to this strategy. However, with respect
to soft drinks, buycotts have seemingly eclipsed boycotts as an instrument
of anti-coca-colonization in the years after 9/11. In November 2002, Taw-
fik Mathlouthi, a Tunisian-born French entrepreneur, launched Mecca-
Cola in Paris as part of a campaign against “America’s imperialism and
Zionism” (Murphy 2003). Within a year, Mecca-Cola had expanded to
fifty-four countries, booking about nine million dollars in revenue in 2003.
Ten percent of Mecca-Cola’s profits are set aside as donations to groups
helping Palestinian children, and another 10 percent as funds for local
charities. Hence the company’s tag line: “No more drinking stupid. Drink
with commitment.”
In 2003, Zahida Parveen, a businesswoman based in Derby, United
Kingdom, launched Qibla Cola, which her company’s CEO described as “a
real alternative for people concerned by the practices of the major western
multinationals that support unjust causes and support the American
administration, known for its colonial policies” (“Soft Drink Group
Expands Range” 2003). (Qibla is Arabic for direction—the direction of
Mecca.) Like Mecca-Cola, Qibla Cola donates 10 percent of its profits to
charitable causes, including those of the UK-based charity, Islamic Aid.
Qibla Cola represents itself as an “ethical alternative” and says to con-
sumers: “Liberate your taste.”
Corporations, Consumers, and New Strategies of Citizenship 175

Liberate your taste recalls Pepsi’s former marketing slogan in Papua

New Guinea, Break Free. The fact that Quibla Cola in England and Pepsi in
PNG both invoke the notion of freedom and liberation to sell soft drinks
no doubt indicates to many critics the worldwide spread of a debased form
of “political” freedom and agency. At the very least, the coincidence should
make us cautious about the rhetoric of consumer agency in a politics of
products and to acknowledge the ironies of anti-coca-colonization as a
weapon of resistance against globalization.4 Perhaps more basically, we
might ask with Farish A. Noor if the replacement of one brand of sweet-
ened carbonated water by another constitutes radical political and cultural
reform. Noor (2003), writing in the New Straits Times (Malaysia), notes
that the anti-Coca-Colas, in replicating what they deny, illustrate the
twisted logic of hegemony, in which people exhibit true signs of submis-
sion by aping the ways of their conquerors: “the nations and communities
of the developing world must learn that to confront Western (and specifi-
cally American) hegemony cannot be done through piecemeal gestures like
imitating Western products and lifestyles.”
Furthermore, while Mecca-Cola and Quibla Cola qualify their products
as a means for connecting consumers with other persons—both the recip-
ients of the charitable donations and the horizontal fellowship of anti-
Coca-Cola consumers—the brands also float freely as signifiers of an
oppositional identity. Put differently, these anti-Coca-Colas are not mar-
keted as goods enmeshed in a chain of social relations, a commodity net-
work that links producers and distributors as well as consumers. The
question of who produced them and who profits from them remains
unasked and unanswered. Accordingly, this form of consumer citizenship
forestalls any consideration of its instrumental effects in reproducing cap-
italist class relations despite its manifest claims to address political and eco-
nomic inequality.
Do the emergence of brands like Quibla Cola and Mecca-Cola merely
pluralize coca-colonization, making it a multicultural rather than mono-
cultural process? Are these brands signs of glocalization—Wilk’s global
“system of common difference” (Chapter 2)—rather than alternatives to
(American-led) globalization? The case of the most recently prominent
anti-Coca-Cola—Cola Turka—suggests an affirmative answer. Cola Turka
is the product of the Ülker Group, a major Turkish confectionery and
cookie company that exports to more than ninety-five countries. Ülker has
contributed to Turkey’s conservative-religious Justice and Development
Party and has been alleged to support an Islamist agenda. In July 2003, a new
ad campaign for Cola Turka appeared on Turkish television just as Turkish
troops were taken into custody in northern Iraq by U.S. troops—an incident
176 Coca-Globalization

that provoked strong anti-American feelings in Turkey. The first two

advertisements were set in New York and featured the American comic
actor Chevy Chase (see Özkan and Foster 2005). In the ads, versions of
which can be seen on Cola Turka’s Web site, Chase encounters unusual
signs of Turkish national culture as he goes about his day. A car full of
Turkish men, wrapped in their national flag, drives through Times Square
celebrating a soccer victory; a cowboy in a diner speaks to Chase in Turk-
ish argot after drinking Cola Turka; Chase arrives home to discover his wife
preparing a Turkish meal; the guests at the table take up the Turkish
“anthem of the youth,” a popular song associated with Turkish national
independence. Finally, after trying Cola Turka himself, Chase sprouts a
bushy black moustache.
In Turkey, the advertising campaign prompted many people to adopt
Cola Turka as an anti-American, anti-Coca-Cola. Sales increased signifi-
cantly, as some cafés banned the sale of American soft drinks in protest of
U.S. government policies. Ülker and many Turkish consumers, however,
denied that the intent of the advertising campaign was to promote an anti-
American product. The ad agency (an Istanbul affiliate of Young and Rubi-
cam) described its strategy as “positive nationalism.” As one consumer put
it, “It is not anti-American, just pro-Turkish.” Indeed, the ads appealed to
many viewers as a humorous assertion of national pride that playfully
inverts the direction of cultural influence by depicting a typical if bland
suburban American (Chevy Chase) reacting to what happens when his fel-
low Americans adopt Turkish customs (see Özkan and Foster 2005 for
more discussion).
In any event, whether the ads are understood as pro-Turkish or anti-
American, the result is identical. Turkish consumers affirm their national
identity through the purchase of a soft drink. Drinking Cola Turka, then, is
qualified as an act of patriotism. In other words, consumerism, with its
dominant values of personal freedom and choice, becomes the vehicle for
enacting citizenship. The market, rather than the state, becomes the imme-
diate reference point for demonstrating national belonging. Again, we
might well pause to consider whether consumer citizenship of this sort is a
form of political resistance or an instrument for consolidating market rule,
as many critics would say of all sorts of consumer citizenship. Put differ-
ently, do the Cola Turka ads represent the Turkification of America or the
continued coca-colonization of Turkey, albeit by a local multinational
Corporations, Consumers, and New Strategies of Citizenship 177

De-Coca-Colonization or Culture Jamming

Before I take up these issues, I wish to return to a different one—the muta-

bility of commodities and their openness to constant requalification
(Chapter 1), an appreciation of which suggests a politics of the product
that might be termed “de-coca-colonization.” De-coca-colonization refers
to the process by which foreign imports are put in the service of domestic
agendas (see Flusty 2004). In other words, cultural products emanating
from abroad are put to uses that are neither intended nor anticipated by
their original producers. Accordingly, de-coca-colonization can sometimes
function as a transparent protest against coca-colonization. Take, for
example, Insertions into Ideological Circuits, the project of Brazilian con-
ceptual artist Cildo Meireles. In 1970, during a period of military rule in
Brazil when political dissent was heavily censored, Meireles appropriated
the circuit of returnable Coca-Cola bottles for the dissemination of his
own messages. He silk-screened subversive statements such as “Yankees
Go Home!” onto the sides of empty returnable bottles, which he then put
back into circulation through the deposit system. When the bottles were
refilled, the protest slogans became plainly visible (see Figure 5.4). Meire-
les similarly appropriated the state-issued currency as another circuit of

Figure 5.4 Insertions into Ideological Circuits; Coca-Cola Project, 1970. © Cildo Meireles, Image cour-
tesy Galerie Lelong, New York.
178 Coca-Globalization

communication, stamping his own dissident slogans on paper bills, the

everyday means by which state power naturalizes and circulates itself.
In Meireles’s project, de-coca-colonization is intentionally subversive—
a deliberate act of resistance. In other instances, de-coca-colonization puts
foreign imports to uses that might not be intentionally political, or that
might refer to a different sort of politics. Recall Kaipel Ka’s war shield and
the offerings of Mayan worshippers (Chapter 1). This sort of appropriation
of foreign goods for domestic purposes—what I am calling de-coca-colo-
nization—is most spectacularly illustrated with some examples from
Ghana, superbly crafted coffins produced by coastal Ga people to memori-
alize the deceased. The design of the coffins—a fish, an onion, or a cocoa
pod, for example—bears some connection to the life story of the deceased.
Often the designs indicate high status, such as a coffin carved in the shape
of a Mercedes-Benz sedan. Nor is it apparently uncommon now for brand-
name consumer goods to receive the dead, such as a coffin in the shape of
the Nike Air Jordan sneaker, complete with swoosh. It should not come as
a shock, therefore, that a range of Coca-Cola coffins is available—in both
can and classic contoured bottle (see Figure 5.5): worldly things for mak-
ing the journey to another world (see Secretan 1995).
The artistic creativity and cultural vitality of the Ga coffins are seductive
(and, apparently, available for purchase by mail order at http://www They tempt us to celebrate the
coffins if not as an example of the culture of resistance (to globalization),
then perhaps as evidence of the resistance of culture (Sahlins 2005). Yet
cultural appropriations such as the Ga coffins are themselves vulnerable to
reappropriation. The Coca-Cola Company, especially under the leadership
of its former CEO, Douglas Daft, has shown itself eager to embrace cultural
diversity within the apparatus of glocalization. For example, Daft’s mantra
of “think local, act local” was a prescription for developing new beverages
that appeal to local tastes and new ad campaigns that reflect local cultural
conventions. Consider, in this regard, the Coca-Cola Salute to Folk Art pro-
gram. According to the company’s 1999 annual report, the program “was
created to give artists around the globe a chance to express their local cul-
tures through an interpretation of the world’s favorite beverage.” More
specifically, artists were enlisted to add “local” designs to the iconic (and
trademarked) form of a worldly thing—the contour shaped bottle univer-
sally identified with brand Coca-Cola. So, for example, the entry from
Mexico bears red and gold motifs “inspired by the Matlazincan Indians,”
while an entry from South Africa is sheathed in colorful beadwork pro-
duced by a team of artists from the Ndebele tribe, “known for their beauti-
ful beadwork and painting as well as for the joy in their art.” Here, then, is
Corporations, Consumers, and New Strategies of Citizenship 179

Figure 5.5 Teshie, a suburb of Accra (Ghana), January 2004. Carpenters opening a coffin shaped in the
form of a Coca-Cola bottle. RUETERS/Wolfgang Rattay.

a striking material instance of a “system of common differences”—a sys-

tem in which difference can be expressed only within the constraints of a
form imposed from without by a single corporate sponsor.
Put otherwise, the Salute to Folk Art Program effectively inverts Meire-
les’s project on ideological insertions; it is as if The Coca-Cola Company is
180 Coca-Globalization

inserting its instantly recognizable bottle into a whole array of already

existing artistic traditions. De-coca-colonization has seemingly been
recruited to serve the ends of coca-colonization. At the very least, I suggest
that de-coca-colonization, much like anti-coca-colonization, is never a
sure way to achieve political reform or to ensure cultural integrity. De-
coca-colonization might actually reproduce or strengthen agendas that
pursue different, if not opposite, outcomes—not necessarily because it is
itself vulnerable to appropriation, but because it constitutes a form of
rebellion that resembles in many ways the rebelliousness with which mar-
keting campaigns qualify branded consumer goods (Frank 1997; Heath
and Potter 2004). This suggestion applies especially to the activity of “cul-
ture jamming,” an activity immodestly represented by some practitioners
as productive of revolutionary political consequences.
Culture jamming refers to the use of existing mass media forms for the
express purpose of subverting those very forms through a process of
“denaturalization,” of making taken-for-granted images appear strange
and unfamiliar. With respect to advertising, culture jamming involves har-
nessing the aesthetic conventions of the ad form to critical or ironic mes-
sages about the products (and corporate producers) being “advertised.” For
example, a culture-jammed image might superimpose the familiar slogan
“Got Milk?” over the picture of an emaciated African child squatting with
an empty bowl. The practice has been popularized in the magazine
Adbusters, which seeks to resist a “mental commons” cluttered with com-
mercial advertisements by introducing dissonance and dissent within the
system of propaganda. Culture jamming is an attempt to appropriate and
recycle both advertising content and the ad form itself in order to culti-
vate critical self-awareness and to challenge the self-representations of
corporate advertisers, especially advertisers of nationally or globally
branded products. Here are two examples of culture jamming directed at
soft drink marketers.
Lighthouse II, by the artist Chris Woods (see Figure 5.6), is available as a
poster and postcard for purchase on the home page of Adbusters Culture-
jammer Headquarters ( The oil painting
depicts the consternation of a young man and woman who view them-
selves as portrayed on the front panel of a Coca-Cola vending machine.
The panel—in classic capitalist realist style—reflects back to the man and
woman a picture of themselves dressed in the identical clothes that they are
wearing, but smiling at each other and holding iconic contour-shaped
Coke bottles in their hands. Woods’s Adbuster poster is thus a striking visual
image of interpolation—of how advertisements, like all ideology, hail people
who, in responding to the call, concede recognition of themselves as being
Corporations, Consumers, and New Strategies of Citizenship 181

Figure 5.6 Lighthouse II, by Chris Woods. Image courtesy the artist and Diane Farris

addressed (Althusser 1971). The consternation of the young man and

woman in confronting the extent to which commercial advertising organizes
their consciousness of themselves as subjects is, presumably, the same con-
sternation that the poster’s distributor intends to provoke among viewers.
My second example, the CD recording, Dispepsi, by Negativland, is
more complex and worthy of longer discussion, but omission would be
worse than brief mention (see Negativland
182 Coca-Globalization

is a group of four men that since the 1980s has been producing “tape-col-
lage compositions” using “sonic bits from here and there to critique the
culture industry” (cited in Negativland 1995, 2). The art group attracted
unusual publicity in 1991 when it was sued for violation of U.S. trademark
and copyright law in connection with a collage CD that reproduced frag-
ments of a song by the rock band U2, and outtakes from announcer Casey
Kasem’s popular syndicated radio show, American Top 40. The entire
episode, as documented in Negativland’s 1995 book, Fair Use, illustrates
the group’s commitment to recycling and remixing pieces of corporate-
owned commercial culture in an attempt to communicate humorous anti-
corporate messages and to validate, if not extend, the provisions of fair use.
Negativland’s Web site includes numerous articles and helpful resources on
fair use and copyright law, including the group’s own original essay on fair
use, which advocates the “practice of fragmentary appropriation” and the
values of free speech and artistic freedom. Negativland’s position thus con-
verges with that of Coombe (1998; see Chapter 3), who also regards pre-
vailing intellectual property law as an antidemocratic curtailment of
individual creativity and the public domain (see Lessig 2004).
In 1997, Negativland released a new CD, Dispepsi. The recording con-
sists of found sound-collages that incorporate bits of Pepsi advertisements,
including jingles, as well as statements from past celebrity endorsers (such
as actor Ricardo Montalban), corporate officials, radio talk show partici-
pants, and television news readers. Dispesi’s liner notes observe that “All of
the cola commercials that were appropriated, transformed and re-used in
this recording attempted to assault us in our homes without our permis-
sion.” Accordingly, the appropriated (without permission) fragments are
woven into songs that parody the messages of Pepsi commercials and
recreate—for example, in repetitive sound loops—the banality of con-
sumer goods marketing. Dispepsi includes such catchy titles as “Drink It
Up,” “Why is this Commercial?” and “Voice Inside my Head.”
Negativland anticipated a legal reaction to Dispepsi similar to that pro-
voked by their sound appropriation of U2 and Casey Kasem; they conse-
quently designed an ambiguous album cover for which the group could not
be sued over trademark violation (see Figure 5.7). They anticipated, however,
legal challenges on the grounds of copyright infringement. In the event, how-
ever, no lawsuit followed. In fact, Entertainment Weekly reported the casual
reaction of a Pepsi spokesman: “It’s no Odelay, but it’s a pretty good listen”
(the reference is to an album by Beck, known for his use of sampling and
sound collage; review posted at Dispepsi,
moreover, was reviewed in prominent “alternative” magazines such as
Mother Jones, the Onion, and Rolling Stone. (The Negativland Web site
Corporations, Consumers, and New Strategies of Citizenship 183

Figure 5.7 Album cover of Dispepsi, 1997. Cover design by Shawn Wolfe and Negativland™.

includes quotes about the group from mainstream publications such as

Time, Newsweek, the New York Times, and the Washington Post). These
reviews, while mostly positive, expressed some doubts about the efficacy of
Negativland’s critique. One review noted that the album’s satire fit well
with the then current fad for self-deprecation in corporate advertising; fur-
thermore, it observed, the album’s purposively repetitive sound loops and
satiric sing-alongs were indeed very much like a commercial. This similar-
ity prompted one online reviewer to note, “Since most of the material is
culled from Pepsi commercials of old, the album feels more like an
extended, nostalgic Pepsi ad. Only someone with an ear for deconstruction
(i.e., the average Negativland fan) will pick up on the anti-commercial/
anti-media saturation commentary it contains. Anyone else hearing it will
probably want to drink a Pepsi” (Mattro 1998,
Zine/Reviews/Negland01.html). Hence, too, the question posed by a
Boston Phoenix reviewer (review posted at
reviews/reviews_dispepsi.html): Given the recuperative powers of the
184 Coca-Globalization

global economy and consumer culture, would Negativland’s critique itself

be able to withstand being made into a sales pitch?
None of these criticisms, I hasten to add, were news to Negativland.
(Indeed, their inclusion on Negativland’s Web site demonstrates the
group’s commitment to nondidactic projects in which the aesthetic experi-
ence is primary and in which questions are asked without presuming
answers [Mark Hosler, personal communication]). In a 1997 interview
with For the Record (, group member Mark
Hosler expressed his own uneasiness about the response to Dispepsi. Hosler
confessed shock at being invited by the advertising agency Wieden and
Kennedy (the firm that put William Burroughs in a Nike ad) to cut up
some of the agency’s ads and produce a Negativland-style collage: “[The
invitation] means that the Negativland aesthetic, our style, has reached the
point where it’s acceptable fodder for a beer commercial. It also, arguably,
could have something to do with why Pepsi is leaving us alone.” Hosler goes
on to note the rise of “anti-corporate corporate advertising” (see Edwards
1997), and speculates that “Dispepsi isn’t that different than something
Pepsi might really do themselves in five years.” In short, Hosler wonders
whether Negativland’s form of protest art has indeed been appropriated by
the advertising industry—its force as cultural critique put in the service of
enabling corporations to represent themselves as hip and knowing, espe-
cially to the valued youth segment that Pepsi targets.5
It is at this point that Hosler’s self-doubts converge with recent polemi-
cal critiques of culture jamming as a form of ineffective political protest,
one version of which appears in the work of Thomas Frank (1997). Frank,
whom Hosler himself mentions in the 1997 interview, argues that cultural
dissent of the sort promoted by Negativland and Adbusters—dissent that
draws upon notions of subversiveness and rule-breaking—is effectively
complicit with corporate advertising. Frank, moreover, argues that this is
not a new phenomenon, but, rather, one that can be traced to the early
1960s, when advertisers seized upon the dissatisfaction with a 1950s
lifestyle characterized as conformist and standardized in order to promote
liberation through the consumption of commodities that included Volk-
swagen Beetles and, of course, Pepsi-Cola soft drinks. The invention of the
“Pepsi Generation” in 1963 firmly aligned Pepsi against the conservative
world of Coca-Cola by “dramatizing the carnivalesque, the anarchic cul-
tural mode whose genuinely subversive qualities are celebrated by so many
social theorists” (Frank 1997, 174). The Pepsi ad campaigns of the 1960s
and ’70s—“a panorama of hip images without radical content”—conjured
“a vision of countercultural carnival as an all-American myth for the new
commercial age” (Frank 1997, 182, 183).
Corporations, Consumers, and New Strategies of Citizenship 185

To imagine cultural dissent as a form of liberated, unconventional, indi-

vidualizing consumption was thus to imagine oneself in the likeness of the
dominant consumer aesthetic. And this aesthetic endures today in soft
drink advertising aimed at rebellious (male) youth for whom “image is
nothing,” as Sprite ads once proclaimed. Given Frank’s genealogy, it is not
surprising that Sergio Zyman, chief marketing officer of The Coca-Cola
Company, could propose in 1992 to position Sprite against rival cola bev-
erages as a lemon-lime drink that reflected a cheeky, unconventional atti-
tude: “We saw this as an opportunity to compete with Pepsi in some of its
markets by stepping on their positioning of choice and change” (Zyman
1999, 92).


The countercultural carnival never ends. It becomes part of a perpetual

fashion cycle whereby the new and subversive becomes the old and accepted.
This cycle fuels consumerism in the apolitical sense of the term: the never-
ending pursuit of difference, of cutting edge styles that promise—at least for
a while—a kind of authentic creativity and unique identity beyond the
reach of mass marketing. (It also fuels dubious marketing practices such as
“cool hunting,” in which fieldworkers attempt to spot original consumer
innovation at the source and funnel it back into the mass production of
“cool” commodities; see Gladwell 1997). As Heath and Potter (2004) argue
at almost painful length, the analytical flaw of this kind of countercultural
dissent lies in its diagnosis of the object of protest. Countercultural dissent
objects, largely in aesthetic terms, to mass conformity and the imposition
of social norms; it does not give much attention to class exploitation and
other institutional forms of injustice. Accordingly, it recommends an indi-
vidualistic, psychological solution to a collective, political problem; inno-
vative self-expression and non-conformist rule-breaking offer the way to
profound changes in consciousness. This tendency emerges even in the
interview with Negativland’s Mark Hosler, an informed proponent of
changing intellectual property regimes. Hosler seems to concede defeat on
the issue of regulating advertising in public places: “When people ask us
what they can do about all this advertising, obviously there’s nothing that
you or I can do to make it go away.” He apparently sees, however, a possi-
bility for psychic resistance, for altering one’s perception of advertising (for
example, by listening to Dispepsi): “And the more you understand what
they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and why, in a certain way you’ve taken
some of their power away. You’ve taken some of their effectiveness away.”
Changing oneself takes the place of changing social arrangements, just as
186 Coca-Globalization

The Coca-Cola Company prefers to change consumers’ habits rather than

its own marketing imperatives.
Consciousness-raising, cognitive dissonance, or individual psychic self-
defense against advertising, do not, of course, directly address the question
of regulating the practice of advertising, let alone the practices of corpora-
tions targeted by other forms of the politics of products. Culture jamming
produces interesting art, no doubt; just listen to Dispepsi or Dead Dog
Records, Negativland’s performative case for found sound appropriation
on the CD (stamped “Copyright Infringement Is Your Best Entertainment
Value”) that accompanies the book, Fair Use; or peruse the polished and
clever ad spoofs in Adbusters. But it remains unclear how consumer citi-
zens might move from these creative works to Negativland’s own clearly
announced and politically attractive goals of reforming highly restrictive
copyright and trademark laws. The questions thus remains, Are there more
effective forms of consumer citizenship, other forms of activism in which
consumers mobilize themselves as citizens in order to pursue civic ideals
with less risk of reiterating consumerist ones? Critiques of culture jam-
ming suggest that if there is an affirmative answer to this question, then it
will entail more than consciousness-raising and altered perceptions. That
is, it will entail forms of social protest in the service of definite policy out-
comes—not a change in how one perceives corporate image making, but a
change in how one regulates all corporate practices, including image mak-
ing. One such form of protest, shareholder activism, has taken shape
within the structure of the corporation itself.
Chapter 6

Shareholder Activism
Consumer Citizenship inside the Corporation
At a time when 51 of the world’s 100 largest economies are corpora-
tions, lobbying governments to ensure our collective well-being is
now simply inadequate. Corporations wield tremendous influence
over nearly every element of our existence, and they must be held
accountable. The multinational scope of their power signifies one
thing clearly: Protest, too, must become globalized.
—Sukant Khurana and Jordan Buckely, University of Texas students,
from an opinion piece in the Daily Texan, November 16, 2005

t the 2000 annual shareholder meeting of Coca-Cola Amatil in Sydney,

A the questions posed from the floor to CCA directors focused mainly
on circumstances surrounding the forecast of continued weak perform-
ance. Ray Wagner, of the Australian Shareholders Association (ASA), asked
why it took so long to authorize a restructuring in the Philippines, and
whether CCA had a goal for return on equity. His questions were in the
spirit of his nonprofit organization’s mission to “press for improvements in
transparency and accountability in relation to company performance,
executive remuneration, treatment of minority shareholders, risk manage-
ment and dividend policy” (“About the ASA,”
WhatWeDo/About.asp). Neither Wagner nor anyone else in attendance
raised questions about CCA’s proposed plan to target the captive popula-
tion of Filipino schoolchildren (Chapter 5). Except for a final politely
worded question about what the company was doing to be seen as a “good
corporate citizen” in Indonesia (in response to which it was pointed out
that CCA plants suffered no damage during the civil unrest of 1998 and
that, in some cases, people protected the plants), considerations of social
responsibility seemed far removed from the discussion.
The atmosphere at the 2002 annual meeting of The Coca-Cola Com-
pany in Madison Square Garden was palpably different. Following the
marketing showcase, Douglas Daft prefaced the discussion of shareholder
proposals and questions with a pre-emptive statement on “how we do
188 Coca-Globalization

business.” Daft first referred to a lawsuit filed in Florida on July 20, 2000,
against the company and its Colombian bottlers over anti-union violence.
He said that there was “no evidence to support the allegations.” Daft then
affirmed the company’s support of human rights and worker rights—“we
practice social responsibility”—and pointed to a code of conduct for sup-
pliers consistent across the entire Coca-Cola system. He also raised the
controversial issues of diet and obesity, again contrasting a sedentary
lifestyle with an active Coca-Cola lifestyle and claiming that the company
offered a wide variety of beverages that fit into a healthy, active lifestyle. But
for a single mention of accounting concerns about off-balance sheet debt,
Daft’s prefatory remarks addressed issues of social responsibility rather
than corporate governance, a complete inversion of the priorities pursued
at the Sydney meeting.
Daft knew well what was coming, namely, a disturbing echo of the
protests taking place simultaneously on the sidewalks outside Madison
Square Garden. Three of the four shareholder proposals on the agenda
concerned corporate responsibility with regard to the environment (con-
tainer recycling), human rights (code of conduct), and ethical business
practices in China; the fourth proposal concerned executive stock options.
Similarly, shareholder questions from the floor to directors focused on cor-
porate responsibility, twice noting how much good might have been
accomplished with the $5 million reportedly spent on the day’s entertain-
ment spectacle (Leith 2002). A Maryknoll priest turned the company’s
marketing rhetoric against itself, urging Daft and his directors to “connect
with workers” and to “do the real thing.” An AIDS activist likewise called on
the board to provide comprehensive healthcare for all Coca-Cola system
workers in Africa, employees of bottlers as well as of the parent company,
in order to redeem the promise of life “because life tastes good.”
By all measures, shareholder activism is on the rise. The Christian Sci-
ence Monitor (MacDonald 2004), citing statistics from the Investor
Responsibility Research Center, reported that in 2003, the number of
shareholder proposals brought to a vote at company meetings jumped to
1,082 from 802 the year before. (The number was up again in 2004, with
1,147 proposals voted on by mid-year.) Of the 2003 proposals, the great
majority (772) concerned corporate governance—election of the board of
directors, executive compensation, separation of the roles of chairman and
CEO, and so forth. But some 311 proposals were resolutions on social
responsibility, with twenty-six resolutions on global warming alone (Mat-
tera 2003; While the increase in proposals
dealing with governance might be understood as a direct response to the
new millennium’s string of corporate malfeasance scandals, the growth of
Shareholder Activism 189

social responsibility initiatives also testifies to how the politics of products

is developing within the legal framework of corporations. Such proposals
were submitted by public interest groups in the 1960s and well before that
by “corporate gadflies” in order to raise governance questions (Monks and
Minow 1996, 137–38), but it was unusual for shareholder resolutions to
attract more than token support. Monks and Minow (1996, 138) observe
that the “vote of less than 3 percent for Ralph Nader’s 1970 ‘Campaign GM’
shareholder proposals was hailed as a victory of unprecedented levels for a
shareholder initiative.” By contrast, in 2002, one hundred resolutions
received more than 50 percent of the vote, up from sixty-six in 2001 (Mat-
tera 2003; Admittedly, the majority of
these successful resolutions concerned governance issues important to
large institutional investors, but support for social responsibility resolu-
tions has grown well beyond that of the Nader era. In 2002, “20 social
responsibility resolutions tracked by ICCR [Interfaith Center on Corpo-
rate Responsibility] received 16 percent or more, a level the Center defines
as ‘exceptionally high’” (Mattera 2003;
The exercise of consumer citizenship through socially responsible
investing and shareholder activism is an attempt to shape and realize the
notion of corporate citizenship that corporations themselves promote. It is
an attempt to reach specific political and moral goals through direct
engagement with corporate managers who act on behalf of shareholders
instead of through direct engagements with elected officials who act (ide-
ally) on behalf of their constituents. In many instances, this strategy seems
entirely appropriate to the goals at stake, which require interventions
beyond the borders of the territorial state of the shareholders themselves.
What does this engagement look like in the case of soft drink politics?
What, for example, was the fate of the social responsibility resolutions pro-
posed at the 2002 annual meeting of Coca-Cola shareholders, and what
does this fate suggest about the potentials and limitations of this particular
form of consumer citizenship?

Recycling Containers

Item 4 on the agenda of the 2002 meeting was a shareholder proposal sub-
mitted by Walden Asset Management, the “socially responsive investment
division” of Boston Trust and Investment Management Company, along
with similar institutional cofilers (Domini Social Investments and Tril-
lium Asset Management). The proposal requested the board to report to
shareholders within a few months the company’s efforts to achieve a
recovery rate of 80 percent for its beverage containers and to increase
190 Coca-Globalization

recycled content in beverage containers to 25 percent. (A similar proposal

had been made the year before, when it attracted a 5.2 percent vote that
represented 88.9 million shares; the same resolution received 8.1 percent
approval from PepsiCo shareholders.) In his presentation of the proposal
at the meeting, Walden portfolio manager Kenneth Scott carefully pointed
out that given The Coca-Cola Company’s “nationwide lobbying efforts
against container deposits,” the company ought to offer an alternative plan
for achieving an environmentally sustainable program for container recy-
cling. Scott also applauded the company for its progress in increasing to 10
percent the amount of recycled resin content in PET beverage containers,
effectively claiming this outcome as the result of nearly three years of “pos-
itive and constructive dialogue” with the company. The proposal was
indeed a model of non-confrontational speech and loyal opposition,
thoughtfully worded as an eminently reasonable step toward protecting
“Coke’s brand value.”
The Walden proposal displayed the softer side of a more aggressive pub-
lic media campaign to influence The Coca-Cola Company’s policies about
container recycling. This campaign was spearheaded by a national non-
profit organization, GrassRoots Recycling Network (GRRN: http://www, based in Athens, Georgia (not to be confused with Rome, Geor-
gia, home of the highest per capita consumption of Coke in the world).
GRRN launched its efforts in 1997, three years after, it claimed, the com-
pany had abandoned all use of recycled content in its plastic bottles. By
1999, GRRN had published eye-catching paid-for accusations on the op-ed
page of the New York Times. One such notice, labeled “Coke’s Broken
Promise,” claimed then CEO Douglas Ivester (whose picture appeared with
a caption announcing his 1998 total compensation of more than $20 mil-
lion) broke his 1990 promise to use recycled plastic in Coke’s bottles.
In early 2002, GRRN coordinators claimed victory when PepsiCo
announced that it aimed to use 10 percent recycled content in its bottles by
2005, a position that Coke’s Douglas Daft had previously announced in
April 2001 at the annual shareholder meeting. These concessions, however,
did not stop GRRN, in alliance with the Container Recycling Institute,
from continuing to press for a deeper corporate commitment to recycling.
Another op-ed ad from 2002, which appeared in the New York Times on
April 16, the day before Coke’s New York meeting, called on both Coke and
Pepsi to “Stop Trashing America” with their annual output of 70 billion
beverage containers. The ad, moreover, called upon shareholders to support
recycling resolutions at the annual meetings of PepsiCo and The Coca-Cola
Company—the same resolutions introduced the year before. Nevertheless,
and not surprisingly, the boards of directors of both companies again
Shareholder Activism 191

recommended voting against the resolutions. The Coca-Cola Company’s

justification for its position flatly and somewhat vaguely asserted that its
“current approach” made “the most sense” for its business. Several initia-
tives “undertaken in the past year” were listed as proof. These initiatives
included “engaging with a variety of constituents, including share owners
and environmental groups, in an effort to better understand existing recy-
cling infrastructures” (The Coca-Cola Company 2002, 39). Strangely, then,
engagement with groups such as GRRN was given as a reason for rejecting
the proposal of groups such as GRRN. In a similar twist, PepsiCo explained
its position by congratulating itself for beginning to use recycled plastic in
bottles “with a goal of using 10% recycled material in its bottles by 2005,”
that is, by invoking the decision it made to replicate The Coca-Coca Com-
pany’s concession of the year before to the requests of environmental
groups and socially responsive investors (PepsiCo 2002, 21).
The Coca-Cola Company Web site as of late 2006 still bore traces of the
GRRN campaign. A frequently asked questions section denied that soft
drink containers are “filling up our landfills” (only 1.46 percent of munic-
ipal solid waste by volume) and affirmed that “the Coca-Cola system has
been the primary user of recycled plastic packaging in the U.S. soft drink
industry for the past two years.” The question of whether Coca-Cola broke
a promise to use recycled content PET was explicitly asked and equivocally
answered in the negative. The site admitted that in the mid-1990s, the sys-
tem stopped using plastic bottles with recycled content, as GRRN alleged.
But the decision was taken because use of recycled content no longer met
one of the company’s criteria—cost to consumers. No mention was made
of how this cost was calculated—a common complaint of environmental-
ists who point to the long term and hidden costs of producing certain
products, that is, the ecological footprint. (Nor was any mention made of
exactly what percent of recycled content the company uses in all its plastic
bottles—not just soft drink containers—or what its goals are for increasing
the rate of container recovery.1)
PepsiCo’s response to the Walden proposal is more revealing on the
question of cost, claiming that use of bottles with recycled content “would
not make economic sense”: “Current technology is such that it can cost sig-
nificantly more to produce bottles with recycled content. Where our bot-
tlers have used plastic bottles with recycled content in the past, even when
heavily promoted, consumers did not respond in a way to justify the
increased costs” (PepsiCo 2001, 19). In other words, PepsiCo, like Wal-
Mart, represents itself as a champion of consumers by guaranteeing low
retail prices. Other costs—local taxes to fund curbside recycling programs
and to expand municipal landfills—are “externalities” and hence not (by
192 Coca-Globalization

law) corporate concerns (Bakan 2004). Even so, only one year later, Pep-
siCo could revise its position by claiming, “We know it is technically and
economically feasible to produce a food-grade container made with 10%
recycled content, so we believe achieving that rate is a reasonable action”
(PepsiCo 2002, 21).

Providing Healthcare

Standing outside Madison Square Garden, before the start of the 2002
meeting, I was handed a letter enclosed in a flyer, sealed with a label that
read, “Welcome! Coca-Cola Shareholders.” The letter was addressed to
Douglas Daft; a blank space was left for me to add my signature as a share-
holder. In the letter, I would be urging Daft to extend the benefits of the
company’s HIV/AIDS workplace policies to all African employees in the
Coca-Cola system; to cover workers employed by the company’s affiliated
bottlers as well as the twelve thousand to fifteen thousand workers
employed directly by the company: “Particularly, life-sustaining HIV/AIDS
medications and treatment for HIV-infected workers and their dependents
will save lives and decrease untold suffering among Coca-Cola’s vast
African workforce” (which the company estimates to number sixty thou-
sand people). The flyer reiterated this demand, as well as several others
regarding HIV testing and counseling and HIV/AIDS prevention and edu-
cation programs; it also noted the high profit margins that the company
recorded in Africa in recent years. It invited me and other shareholders to
join in the campaign with Health Global Access Project (Health GAP) and
ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) in order to demand that
“Coke provide healthcare to HIV-positive workers in Africa.”
The letter and flyer signaled the launch of a protest campaign coordi-
nated by Health GAP and ACT UP that was prompted by an act of corpo-
rate citizenship, namely, The Coca-Cola Company’s own well-staged
announcement the previous year (during the UN General Assembly Spe-
cial Session on HIV/AIDS) of its partnership with UNAIDS. Indeed, this
was the partnership between UNAIDS and the Coca-Cola Africa Founda-
tion (the philanthropic arm of Coca-Cola Africa) that the company cele-
brated in its citizenship report, Keeping Our Promise, and for which
Nelson Mandela offered videotaped thanks to the shareholders inside
Madison Square Garden. Through this partnership, the company would
offer logistical support for the distribution of AIDS literature, condoms,
and testing kits as well as marketing resources for the dissemination of HIV
prevention messages. While the company thus sought to validate its sense
Shareholder Activism 193

of social responsibility, activists sought to turn corporate citizenship into

an expanded opportunity for consumer citizenship.
Specifically, the Health GAP/ACT UP campaign demanded that the
company stop using the distinction between itself and its “independent”
bottlers as an excuse for “medical apartheid”—the denial of access to treat-
ment to the workers who bottle and deliver the company’s products
throughout Africa. The company offered its partnership with UNAIDS as
evidence of its embeddedness in local communities; protestors, however,
argued that the partnership exposed an invidious double standard: med-
ical care for parent company employees, and prevention and education for
employees of bottlers. In this instance, the franchise system, which has long
served the company as a vehicle for localizing itself (Chapter 2), was repre-
sented as an insidious device for disconnecting or insulating the company
from local social contexts. Once again, the company was confronted with
its own lack of control over its product—that is, over the network assem-
bled by the product—and thus the definition of just whom it touches and
thereby incurs obligations to refresh. Other agents in the network rejected
the company’s qualification of itself and perforce its products, and substi-
tuted competing qualifications.
The Health GAP/ACT UP campaign continued through the summer
(see, with a call issued for a global day
of protest against Coke on October 17, 2002. On September 26, the com-
pany announced a new initiative, a partnership between the Coca-Cola
Africa Foundation and Population Services International (PSI) to join
forces “with Coca-Cola’s 40 bottlers in Africa to put into place comprehen-
sive workplace HIV/AIDS prevention programs” (
news/092702d.html). The initiative also extended healthcare benefits,
including access to antiretroviral drugs, to “employees and spouses of any
Coca-Cola bottler that chooses to participate.” Access would be provided
through a partnership with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline and
PharmAcess International. The announcement followed a major decision
in August by UK mining conglomerate Anglo American plc—with a work-
force of 160,000 in Africa—that it would “provide [free] anti-retroviral
therapy to all staff who are HIV-positive and are not covered by any med-
ical aid scheme.” Here, again, we meet a new form of governmentality, in
which transnational corporations operate as “stunt doubles for state
bureaucracy in the delivery of health and education to the poor” (Lopatin
2002). Accordingly, Robert Lindsay, president of the Board of Trustees of
the Coca-Cola Africa Foundation, could call for greater collaboration and
coordination from business, civil society, and the public sector as the most
effective way to deal with the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa (The Coca-Cola
194 Coca-Globalization

Company 2003a). “Local government” thus becomes one of many part-

ners—and by no means the lead partner—in delivering healthcare.
Predictably, perhaps, the Health GAP/ACT UP campaign immediately
criticized the company’s new initiative on several scores. Its “activist analy-
sis” listed among the problems with the initiative the fact that a 10 percent
copay would be required of workers and that bottlers would be asked to
provide 40 percent of the costs for the program (with the Coca-Cola Africa
Foundation funding the remaining 50 percent). Most notably, Health GAP
activist Sharonann Lynch objected to the fact that the company’s response
was limited to employees and spouses; no coverage was announced for
dependents and children. She urged, “While we have the media spotlight
and the ear of the private sector, it is even more important that activists not
accept what is on the whole, a low-ball offer from Coca-Cola” (Lynch
2002). The analysis concluded by questioning the regional focus of the pro-
gram on Africa and calling for an extension of the program to Southeast
Asia—yet again challenging the company’s capacity to define the accept-
able limits of its corporate citizenship.
The October 17 day of global action was held as scheduled, with rallies
and demonstrations in cities around the world—including New York and
Atlanta, where the company has offices—and on college campuses in the
United States (see Weinert 2002). By November, the company had
announced that children of employees would be included in the healthcare
plan and that by March 2003, all forty African bottlers would have signed
on to the initiative. Health GAP continued to pressure the company
through media releases to meet this deadline. It also demanded meetings
with company officials and public reports to stakeholders. On April 15, the
Coca-Cola Africa Foundation announced that all forty bottlers had
enrolled in the program as of March 31 and estimated that the healthcare
initiative would cost “the Coca-Cola business system” approximately $11
million per year (
_hivaids_benefits.html). By comparison, The Coca-Cola Company’s net
operating revenues in Africa in 2003 were $827 million, up 21 percent from
the year before. Even if the company were paying the full $11 million per
year (rather than only half), the payment would amount to 1.33 percent of
its 2003 profits in Africa.
As late as October, 2003, Health GAP continued to characterize the
company’s HIV/AIDS treatment initiative in Africa as a public relations
ploy and alleged that few programs were actually available to workers.
Concern over the apparently slow implementation of the company’s poli-
cies with regard to HIV/AIDS was shared by other groups as well. In March
2004, the company circulated a notice of its annual meeting of shareowners
Shareholder Activism 195

that included a proposal sponsored primarily by the Adorers of the Blood

of Christ of Wichita, Kansas, along with a few other Catholic organizations
and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Master Trust Fund.
The proposal called upon the Board of Directors to issue a report

that shares the Coca-Cola business systems best practices and approaches to
managing the business risks associated with the [global] HIV/AIDS Pan-
demic. The report would consider the potential economic effects on the
Coca-Cola system’s business and highlight Coca-Cola’s initiatives in
response to the issue. The report will also consider the issues of tuberculosis
and malaria. The report will be developed at a reasonable cost, omit propri-
etary information and made public in a manner and within a timeframe
agreed to by the Company and the investors filing this proposal.

Remarkably and unusually, the company’s board recommended a vote for

the proposal, stating, “Our Company shares the concerns expressed by the
proponents about HIV/AIDS” (The Coca-Cola Company 2004, 53). The
board’s recommendation reiterated the company’s support for partner-
ships with “local governments, medical providers, NGOs and grassroots
organizations, as well as other businesses”—the new transnational mode of
governmentality. It also rehearsed the company’s efforts on the continent
of Africa and asserted that it is “in the spirit of collaboration that we wel-
come this opportunity to work with our share owners.” A promise was
made to make the report available for review by shareowners on the com-
pany’s Web site.
This rather modest gesture of collaboration was declared an unprece-
dented victory by the religious shareholders behind the proposal, all mem-
bers of the ICCR. (It similarly earned rare praise for the company on the
“Responsible Shopper” section of Co-Op America’s Web site). The ICCR
reported in a May 5, 2004, press release, “This is believed to be the first time
Coca-Cola has urged shareholders to support a resolution.” The board’s
endorsement resulted in a record level of support, with 97 percent approval
for the proposal. By contrast, a similar proposal submitted the same year to
PepsiCo by Mennonite Mutual Aid did not receive the approval of the
board and consequently attracted only a 7.7 percent vote in its favor. The
board claimed that PepsiCo already reported on HIV/AIDS programs in
sub-Saharan Africa on its Web site and that, furthermore, PepsiCo planned
to begin use of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Sustainability
Reporting Guidelines as a comprehensive reporting mechanism, thus ren-
dering a separate report a poor use of company resources. An investing
services manager for the proponents commented, “We have had general
discussions with Pepsi for two years, but are still missing firm evidence that
196 Coca-Globalization

the Company has fully analyzed the future business risks of the pandemic
and shaped their response accordingly” (ICCR 2004). The proposal, how-
ever, was not reintroduced at the 2005 annual meeting.
In August 2004, The Coca-Cola Company released the report suppos-
edly requested by shareholders: “Our HIV/AIDS Initiatives in Africa: A
Report of The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation.” The ICCR shareholders
expressed their pleasure at the “candor and depth” of the report in a letter
to newly appointed CEO Neville Isdell, claiming to “know of no other
company with this level of comprehensive regular reporting to sharehold-
ers on HIV/AIDS risks and opportunities.” They also used the letter as a
friendly opportunity to identify shortcomings of the report and to urge the
company to respond to HIV/AIDS outside Africa. And maybe more: “We
believe that Coke can build on the momentum of our company’s
HIV/AIDS response . . . to strengthen the company’s other corporate
responsibility initiatives and address ongoing concerns about broader
human rights and workplace issues” (
_releases/cokeletter100704.PDF). Sister Vicki Bergkamp, ASC, of the Ador-
ers of the Blood of Christ, signed off by looking forward to continued
It is, in fact, continued engagement and ongoing dialogue that share-
holder resolutions such as this one seem designed to accomplish; propos-
als are regularly withdrawn by shareholders when companies agree to
meetings to discuss the issues at hand. Even in this singular case of a “suc-
cessful” resolution, the company did not produce the report that the reso-
lution specified. No mention is made in the report of malaria or
tuberculosis. Nor does the report say anything about the company’s poli-
cies with regard to HIV/AIDS outside Africa. It is neither more nor less
than a report of the Coca-Cola Africa Foundation, one that makes no
explicit reference to the shareholder proposal that ostensibly brought it
into being. This silence affirms the insistence of the company that it acts in
response to nothing but its own motivations. For example, in a section of
FAQs on the company’s Web site about its Africa HIV/AIDS activities, one
finds the question, “Weren’t you embarrassed into starting this program by
protestors?” to which one finds this answer, “While the Company certainly
listens to what concerned people have to say about the AIDS issue in Africa,
its policies and programs are the results of its own commitment to address-
ing AIDS in Africa.” And these commitments must attend—as must any
corporation’s commitments—to the bottom line. Accordingly, the Adorers
of the Blood of Christ cite a Harvard Business Review study (Rosen et al.
2003) on the wisdom of funding HIV/AIDS treatment programs, thereby
tinging their proposal with Christian concern and economic rationality in
Shareholder Activism 197

equal measure. Likewise, The Coca-Cola Company openly acknowledges

that the HIV/AIDS pandemic “threatens the momentum” measured by a
21 percent increase in net operating revenue from 2002 to 2003 (Our
HIV/AIDS Initiatives in Africa). What, one wonders, would become of the
company’s commitments if the momentum were in the other direction?

Protecting Workers

James P. Hoffa not only spoke outside Madison Square Garden next to an
inflatable rat, he also spoke inside the annual meeting in support of Item 5,
a shareholder proposal submitted by Christian Brothers Investment Ser-
vices that urged the board of directors to adopt a global code of conduct
and standards for its suppliers. The proposal specifically mentioned con-
cern over accusations that Coca-Cola bottlers in Colombia had used a
right-wing paramilitary group to intimidate and, in some cases, to assassi-
nate labor organizers. Hoffa likewise called for an end to the violence in
Colombia, and he alleged that Coke system workers’ rights had been vio-
lated in Zimbabwe and the Philippines, and that in the United States,
Florida workers producing Minute Maid juices had been intimidated.2 A
flyer calling for the meeting-day “Rally for Justice at Coca-Cola” sponsored
by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters also alluded to a grim his-
tory of workplace violence at Coca-Cola bottling plants in Guatemala (see
Frundt 1987; Levonson-Estrada 1994). Before discussion was cut off by
CEO Daft, Hoffa demanded a negotiated code of conduct; the problem, he
insisted, was one of human resources (HR) not public relations (PR).
My notes from the meeting record few signs of audience support for
Hoffa’s intervention, and even loud snickers from some audience mem-
bers. The company’s written rebuttal of the proposal was less dismissive,
but nevertheless unequivocal: “We already have in place a program
designed to ensure that the rights of our employees are respected and pro-
tected in our day-to-day operations” (The Coca-Cola Company 2002, 41).
The company’s adherence, moreover, to the Global Sullivan Principles of
Responsibility ( made redundant any further
demonstration of commitment to recognized human rights conventions.
No specific mention was made in the written rebuttal of the charges being
aired regarding the situation in Colombia, though Daft denied them ver-
bally at the meeting.
The charges against the company were serious; they concerned past and
ongoing political violence in Colombia. Since 1990, at least eight Coca-
Cola workers have been killed. In December 1996, right-wing paramili-
taries shot and killed Isidro Segundo Gil at the gate of a Coke bottling plant
198 Coca-Globalization

in the small town of Carepa. Gil was a member of the executive board of
the labor union—SINALTRAINAL (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de
Industrias Alimenticias [National Union of Food Industry Workers])—
representing workers at the plant. An hour later, paramilitaries kidnapped
another union leader at his home and set fire to the union’s offices. The fol-
lowing day, paramilitaries “returned to the plant, called workers together,
and gave them until 4 p.m. to sign a statement resigning from the union on
stationery the unionists claim bore the bottler’s letterhead—or else.” Some
union members complied; others, including the union’s president whose
life was threatened, quit their jobs altogether and fled Carepa. Union lead-
ers charge that both the company and its bottlers were complicit in this
violence, the former by not intervening to condemn it and the latter by
directly ordering it (Foust and Smith 2006). In July 2001, the International
Labor Rights Fund and the United States Steel Workers Union filed an
Alien Tort Claim Act (ATCA) suit on behalf of SINALTRAINAL in U.S.
Federal Court in Miami. The suit was against The Coca-Cola Company
and two of its bottlers, Bebidas y Alimentos and Panamerican Beverages
(see Kurlantzick 2005 on the use of ATCA in holding American corpora-
tions responsible for crimes committed overseas). The suit charged the
company and its bottlers with intimidation, detention, and murder of
trade unionists working at Coca-Cola bottling plants in Colombia.
Both The Coca-Cola Company and its bottlers in Colombia have con-
sistently and strenuously rejected these charges. The company’s Web page
notes that in a country where “violence against union members has
deterred all but four percent of workers from unionizing, 31 percent of the
employees of our Coca-Cola Colombian bottling partners belong to
unions” ( The
deaths of the Coca-Cola workers, according to company officials, can be
attributed to the longstanding civil war that has left 35,000 dead since the
mid-1980s, including some 2,500 trade unionists (Foust and Smith 2006).
Two separate judicial inquiries in Colombia “found no evidence to support
the allegations that bottler management conspired to intimidate or threaten
trade unionists,” although the company readily admits that “impunity with
respect to violence against trade unionists continues to exist and that trade
unions face several obstacles in both law and practice regarding the full exer-
cise of freedom of association” (
_fact_sheet.shtml). In addition, a Miami judge in March 2003 removed the
company from the ATCA lawsuit on the grounds that the company does not
determine labor policies at independently owned bottlers (Girard 2004). The
company says, “We are confident that as the case proceeds, the court will
Shareholder Activism 199

find no evidence against Coca-Cola bottlers” (http://www.cokefacts

The charges against the company and its bottlers in Colombia are con-
troversial. There is no doubt, however, that the workplace environment in
Colombia is a dangerous one for trade unionists. This fact is clear from The
Coca-Cola Company’s own chilling description of the security safeguards
that its bottling partners provide to workers: loans for home security
devices, unpaid leaves and transfers for employees with security concerns,
and shift and schedule changes for security purposes. There is also no
doubt that the company had faced similar charges once before, when
Guatemalan Coke workers who had unionized in 1975 faced escalating
intimidation and violence, allegedly at the hands of right-wing paramili-
tary death squads in the service of John C. Trotter, the manager of
Guatemala City’s bottling plant (see Pendergrast 1993, 320–22). That situ-
ation, like the one in Colombia, provoked the submission of a shareholder
resolution by a religious organization, the ICCR, calling for an investiga-
tion of the Guatemala City franchise. The resolution was withdrawn after
the company agreed to conduct an investigation, but resubmitted the fol-
lowing year after the report of the investigation was found lacking (Louis
and Yazijian 1980). ICCR eventually succeeded in compelling the company
to broker a meeting between Trotter and ICCR representatives at which an
uneasy truce was made between Trotter and his unionized employees. The
second resolution, calling for the development of minimal labor standards
for bottlers worldwide, was accordingly withdrawn.
As the political violence and terror in Guatemala intensified under the
administration of General Romeo Lucas Garcia, union officials from the
Coca-Cola plant were threatened, subjected to attempted kidnappings, and
even killed. A third shareholder resolution was filed by Sister Dorothy
Gartland respresenting two hundred shares owned by the Sisters of Provi-
dence (Pendergrast 1993, 320), surviving until the annual meeting in May
1979 “to become the first nonmanagement resolution ever voted on by
Coca-Cola shareholders” (Louis and Yazijian 1980, 188). At the meeting,
Israel Marquez, a former secretary general of the Guatemalan Coca-Cola
Union who had fled the country after a third attempt on his life, spoke
about the attacks on union officials and claimed that, although he lacked
proof, John Trotter had collaborated with government death squads (Pen-
dergrast 1993, 320). Despite the drama, then CEO Paul Austin swiftly con-
cluded the meeting, reiterating management’s position that Sr. Gartland’s
proposal “would be considered by most of the company’s independent
bottlers to be an improper and unnecessary intrusion by the company
into their business affairs” (Louis and Yazijian 1980, 189; see Frundt
200 Coca-Globalization

1987; Levenson-Estrada 1994). In the event, the company was unable to

withstand the mounting pressure of bad publicity surrounding the
Guatemala City plant, including a boycott and work stoppages organized
by the International Union of Food and Allied Workers (IUF). Company
officials had hoped to cancel Trotter’s franchise contract when it expired in
September 1981. But when four more union members were killed in May
1980, Robert Goizueta, the new president of The Coca-Cola Company,
directed company officials to consult with IUF head Dan Gallin and to
arrange for Trotter to be bought out—with most of the purchase price sup-
plied by the company (Pendergrast 1993, 338–39).
It is worth noting, as The Coca-Cola Company does, that the IUF does
not support the charges made by the Colombian labor union SINAL-
TRAINAL against the company or its bottlers: “‘We have no evidence of
complicity by Coke in the killing of workers,’ says Ron Oswald, general sec-
retary of the International Union of Foodworkers in Geneva, whose mem-
bers include tens of thousands of Coke workers worldwide” (Foust and
Smith 2006). Nevertheless, the Guatemalan and Colombian cases bear sim-
ilarities with respect to how a lengthy sequence of shareholder resolutions
presented in the United States prompted the company to take notice of and
responsibility for the operations of its bottlers overseas. The year after the
gathering in Madison Square Garden, a shareholder proposal more tightly
focused on the company’s operations in Colombia appeared on the meet-
ing agenda as Item 11. Item 11 called for adoption of an enforceable, active
policy to be followed by the company and its bottlers in Colombia that rec-
ognized the fundamental principles and rights at work declared by the
International Labor Organization. The company’s rebuttal was substan-
tially similar to that of the previous year, an assertion that through “exist-
ing policies and activities we already comply with both the spirit and intent
of the proposal.” Likewise, the board of directors claimed that a single pol-
icy—such as, presumably, the Global Sullivan Principles—would better
suit a global corporation than one that would apply to a single country.
However, the board this time took note of the fact that the proposal
repeated allegations made in a lawsuit against the company and its bottling
partners. The company vigorously denied these allegations and claimed
that “an investigation” had produced no evidence of violations: “Neither
The Coca-Cola Company nor its bottler partners have committed or
directed abuses against Colombia’s trade unionists, or condoned any such
abuses” (The Coca-Cola Company 2003, 69).
No mention was made at the time of the company’s impending plans.
Its Mexican-based “anchor bottler,” Coca-Cola FEMSA, S.A. de C.V.,
acquired Panamerican Beverages (Panamco), Latin America’s largest soft
Shareholder Activism 201

drink bottler, in May 2003. The purchase made Coca-Cola FEMSA—40

percent of which was owned by The Coca-Cola Company in 2004—the
world’s second largest Coca-Cola bottler (Coca-Cola Enterprises is
the largest). Coca-Cola FEMSA gained Panamco’s markets in Brazil, Costa
Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. Panamco also owned most of
the plants in Colombia that bottled Coca-Cola products. The acquisition
apparently accelerated a process of centralizing production and reducing
the number of workers that had already led to the loss of jobs by 6,700
workers between 1992 and 2002. In 2003, according to Gill (2004b, 4),
eleven of sixteen bottling plants in Colombia were shut down. Moreover,
the makeup of the workforce had shifted such that 80 percent “is now com-
posed of non-union, temporary workers, and wages for these individuals
are only a quarter of those earned by their unionized counterparts.” This
acquisition would therefore make it even more difficult to invoke a distinc-
tion between the company and its independent bottlers in order to evade
responsibility for any alleged violations of human rights happening in
Colombia. Indeed, in April 2004, SINALTRIAL filed an amendment to its
lawsuit in Miami Federal Court claiming that the acquisition of Panamco
by FEMSA made the company liable for its bottler’s alleged crimes.4
Two years later, the Colombia issue had still not gone away. Item 3 of the
2005 shareholder meeting was a proposal brought by the New York comp-
troller on behalf of several of the city’s pension funds (which together own
$276.4 million in shares; Gardiner 2005)—so much for post-9/11 solidar-
ity with the city. The proposal followed a visit to Colombia in January, 2004
by City Council Member Hiram Monserrate, who led an independent fact-
finding delegation to meet with plant employees and company officials.
This delegation resulted in a preliminary report (NYC Fact-Finding Dele-
gation on Coca-Cola in Colombia 2004) that called for the creation of an
independent human rights commission of labor representatives, company
officials, and human rights monitors to investigate the situation in Colom-
bia. Similarly, Item 3 called for the company to send an independent dele-
gation to Colombia to investigate the charges of collusion in anti-union
violence that had been made against officials of Coca-Cola bottling plants
by SINALTRAINAL, one of the unions representing plant workers. The
New York Sun (Gardiner 2005) quoted Kenneth Sylvester, assistant comp-
troller for pension policy, as saying that “when there is ‘mistrust’ and ‘suspi-
cion’ of a company, its shareholders are at financial risk.” Mistrust, in this
context, signals a failure on the part of the company to embed itself in a local
setting or, put differently, to hold together a translocal commodity network
of producers and consumers. That is, mistrust evinces connections (and
202 Coca-Globalization

disconnections) among economic agents that ordinarily go unrecognized

by consumers.
The board not surprisingly recommended voting against the proposal
(the proposal attracted, however, 5.4 percent of the vote, making it eligible
for reintroduction in 2006). It denied the accusations made by “a small
number of activists,” citing independent inquiries made in Colombia and
internal investigations conducted by the company and its bottlers. But the
board’s rebuttal departed significantly from previous rebuttals. Rather
than claiming it already had policies in place, the board advocated an
“alternative approach, now being implemented by our Company” (The
Coca-Cola Company 2005a, 52). This approach—which incorporated
input from “stakeholders” including investors, labor unions, and NGOs—
featured an assessment of workplace practices at company and bottler
locations around the world, including Colombia. Findings from the assess-
ments were to be shared with the public.
In addition, the board committed the company to a review of its current
human rights policies in collaboration with “a group of investors who have
experience in this area.” Furthermore, one week before the annual meeting,
the company announced a donation of $10 million from the Coca-Cola
Foundation to establish the Colombia Foundation for Education and
Opportunity, which will assist victims of violence and civil war in the coun-
try: “‘We believe that this foundation will help address pressing issues, build
capacity and serve as a model for what the private sector can do to help
develop sustainable communities around the world,’ Coca-Cola said in a sep-
arate statement” (“Coca-Cola Aids Colombia” 2005). Transnational govern-
mentality, in other words, reminiscent of the company’s African model.


What explains the shift in the company’s response to shareholder initia-

tives between 2002 and 2005? The question is especially pertinent, given
that neither humanitarian concern nor economic self-interest can account
for the company’s response in quite the same way as these factors influ-
enced company policy on HIV/AIDS in Africa. Nor was the company fac-
ing opposition from an international labor union, as was the case in 1980
when the IUF took action over the anti-union violence in Guatemala. Per-
haps the headline of a March 2005 article from the Nation supplies an
answer: “Coke: The New Nike.” The reference was to the long public cam-
paign waged by “anti-sweatshop” student activists against Nike’s subcon-
tracting with companies that allegedly abused and exploited the workers
who manufactured Nike footwear in Indonesian plants. On many U.S.
Shareholder Activism 203

college campuses, Internet publicity of the allegations about corporate

complicity in the anti-union violence in Colombia had not been defused
by the company’s strenuous and consistent denials. In March 2004, as Dou-
glas Daft spoke to a Yale University audience about corporate social
responsibility, students lay on the floor as if they were dead, accusing the
company of indifference to the violence in Colombia (see Figure 6.1). By
early 2005, boycotts of Coca-Cola products had spread across U.S. college
campuses, and the same national networks of communication mobilized
by Students United Against Sweatshops had been activated.
The clearinghouse for much of the publicity about charges against the
company and its Colombian bottlers was the Web site of the Campaign to
Stop Killer Coke, an initiative directed by Ray Rogers, head of Corporate

Figure 6.1 Yale University, March 31, 2004. Then CEO Douglas Daft lectures on ethics while sur-
rounded by a die in. Yale Daily News, April 1, 2004. Photograph by Stephanie Dziczek.
204 Coca-Globalization

Campaign, an organization that supports labor unions in contract negoti-

ations and other struggles. Rogers launched the campaign in April 2003. posts regularly updated news about alleged corporate
abuses and activist responses from around the world. The impact of the
negative publicity created by the Killer Coke Web site eventually provoked
the company to establish a counter–Web site,
(which directs one to There is absolutely no
doubt that the company had been motivated to act not by its own commit-
ments, but by those of a growing number of concerned and virtually con-
nected consumer citizens.
The Coca-Cola Company, as promised, posted the results of its work-
place assessment for Colombia on its Web site well in advance and perhaps
in anxious anticipation of the shareholder meeting scheduled for April 19,
2005. It had become clear that the meeting would once again furnish the
occasion for visible and vocal protests both inside and outside the Hotel du
Pont in Wilmington, Delaware. Indeed, Coca-Cola shareholder meetings
now attract the sort of theatrical, media spectacles associated with meet-
ings of the World Trade Organization and IMF, at which networks of pro-
testors against corporate globalization have materialized in the streets of
Seattle, Genoa, and Ottawa. The report, unlike that of the Coca-Cola Africa
Foundation, plainly acknowledged that it was a response to the questions
and concerns of shareowners and customers. Chairman of the Board and
CEO Neville Isdell, successor to Douglas Daft, explained in a prefatory let-
ter that the company had “asked the internationally respected and certified,
independent audit firm Cal Safety Compliance Corporation” to conduct a
comprehensive review of workplace practices (wages, safety, security, free-
dom of association, etc.) at six Colombian plants (five of which were
owned by Panamco Colombia, S.A., a subsidiary of FEMSA). Cal Safety’s
investigation, according to Isdell, found no evidence to support allegations
of human rights violations against the company and its bottlers: “The peo-
ple employed by our Colombian bottling plants work in an environment
where their labor and human rights are respected and protected” (Cal
Safety Compliance Corporation 2005, 1; for an alternative view, see Gill
2004b). The workplace assessment of the bottling facility in Carepa, owned
by Bebidas y Alimentos de Urabá S.A., found several health and safety vio-
lations (“evacuation paths are not marked or lighted”), but made no find-
ings with respect to abuse of labor. Under “collective bargaining,” the
assessment noted that “‘there were no reports of threats or intimidation
from management against union members.’ However, the assessment team
noted a need for better communication between management and labor in
Shareholder Activism 205

its Observations and Recommendations” (Cal Safety Compliance Corpo-

ration, 26).
The Cal Safety report was swiftly rejected by the organizers of the Stop
Killer Coke campaign. A withering statement from United Students
Against Sweatshops, also posted on the campaign’s Web site, listed several
instances of failure on the part of Cal Safety to monitor and report the
abuse of workers, and questioned both the methodology of Cal Safety’s
audits and its dependence on corporate clients (including Disney, Nike,
and Wal-Mart) for revenue. The statement concluded that “given its
repeated failure to find egregious violations in high profile cases of worker
abuse, its status as a for-profit corporation, its practice of monitoring [sic]
generating revenue from the major corporations for whom it monitors, its
lack of experience with the core issue of freedom of association, its flawed
methodology in visiting factories and conducting worker interviews, and
its utter lack of transparency, Cal-Safety should easily be ruled out as a can-
didate for credibly investigating the case of Coca-Cola in Colombia”
Among the reasons for the effectiveness of the Stop Killer Coke cam-
paign is its capacity to redeploy The Coca-Cola Company’s own marketing
tools. College student activists mobilized by the Colombia accusations
have targeted the exclusive vending contracts or athletic sponsorships that
both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo use to secure monopolies for selling and
advertising their products on campuses (see Chapter 7). These arrange-
ments potentially implicate educational institutions in charges made
against their corporate partners. As Larry Mann, associate vice-chancellor
at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign remarked, “Our reputa-
tion and good names are brought into this controversy because of this
association” (Lederman 2005). College administrators, in turn, are
recruited into the task of bringing corporations to the table to discuss con-
troversial issues. In this way, campus boycotts function less as a form of
individualized collective action and more directly as collective action that
potentially has nontrivial consequences for corporations. For example,
Rutgers University did not renew its exclusive contract with Coca-Cola
Enterprises in May 2005, instead signing a seventeen-million-dollar agree-
ment with the Pepsi Bottling Group. While university officials were quick
to say that it was Pepsi’s offer that ultimately determined their decision,
they also claimed to have taken the concerns of students seriously. Student
activists had been meeting with Rutgers officials to discuss criteria in join-
ing corporate partnerships, and Rutgers officials discussed the charges of
human rights violations with Coca-Cola officials.
206 Coca-Globalization

Similarly, at the University of Michigan, the Dispute Review Board

(DRB) found credible evidence supporting allegations about labor abuses
in Colombia (Zbrozek 2005). The DRB was convened at the recommenda-
tion of University Purchasing Services as part of a review of Coca-Cola’s
compliance with the University of Michigan’s code of conduct for vendors.
Codes of conduct are thus double edges. Recall that in its 2002 citizenship
report, The Coca-Cola Company offered its own “Supplier Guiding Princi-
ples Program” as proof of its commitment to ethical business conduct:
“The scope of [the company’s] supply chain makes our attention to a sup-
plier’s own performance and integrity a decisive factor in fulfilling our
principle of refreshing the marketplace.” This instrument of corporate cit-
izenship was deftly turned against the company, whose exclusive contract
with the University of Michigan was to expire in June 2005. A preliminary
report suggested that the DRB would renew its contract with Coca-Cola
Enterprises until September, and after that on a month-by-month basis,
“provided that Coca-Cola shows it has improved its human rights record”
(Zbrozek 2005). In late December 2005, the university announced its deci-
sion to no longer sell Coca-Cola products on campus after failing to nego-
tiate with the company arrangements for an independent investigation
into the accusations of abuses in Colombia (and in India [see Conclu-
sion]). Michigan thereby became the tenth institution of higher education
in the United States to join a growing boycott of Coca-Cola products.
Accordingly, the controversy over Colombia continued to occupy the
attention of student activists and to elicit responses from the company
throughout the spring of 2005. The company dispatched representatives to
college campuses to make presentations and to debate publicly the issues
surrounding the Colombia controversy—a response to speaking appear-
ances on various college campuses by Ray Rogers and Javier Correa, presi-
dent of SINALTRAINAL. In addition, on May 6, company representatives
met in Washington DC with delegations of administrators and students
from a range of schools affiliated with the Worker Rights Consortium
(WRC), a nonprofit organization created by United Students Against
Sweatshops to assist in enforcing manufacturing codes of conduct adopted
by colleges and universities. The meeting was not organized by the WRC,
with whom one participant said, “Coke has refused to meet,” but by offi-
cials from colleges and universities with whom the company does business
(Grossman 2005).

Shareholder Activism 207

I do not wish to overstate the significance of company representatives

debating undergraduate students and meeting campus purchasing officers;
no harbinger of consumer democracy here. After all, it was the company
that apparently dictated the terms of the meeting, opening it only to “stu-
dents who were part of official delegations approved by their institutions”
(Lederman 2005). Meeting participants, moreover, seemed to demand
merely that the company convene another meeting to discuss an inde-
pendent investigation into the violence directed against Coca-Cola work-
ers in Colombia (Grossman 2005).
Engagement thus becomes the means, mainly, to further engagement—
on terms that are not always regarded as equally favorable by all parties. For
example, in April 2006, the University of Michigan resumed procurement
of Coca-Cola products after receiving a letter from the company outlining
a process for an independent investigation into concerns about the safety
of workers at Coca-Cola bottling plants in Colombia and the environmen-
tal impact of bottling plants in India. The investigation was to be con-
ducted by the International Labor Organization, a United Nations Agency.
Michigan’s announcement was roundly criticized on the Killer Coke Web
site, which noted among other things that “Edward E. Potter, Coca-Cola’s
Director of Global Labor Relations and Workplace Accountability, serves
on the Applications of Conventions Committee within the International
Labor Organization. He is currently the head spokesperson for the entire
Employers’ Group, a powerful position within the ILO structure to pro-
mote the interests of big business and thus the interests of Coca-Cola”
I do wish, however, to acknowledge the efficacy of the Stop Killer Coke
campaign, including its use of shareholder activism, in compelling com-
pany officials to engage directly with U.S. consumers concerned about the
labor practices of a company vendor (if not subsidiary) in another country.
The campaign highlights some of the positive aspects of shareholder
activism, such as its potential capacity to facilitate action on issues and
events technically outside the jurisdiction of local and national politicians.
Though here it must be stressed that these bounds of jurisdiction are
themselves subject to renegotiation as a result of shifting streams of
transnational migration.6 So, for example, New York City Council Member
Monserrate explained his delegation to Colombia in a press release by say-
ing, “As the representative of one of the largest Colombian communities
outside of Colombia, I am dedicated to ensuring that none of the rights of
my constituents’ families are abused under the banner of an American cor-
poration and that New York City’s consumer dollars aren’t underwriting
human rights abuses in other countries” (Monserrate 2004). Similarly,
208 Coca-Globalization

Dhruti Contractor of the Georgia Indian American Political Action Com-

mittee justified her protest against The Coca-Cola Company’s operations
in India by reading a statement at the 2005 shareholders’ meeting in which
she noted, “I am here today because I have a responsibility to my home in
Atlanta and my relatives in India. And I know many other Indian Ameri-
cans who feel the same way . . . ” (http://www.stopcorporateabuse
.org:80/cmc/page 1257.cfm). The mutability of home—the stretching of
family ties across continents—thus motivates an international form of
consumer citizenship.
In short, global corporations can and, in some instances, do respond
directly to specific consumer claims with arguably greater speed and delib-
erateness than that of elected politicians. Shareholder activism thus prom-
ises real if incremental progress toward particular goals—recycling plastic,
extending health benefits, launching investigations—and toward the gen-
eral aim of heightening corporate transparency and holding corporations
accountable to stakeholders. But these examples of shareholder activism
within and against The Coca-Cola Company also highlight some of the
limitations of this sort of political practice. First of all, even when appar-
ently successful, engagement and dialogue often resemble a version of mar-
ketplace haggling. Activists demand 25 percent recycled content; the
company offers 10 percent. Activists demand free access to medicines for
all workers and dependents; the company offers access for workers and
spouses, with a copay. Indeed, one Health Gap media release exhorts
activists not to accept a “low-ball offer” from The Coca-Cola Company.
This sort of consumer democracy takes the used-car lot rather than the
town square as its model; it is a form of bargaining between unequals, in
which one side wields more control over the transaction and often com-
mands more information about the issues being negotiated. There is little
incentive for corporations to concede anything more than they must, since
although consumer citizens can turn to PepsiCo for comparable products,
they can not turn to PepsiCo to reform the labor practices of Coca-Cola
bottlers in Colombia.
Perhaps it is in the actual space and conduct of the annual meetings that
the limitations on shareholder activism emerge most starkly. The meeting
site itself is chosen by the corporation. One PepsiCo shareholder, Evelyn
Davis of Washington DC, submitted a proposal in 2001 requesting that the
site of the annual meeting be rotated among large cities with large concen-
trations of shareowners. The board recommended voting against the pro-
posal, and annual meetings have been held every year since 2002 in Plano,
Texas, at Frito-Lay headquarters. According to Walden Asset Management,
Shareholder Activism 209

EMC Corporation took the extra step of trying to change the state of Mass-
achusetts’s business law to “allow companies broadcasting their annual
meeting over the Internet to dispense with their in-person annual meet-
ings all together [sic]” (
topics/02062c.html). The effort failed, but other methods enable corpora-
tions to set meeting agendas.
At the 2002 Coca-Cola meeting in New York, almost two hours were
devoted to extravagant entertainment; thirty minutes or so were allocated
to discussion of both company and shareholder resolutions. Microphones
are turned off when shareholders exceed time limits of a few minutes to
make their comments. Ray Rogers was forcibly removed from the 2004
Coca-Cola meeting—held in Wilmington, Delaware, with only three hun-
dred people attending as compared with 1,200 at the 2002 meeting in
Madison Square Garden—as then CEO Daft implored security staffers to
be gentle and to “stand down, please, please” (Leith and Kempner 2004). It
is such rudely vivid moments that remind us that shareholder activism
does not equal shareholder democracy. How could it, when one director,
Warren Buffett, controls about 200 million shares of The Coca-Cola Com-
pany (and thus 200 million votes), and I own five? This is a brute fact of
inequality that Andy Warhol failed to notice in his observation that the
president, Liz Taylor, you, me, and the bum on the corner all consume
the same Coke. The resistance generated by shareholder activism, like that
of the anti-Coca-Colas, is diminished if not deflected by the very tactic of
working within a hegemonic relationship.
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Chapter 7

Pouring Rights
Politics, Products, Agency, and Change
Limiting calories in schools is a sensible approach that acknowledges
our industry’s long-standing belief that school wellness efforts must
focus on teaching kids to consume a balanced diet and exercise more.
Schools provide an opportunity to create a healthy environment that
equips our children with these skills. Our industry will continue to do
its part to contribute to that environment.
—Susan Neely, American Beverage Association President and CEO,
regarding the partnership with the Alliance for a Healthier
Generation on a new school beverage policy, May 3, 2006

he politics of soft drink products confront obvious limitations. Culture

T jamming, for example, often fails to engage the corporations it criti-
cizes with regard to any particular goal or concrete outcome. Shareholder
activism, while aimed at very precise objectives, often struggles against the
antidemocratic structure of the corporation, working as hard to keep the
engagement going—another report, another meeting, another media
release—as it does to resolve the issues at hand. Is there any form of the
politics of soft drink products that can subordinate the corporation’s inter-
ests and schedules to those of consumer citizens? And if so, how?
The ongoing controversy in the United States about the sale of soft
drinks in schools suggests some answers. In significant ways, the contro-
versy enacts on a smaller scale the same processes put in motion by the
decline of the welfare state across the globe. Amid a deepening crisis in
funding for American public schools, corporations offer solutions to the
problem of delivering goods and services—solutions that by design offer
corporations opportunities to expand and consolidate present and future
markets for their products. Many individual schools and numerous school
districts have embraced these solutions, implicitly and sometimes explic-
itly promoting an equation of increased consumption (and hence
increased revenues for schools) with good citizenship. But more and more,
parents, educators, school nutritionists, and health advocacy organizations
212 Coca-Globalization

have come to reject these solutions, mobilizing as citizens around con-

sumption issues to effect local regulation of corporate practices. In these
instances, consumer citizenship materializes as a community effort to
reclaim the democratic political process, an effort in which activist net-
works of shorter length realize the promise of what longer networks might
accomplish in effecting transnational regulation of corporate practices.
The 2003 Coca-Cola citizenship report lists school partnerships as a
case study of the company’s socially responsible initiatives in North Amer-
ica. In the report, the company’s announcement of new guidelines for such
partnerships is presented as evidence of “a commitment to be responsive to
and respectful of each school’s choices.” Such affectation obscures the
extent to which the announcement was the result of a vigorous politics of
the product directed against the company’s marketing techniques. This
politics emerged out of intensified efforts to sell soft drinks to schoolchild-
ren in the United States during the 1990s and the reactions that in-school
marketing programs provoked. The history of this episode illuminates
from a different angle the global imperative of soft drink companies to
expand into new markets, and the attempts of these companies to create
new consumers, not only in the remote corners of Papua New Guinea, but
also in the urban centers of the United States. It also poses questions about
the meaning of rights and freedom; specifically, whether the “freedom of
choice” enjoyed by individual sovereign consumers can coexist with the
rights of local communities to self-determination with regard to public
health and the care and feeding of children. This history entails a politics
of consumption that challenges rather than reproduces the assumptions of
coca-colonization and that transcends some of the limitations of both cul-
ture jamming and shareholder activism.

Healthy Children: Local Communities, Global Industries

In the early 1990s, Coca-Cola and Pepsi bottlers began to acquire “pouring
rights” at public high schools and middle schools around the country
(Nestle 2000). These contractual arrangements gave the bottlers exclusive
rights to vend the products of either The Coca-Cola Company or PepsiCo
in machines at a particular high school or middle school or at all schools
within a particular district. In effect, the contracts greatly extended earlier
agreements in which the soft drink bottlers had provided schools with ath-
letic equipment such as scoreboards in return for the opportunity to adver-
tise on the scoreboards. By 1997, the number of schools and school
districts signing contracts for pouring rights was noticeably on the rise.
Multiyear contracts that brought school districts large cash payments up
Pouring Rights 213

front and annual commissions on sales volume attracted widespread

media attention (Hays 1998c; Kaufman 1999). In 1998, for example, the
Keller district (K-12) in Texas struck a deal with the local Coca-Cola bot-
tler that paid the district more than $4.2 million over fifteen years, includ-
ing an immediate $1.6 million payment that the district planned to spend
on computer equipment. Some school boards began to use the services of
third-party brokers in an attempt to solicit competitive bids from rival soft
drink bottling companies (Hays 1999a).
School principals in cash-strapped districts often welcomed the rev-
enue. “This contract is a godsend,” remarked the deputy director of pro-
curement for the Washington DC Public Schools (Kaufman 1999). From
the outset, however, there was criticism of exclusive contracts, mostly on
the grounds that schools should be commercial-free zones and that soft
drinks were essentially non-nutritious beverages. Such criticism was inad-
vertently validated when a letter written by the executive director for
school leadership in the Colorado Springs district became public. In the
letter, signed “the Coke Dude,” the executive director urged local school
principals to ensure that vending machines were easily accessible and “if
soda products are not allowed in classes” to consider “allowing juices, teas
and water” (Kaufman 1999). Similarly, the release of a 1998 report by the
Center for Science in the Public Interest called Liquid Candy elicited pub-
lic outcries. The report noted increases in the rates of soft drink consump-
tion since 1974 on the order of three times for boys 12 to 19 years old, and
linked these consumption rates with obesity, tooth decay, and heart dis-
ease. The National Soft Drink Association (now the American Beverage
Association, a trade organization representing the interests of the nonalco-
holic beverage industry), however, dismissed the report as a “strained
effort” that was “not supported by the facts” (Kaufman 1999). The battle
over pouring rights had begun in earnest.
By the year 2000, approximately two hundred school districts in the
United States had entered into pouring rights agreements with soft drink
companies; two years later, forty more districts had signed agreements
(Nestle 2002, 202; Fried and Nestle 2002). (In addition, the city of Hunt-
ington Beach, California, and the national YWCA also had entered into
agreements.) But some school districts were already rethinking the advisa-
bility of selling exclusive pouring rights. The Madison, Wisconsin, school
district, for example, cancelled a contract it had signed in 1997, forfeiting
an estimated three hundred thousand dollars in bonuses and commissions.
The Sacramento City Unified School District rejected a five-year exclusive
contract for $2 million to sell Pepsi products. In Philadelphia, “parent
activists scuttled a proposed 10-year, $43 million deal between the school
214 Coca-Globalization

system and Coca-Cola” and enacted a total ban on the sale of soft drinks in
school (Groves 2001).
In January 2001, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a report,
“Foods Sold in Competition with USDA School Meal Programs,” that
urged Congress to “strengthen USDA’s ability—and the ability of states and
local schools—to foster a healthier school nutrition environment in com-
munities across America.” The report expressed concern over the availabil-
ity of “foods of minimal nutritional value” (FMNV), such as soft drinks,
that compete with USDA-funded school meal programs, and it specifically
cited “pouring rights” contracts as one factor driving schools to provide
students with such foods. A few months later, Senator Patrick Leahy of Ver-
mont introduced the Better Nutrition Schoolchildren Act of 2001, which
would ban the donation of sodas during lunch in school cafeterias (where
sales were already banned) and mandate the agriculture secretary to con-
sider a ban on sales and donations of sodas and other FMNV before
lunch. The senator’s own press release quoted him as saying, “School-
children are a captive market for soda vendors. Our kids pay the price
when we give soft drink companies free reign to market their products in
schools” (Leahy 2001).
It was not the first time Senator Leahy had introduced such a bill; he had
done so in 1994. Nor was it the last; he reintroduced a version of the 2001
bill with Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana in 2003 (as well as a Child
Nutrition Initiative Act that would create a new farm-to-cafeteria program
to supply locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables to school cafeterias).
Nor was it the first time that the USDA sought to strengthen (or exercise)
its ability to regulate so-called competitive foods. Indeed, there is a long
history of USDA struggles to assert the priority of children’s health and
nutrition over the interests of corporations and school boards seeking rev-
enues from the sale of FMNV. This history perfectly illustrates the sort of
cynical politics that have compelled consumer citizens to seek redress for
their concerns outside the legislative process—to mobilize as sovereign
market actors rather than as enfranchised constituents of democratically
elected representatives in order to regulate corporations.
Since the early 1970s, USDA rulings about permitting the sale of FMNV
foods in schools at certain times and places—as well as the USDA’s author-
ity to make regulations about all competitive foods, which was turned over
to state and local boards of education in 1972—have been challenged and
overturned. For example, in 1978, the USDA proposed restricting sales of
FMNV from the start of the school day until after the last lunch period, but
the proposal was withdrawn in response to comments. The following year,
the USDA again proposed restrictions, having redefined FMNV to mean
Pouring Rights 215

foods with less than 5 percent of the Recommended Dietary Allowance

(RDA) for eight nutrients per one hundred calories—that is, only carbon-
ated soft drinks, water ices, chewing gum, and certain candies. This pro-
posal received some 4,200 comments, “of which 562 could be traced to a
PepsiCo directive to its employees suggesting that they tell the USDA that
its health objectives would be better achieved through nutrition educa-
tion” (Nestle 2002, 210). Although the USDA nonetheless issued its restric-
tions in 1980, the National Soft Drink Association sued to overturn the
regulations, winning its case on appeal in 1983 (for more details on USDA
policies, see Nestle 2002). Federal regulation of the sale of FMNV in
schools has weakened to the point that even existing laws seem to be largely
ignored (Nestle 2002) or circumvented—hence Senator Leahy’s attempt to
ban the free distribution of soft drinks at lunchtime.
In March 2001, sensing the force of backlash and threat of government
regulation brought on by the debate over pouring rights, The Coca-Cola
Company issued new guidelines for business/school partnerships. These
guidelines encouraged bottlers to pursue nonexclusive agreements, and
offered schools the choice of juices, water, and products free of sugar and
caffeine in vending machines. They also expressed willingness to “comply
with all federal, state and local guidelines.” In addition, “Coca-Cola bottlers
will unconditionally honor the wishes of all schools that seek to limit the
sale of beverages at certain points of the school day, or at certain locations
on school campuses” (The Coca-Cola Company 2001). Finally, the guide-
lines specifically prohibited advertising in the classroom and mention of
Coca-Cola in curricular materials. The guidelines did not, however, rec-
ommend discontinuing the sale of soft drinks in schools. While Coca-Cola
bottlers, with whom schools and school districts make contracts, were said
to be on board with the new guidelines, a company spokesman acknowl-
edged that, “if this movement doesn’t take off, you might [continue to] see
exclusives” (Groves 2001). Similarly, a spokeswoman for Coca Cola Enter-
prises (CCE), the company’s largest bottler, was reported to say that CCE
would comply—if schools stopped putting out bids for exclusive contracts
(Henry 2001).
The Coca-Cola Company’s intervention was not enough to stop the
growing expression of discontent over soft drink sales in schools. Promi-
nent activists dismissed the company’s announcement as self-interested
public relations. Andrew Hagelshaw, director of the Center for Commer-
cial-Free Public Education, claimed in a press release that the company had
“to do something if they want to stay in schools” (
commercialfree/presscenter/pr_31301.html). And, in fact, the company’s
own Web announcement admitted that “the initiative will be beneficial to
216 Coca-Globalization

its continuing relationship with educators, and the long-term viability of

its beverage program in schools” (The Coca-Cola Company 2001). By the
end of 2001, the issue had become caught in a storm of media attention
devoted to the problem of obesity in the United States precipitated by a
Center for Disease Control finding that 15 percent of American children
were overweight or obese. By 2002, fourteen states were considering regu-
lations on the sale of soft drinks in schools.
Reaction against the sale of soft drinks in schools peaked in August of
2002, when the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD)—the second
largest school district in the United States—voted to ban the sale of soft
drinks in schools, effective January 2004. (Other beverages would be avail-
able, but not carbonated beverages.) This vote resulted from months of
carefully planned lobbying, in which an informal network of parents and
community activists established the Healthy School Food Coalition
(HSFC). At every step in the long process of formulating a food policy for
the LAUSD, the HSFC network recruited and mobilized parents, teachers,
students, experts, advocates, and administrators in an effort to materialize
visible and strong support for their goals, especially at public hearings.
HSFC, allied with the Center for Food and Justice, met with school board
members multiple times, reached out to various community organiza-
tions, and controlled media coverage of the school board’s vote on the soda
resolution (which was one part of a larger program to promote nutrition
in schools). This was not all the network made visible; coalition members
delivered to each school board member “a full-sized mason jar of sugar
representing the amount a teenager consumes in a week by drinking two
sodas a day” (Center for Food and Justice 2002, 6). In particular, HSFC
members struggled to keep consideration of the public health aspects of
the soda resolution separate from fiscal considerations of school revenues,
and thereby avoid the death of the resolution by amendment. The HSFC
campaign now serves as a model for other community activists seeking to
ban the sale of soft drinks in schools.
The NSDA responded to the Los Angeles ban with the claim that obesity
was due mainly to inactivity—the couch not the can. One NSDA
spokesman said, “This could usher in an era when the industry has to be
more aggressive in the PR realm” (Arnold 2002). Yet by July 2003, The
Coca-Cola Company once again revised its marketing guidelines, publicly
vowing to roll back all its marketing efforts to children under the age of
twelve. At the same time, however, Coca-Cola Enterprises became an offi-
cial sponsor of the National Parent Teachers Association and CCE’s sen-
ior vice president for public affairs and chief lobbyist was given a seat on
the board (Day 2003). In November 2003, another new set of voluntary
Pouring Rights 217

guidelines was issued by the company for school decision-makers. These

guidelines indicated that the company would be, in the words of its 2003
citizenship report, “responsive and respectful regarding each school’s
choice of beverages”—as if the problem were one of tastes and preferences
rather than health and nutrition.
Not surprisingly, the concessions that the company made were rather
minor. For example, carbonated soft drinks would be made unavailable,
but only to elementary school students and only during the school day. For
middle and high school students, more choices would be made available
(100 percent fruit juices, water, teas, etc.)—hardly a disinterested move
given the rapid growth in consumption of noncarbonated beverages. Per-
haps more significantly, the company announced a decision to substitute
one-time, up-front payments with a “reliable and consistent level of
resources for the length of the partnership.” This decision was taken, osten-
sibly, in the interest of the schools, much like the decision to discourage
brokers, who charge steep fees to schools and school districts, not to men-
tion negotiate aggressively with soft drink corporations for favorable con-
tract terms (Hays 1999). The new approach, it was claimed, would “help to
even out budget fluctuations from year to year,” thus making revenue from
soft drink sales a permanent feature of fiscal planning (“Coca-Cola Issues
Model Guidelines” 2003).
The company’s willingness to de-emphasize carbonated soft drinks in
its contracts with schools went beyond calculation of the increasing
demand for noncarbonated beverages, especially water. It also confirmed a
guiding orientation to promoting brands and trademarks rather than to
pushing tangible, physical products—even the venerable flagship product.
Cultivating lifelong brand loyalty is certainly at stake here, but there is
more. Access to schools, I suggest, is fundamentally a question of recruiting
new consumption workers; consumers whose biographical experience of
and investment in brands can be transformed into a source of value cre-
ation (Chapter 3). That is, consumers must be engaged and assisted in the
work of giving meaning to brands, of appropriating branded commodities
for use in contexts that render brands as material tokens of both self and
social identity. The terms of my suggestion here echo the rhetoric of soft
drink corporations themselves. Consider, for example, the 2003 annual
report of Coca-Cola Enterprises, titled “Delivering Value.” The report lists
the strengthening of brands as “strategic initiative one”: “Our brands—
already among the strongest, most recognized in the world—are our greatest
asset. By offering the right products and packages for each consumption
occasion, we will continue to grow the value of our brands for consumers
and our customers.” Offering the right products and packages is a function
218 Coca-Globalization

of innovation in design, of meeting “specific consumer needs and wants”

such that the consumer never loses the ability to recognize him or herself
in the brand (Chapter 1). From the perspective of CCE managers, guaran-
teeing this outcome requires matching the qualifications they attach to a
product with those of the consumers enrolled in the same product net-
work. Accordingly, access to schools concerns logos and signage and pro-
motional activities as much as it does the soft drinks themselves, for what
is at stake above all is the creation of a social environment or context in
which young consumers regard the presence of brands as natural, appro-
priate, and desirable.
As if in disdainful reply to The Coca-Cola Company’s new guidelines,
the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement in January 2004
encouraging pediatricians to work towards the elimination of soft drinks
in schools. The statement provided specific recommendations about “tem-
pering” soft drink contracts already in place such that a contract does not
“promote overconsumption by students.” For example, “incentives based
on the amount of soft drinks sold per student should not be included as
part of exclusive contracts” (American Academy of Pediatrics 2004, 153).1
And so the battle over pouring rights continues. On the one side, soft
drink corporations respond to public health concerns with moves such as
that of PepsiCo, which revealed in February 2005 that it too had enacted
self-imposed restrictions and “would no longer place advertising for its
flagship cola brand in outlets that directly reach children under 12.” Pep-
siCo also promised to limit portion sizes of snack foods sold in U.S. schools
and to replace fried snack foods with baked lower-fat alternatives in ele-
mentary schools. These tiny concessions are accompanied by inflated self-
congratulation: “Our intent is not to just beat our chests and take credit for
what we’re doing. We’re just quietly doing it because it’s the right thing to
do,” says the CEO of Frito-Lay North America, PepsiCo’s snack unit
(“Report Pepsi Limiting” 2005). The move admittedly signals a big shift
from the position of Pepsi North America’s chief marketing officer who, in
1999, identified marketing to eight to twelve year olds as a priority: “We’re
absolutely going to look at preteens” (Hays 1999b).
On the other side, public health advocates continue to press for legislative
means to regulate school soft drink contracts. In California, Senate Bill 965
was signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in September 2005,
extending an existing ban on soft drinks to high schools statewide effective
July 2007. At the same time, public health advocates worry about gains that
they had considered already won. In Oregon, a bill to ban the sale of soft
drinks in schools became a bill that requires schools to adopt goals for nutri-
tion education and physical activities. Members of the Senate Education
Pouring Rights 219

Committee that rewrote the bill had received campaign contributions from
the Oregon Soft Drink Association, which contributed $91,000 to lawmak-
ers in the 2004 fall election cycle (Cain 2005). In Connecticut, where a sim-
ilar bill had already passed the state Senate, lobbyists for the Connecticut
Pepsi Bottlers Association and the Coca-Cola Bottling Companies of New
York and New England contributed to delaying a vote on the bill in the
House (Hladky 2005).2 The lobbyists were joined by a range of interest
groups that all fear a loss in revenue—from school boards and high school
coaches to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (perhaps ironically,
given the union’s adversarial position on The Coca-Cola Company’s
accounting of its business in Colombia).
If regulation can not be blocked, moreover, other means are apparently
available to circumvent bans on soft drinks. In Hernando County, Florida,
where the local school board voted to ban carbonated soft drinks (but
allow sales of other beverages), machines vending soda during the school
day were still in operation despite complaints from a school district official
(Quinlan 2004). Asked about the ban, a representative from the bottling
company said, “If business declines more than ten percent . . . Coca-Cola
Enterprises has the right to conduct a review with the board, offer recom-
mendations, and seek a compromise to improve the state of business.” In
Sacramento, such compromises were forwarded by school district repre-
sentatives themselves. Concern over a projected $27 million district budget
shortfall prompted the suggestion to decrease gradually the sale of soft
drinks in schools rather than enacting a complete and immediate ban on
sales (Macdonald 2004). The spirit of compromise similarly infuses the
agreement brokered in May 2006 by the Alliance for a Healthier Genera-
tion, a collaboration between the American Heart Association and the
William J. Clinton Foundation. According to the voluntary agreement,
the top three U.S. soft drink companies (Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Cad-
bury-Schweppes) pledged to begin removing sweetened drinks from
school cafeterias and vending machines in the fall of 2006 (Burros and
Warner 2006). The concession was an apparent response to credible threats
of litigation, modeled on lawsuits against the tobacco industry, made by
the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Some critics saw the response
as an unenforceable and weak substitute for legislation such as California’s
ban on soda sales. Perhaps significantly, the agreement said nothing about
banning the advertising and marketing of soft drinks in schools; the sym-
bolic means for recruiting new consumption workers.
The saga of soft drink marketing in schools demonstrates how the pol-
itics of products and consumption potentially slides global issues into local
frames and vice-versa, thereby enabling a kind of scale jumping that allows
220 Coca-Globalization

analysts and activists alike to make translocal connections. For example, we

should note that in many of the cases where soft drink sales in schools have
been banned or regulated, it was parents and school nutritionists who took
the initiative rather than school boards. School boards often find them-
selves in the desperate position of trying to recover funds slashed from
operating budgets by state and local legislatures. It is hardly far-fetched to
argue that these budget cuts are the partial result of pressures generated by
economic globalization, including the specific effect of declining tax rev-
enues as businesses close or relocate and the general effect of neoliberal
policies designed to cut personal taxes and limit the extent of state services
(see Giroux 2004). In the United States, as in Papua New Guinea, corpora-
tions move into the space vacated by the state, bringing hitherto public
services such as education into partnership with private enterprise. Parents
and school nutritionists, mobilized by concerns about what their children
and students ought to consume, sought to resist this move by bringing the
state back in—by using legislative means to regulate corporate practices
and at the same time to challenge the state to meet its obligations to its
youngest citizens by restoring funding to public schools. Their actions
make it plain that consumer citizenship, despite its flaws, is not something
to be dismissed as pure illusion. But neither is consumer citizenship an
alternative to political citizenship. Rather, consumer citizenship and polit-
ical citizenship are both intrinsic aspects of civic engagement, locally as
well as globally.

Soft Drinks and Big Sugar

The future of the battle over pouring rights might be read most clearly in
the marketing moves of soft drink companies and the global sugar indus-
try. In March 2005, Coca-Cola North America announced the introduc-
tion of Coca-Cola Zero, a zero-calorie cola targeted at “young adults”—“a
new brand they can call their own” (“Coca-Cola Announces Plans to
Launch Coca-Cola Zero” 2005). Coca-Cola Zero is sweetened with aspar-
tame and acesulfame potassium (ace-k), yet one more blow to the sugar
industry which has long relied upon soft drink corporations as key cus-
tomers worldwide. The sugar industry, for its part, is busy revising the
farm-to-table narratives it uses to represent sugar to supermarket shop-
pers. In order to differentiate sugar from other sweeteners, especially
industrial sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup, these narratives
now appeal to notions of place, freshness, and environmental sustainabil-
ity (Hollander 2003). As hidden sugar consumption continues to increase
(in the form of sweeteners as components of all sorts of foods), visible
Pouring Rights 221

sucrose consumption—from New York to New Guinea—is revalued as

“natural as life” (Errington and Gewertz 2003). Indeed, Wholesome Foods,
a sugar-marketing firm, now employs images of third-world peasants to
qualify organic sugar with the same sort of moral concerns that infuse Fair
Trade coffee: “Wholesome Sweeteners seeks to improve the quality and
productivity of the growers it relies on. By doing so, these growers realize
additional income from their crops giving them the opportunity to
improve their standard of living” (cited in Hollander 2003, 68). Another
reminder, should one be necessary, of the limitations faced by the politics
of products: even the most “maligned food products” (69) can be requali-
fied, narratively rehabilitated to meet the evolving demands of consumer
Local fights over the sale of soft drinks in schools also recapitulate
global struggles over the promotion of dietary guidelines with implications
for the practices and products of transnational food corporations. In 2003,
the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a report suggesting dietary
changes for individuals, including limits on sugar consumption, as a step
toward reducing “the growing burden of non-communicable diseases”
(Waxman and Nurum 2004). The WHO estimates that 300 million people
worldwide are obese and one billion people are overweight; by compari-
son, the WHO estimates that 800 million people are suffering from under-
nutrition (Waxman and Norum 2004). These counter-intuitive figures are
a consequence of factors including tobacco use, reduced levels of physical
activity, and dietary changes connected with the global expansion of food
markets. With regard to the last factor, Waxman and Norum note, “Popu-
lations are exposed to increased availability and aggressive promotion of
processed, inexpensive food—generally high in fats, sugar and salt—but
reduced access and affordability of fruits and vegetables” (2004, 381).
The director of the London-based International Obesity Task Force
similarly explains that “fat and sugar are cheap products, and people are
eating the wrong stuff ” (Ford 2004). What were once diseases of affluence
are now becoming diseases of poverty: “The number of obese people in
China doubled between 1992 and 2002” to 60 million or 7.1 percent of
adults (Ackman 2004). Put differently, noncommunicable diseases con-
nected with obesity and overweight follow vectors of social inequality
(including gender inequality); risk factors and disease outcomes cluster in
developing countries, on the one hand, and in the poor urban centers of
developed countries, on the other. Elizabeth Solomon’s concern over the
consumption habits of her grandchildren in Port Moresby is shared by
the parents of school children in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago,
222 Coca-Globalization

the three largest school districts in the United States, where actions regu-
lating the sale of soft drinks in school have been taken.
In many Pacific island nations, this situation is alarming. In Nauru, for
example, 70 percent of the inhabitants are obese according to WHO stud-
ies—a consequence of both material and cultural conditions, namely, a
population flush with revenues from phosphate mining that is able to
afford imported foods, and a local aesthetic that values large body size.
Even in Papua New Guinea, a country with a much lower per capita
income and much greater variation in access to imported foods, evidence
suggests that many people are on “the rocky road from roots to rice”
(Sawyer 2001), substituting bread and rice for starchy root crops such as
sweet potato and taro. This substitution characterizes the diets of urban
wage earners, in particular: “Average calorie intake for the wealthiest 25%
of the population is well above requirements and people are likely to
become overweight or obese. Most of this group are people in formal
employment, businesses or waged jobs, which are physically less demand-
ing” (Sawyer 2001, 155). Hence the jibe,“One can easily pick out politicians
and those who do well in private and public services by their heavier
weight, large size and potbelly.” (Taufa and Benjamin 2001, 109). But peo-
ple living in urban squatter settlements and in rural areas close to large-
scale development projects (such as mines) are also experiencing
accelerated changes in diet, which includes increased consumption of
“modern” foods such as rice, tinned meat, biscuits, and snack foods.
Although difficult to measure precisely, incidence of noninsulin dependent
diabetes mellitus appears to be on the rise (Taufa and Benjamin 2001).
The health implications of modern diets are a matter of concern to indi-
viduals and organizations practicing the politics of products in the South
Pacific. For example, the South Pacific Consumer Protection Programme,
an affiliate of the NGO Consumers International, has launched awareness
campaigns designed to educate secondary school students about their
rights as consumers, including the right to a healthy environment. One of
the program’s publications, Cola or Coconuts? (South Pacific Consumer
Protection Programme 1996), specifically addresses the problem of rising
rates of diabetes in conjunction with increased consumption of imported,
processed foods (as well as a range of other topics including fair business
practices, advertising, product safety, and human ecology). The goal of the
publication, which is meant for use in schools, is “to empower Pacific
Island students to create safe, informed and fair marketplaces in our island
While no one can deny the value of such a goal, it is important to note
some of the challenges that will confront even the most educated and
Pouring Rights 223

aware population of Pacific Islanders in asserting control over their con-

sumption practices. For example, a broad-based survey of food-related
issues in the Pacific islands Kingdom of Tonga clarifies the link between
dietary change and policies of selective trade liberalization associated with
economic globalization. Evans et al. confirm that in Tonga, “a pattern of
high rates of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease has emerged with
the shift from traditional diets” to increased consumption of imported
foods, especially fatty meats such as mutton flaps (2001, 79–80). But they
insist that this shift has occurred despite strong Tongan preferences for tra-
ditional foods (greens, fish, yams) and accurate perceptions of the poorer
nutritional value of “modern” foods (bread, mutton flaps, imported
chicken parts). Instead, they argue that Tongans consume less healthy
foods because of cost and availability. For example, “healthier, low-fat Ton-
gan sources of proteins, such as fish, generally cost between 15% and 50%
more than either mutton flaps or imported chicken parts” (859). In many
areas, moreover, imported foods such as rice were more readily available
than local foods such as taro. Evans and others thus conclude that trade
policy rather than nutritional education might be the key to solving
Tonga’s growing health problems. The steady increase in relatively cheap
imported foods—mutton flaps from New Zealand, chicken parts from the
United States—not only badly affects Tonga’s balance of trade, but also
constrains the development of sustainable markets for indigenous fishing
and farming industries. Increased international trade, purportedly
intended to stimulate economic growth, thus creates conditions that pro-
mote the growth of health-related problems.
Evans et al. leave a grim impression of the options available to the
national government and health authorities in Tonga for dealing with the
tide of imported foods. They note that under the provisions of the World
Trade Organization, of which Tonga became a full member in July 2007,
tariff-based limitations on imports designated “legal and of doubtful ben-
efit” will be difficult to enact. Fiji, for example, has imposed a complete ban
on the importation of mutton flaps and chicken parts, but “as a full mem-
ber of the WTO it is under threat of a complaint by New Zealand” (Evans
et al. 2001, 860). The capacity of the Fijian state and Tongan state to admin-
ister the health of their respective populations is compromised by the
higher authority of the WTO, acting on behalf of the New Zealand-based
mutton exporters (see Gewertz and Errington 2007). But it would be a mis-
take to assume that inter-state organizations always override the interests
of nation-states, especially when powerful nation-states ally themselves
with powerful corporate interests, which brings us back to the WHO
Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health.
224 Coca-Globalization

The U.S. sugar industry launched an aggressive attack on the WHO

report, angered by the specific recommendation in the dietary guidelines
that “free sugars” (both sucrose and other sweeteners such as HFCS)
should account for no more than 10 percent of a healthy diet. The Sugar
Association, for example, declared its intent to use “every avenue available
to expose the dubious nature” of the report, including asking members of
Congress to challenge the United States’ $406 million in contributions to
the WHO, a quarter of the annual total. (The National Soft Drink Associa-
tion likewise characterized the report’s recommendation of a 10 percent
limit as too restrictive, instead backing a 25 percent limit [Boseley 2003].)
In this instance, the Bush administration aligned itself with the sugar
industry, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human services issued a
critique of the science behind the WHO report. The result was perhaps
predictable, given the enormous power of so-called Big Sugar’s lobbying
machine: “Despite its small size, accounting for just one per cent of US
farm receipts and 61,000 direct jobs, sugar is the largest agricultural indus-
try donor to political campaigns,” giving nearly $3.2 million during the
2004 elections (Alden et al. 2004; Barrionueva and Becker 2005).
Not surprisingly, in Brazil—which controls a quarter of the world sugar
market—the government also opposed the WHO Global Strategy, while
the president of the Sao Paulo Sugarcane Agroindustry Union (UNICA)
claimed that there is no scientific proof that sugar harms human health. At
the same time, Brazilian health advocates claimed that “health should
come before sector-specific economic interests” (Osava 2004). Thus the
opposing positions in the school soft drink wars—public health versus
school budgets—reemerged on and within the national scale of the Brazil-
ian state. In this instance, however, industry and trade interests prevailed,
at least in one particular respect. In a final compromise, the WHO agreed
to remove from its report the recommendation that intake of added sugar
be limited to no more than 10 percent of daily calories (see the account of
Kaare Norum [2005] who chaired a WHO Reference Group charged with
shaping the Global Strategy).
Even so, Brazilian economic interests, or at least those of the Brazilian
sugar industry, are not the same as those of the U.S. sugar industry. While
the latter seeks to maintain its tariff-protected domestic market, the former
seeks to increase its access to markets worldwide, especially the U.S. mar-
ket. (The average American derives approximately 16 percent of calorie
intake from added sugars; Alden et al. 2004). In early 2004, the U.S. sugar
industry succeeded in excluding sugar from a bilateral free trade agreement
that the United States concluded with Australia, one of the world’s top ten
sugar producers (though a small player by comparison with Brazil, the
Pouring Rights 225

United States, the European Union, and India; Alden et al. 2004; Vernon
2004). But by the middle of the following year, the industry seemed to be
losing its allies in the Bush administration over the industry’s opposition to
the administration’s top trade priority, the Central American Free Trade
Agreement (CAFTA) (Barrionueva and Becker 2005). CAFTA would open
up the American market to approximately 1 percent more sugar from Cen-
tral American producers.
Similarly, the industry’s allies in agribusiness were withdrawing support
for the quota system that protects U.S. sugar producers from competing
with less expensive imported sugar (many of these allies, of course, are
themselves beneficiaries of U.S. taxpayer subsidies). Much is at stake for
U.S. cane and beet growers: “If you go to free trade, Brazil wins and every-
body else gets killed,” said the president of the American Sugarbeet Grow-
ers Association (Alden et al. 2004). It remains to be seen whether U.S. sugar
producers, already witnessing the departure of American candy manufac-
turers to Mexico and Canada in search of lower sugar prices, will ultimately
succumb to the pressures of neoliberal trade policies. It is already clear that
these same policies have elsewhere reduced the size and scope of state
activities and perforce created the conditions for an expansion of corpo-
rate citizenship and transnational governmentality. For just as transna-
tional corporations benefit from reducing barriers to trade such as
(selected) state subsidies and tariffs, these corporations perversely benefit
from reduced state support of public education, taking advantage of cuts
in public spending to promote private consumption as an alternative
source of revenue for schools.

The Morality of Products

Michele Micheletti (2003) has made a strong and thoughtful argument for
recognizing the positive political potential of virtuous consumption. As I
also have tried to do here, she shows how a politics of products (boycotts
and buycotts, smart shopping, socially responsible investing) attempts to
bring moral values of fair mindedness and social justice into a marketplace
otherwise given over to the demands of practical reason or “need and
greed,” as Sahlins (2004) would say. In so doing, the distinction between
public citizens and private consumer disappears. Furthermore, the distinc-
tion between “culture” and “economy”—a product of the great historical
transformation that disembedded “the market” from social life (Polanyi
1957)—likewise disappears. The politics of products thus promises to
reembed everyday economic activity within a moral framework, to hold
everyday activities of production and consumption accountable to the
226 Coca-Globalization

same moral standards we use on a daily basis to tell right from wrong, good
from bad.
Put differently, and in terms that Micheletti (2003) also uses, the politics
of products is trust-generating activity—activity that diffuses trust
throughout the networks that such activity constructs. These networks can
be both shorter in length, like the network mobilized to ban soft drink sales
in Los Angeles schools, or greater in length, like the networks mobilized to
advocate on behalf of HIV-positive workers in the African Coke system or
threatened workers in the Colombian Coke system. These networks might
take the form of commodity chains that link southern producers with far-
away northern consumers; or they might take the form of strategic
alliances between preexisting groups of various sorts—as when representa-
tives of ACT UP encourage people to join with the Teamsters to support
the cause of workers in Colombia. If transnational alliances of this latter
sort are indeed typical of the so-called anti-globalization movement, then
it is evident how important a role the politics of products—branded, mun-
dane, widely distributed consumer goods, or worldly things—is destined
to play in this movement (Klein 1999; Graeber 2002).
I am sympathetic with Micheletti’s view, and I have demonstrated here
some of the modest gains that the politics of products focused on soft
drinks has been able to achieve. Gains on issues of environmental sustain-
ability and worker’s rights, for example, testify to the slow process of incre-
mental change that the politics of products entails. The process should
certainly not be confused with a revolution in the capitalist mode of pro-
duction, but it makes gains, nonetheless. Soft drink politics, however, also
demonstrate some of the persistent problems that confront any effort to
shift the orientation of political activism from production to consumption
and to engage with corporations in the role of consumers rather than the
role of workers or rights-bearing citizens. These problems cling to two
of the promises held out by the politics of products, namely, the promise of
political agency and the promise of civilizing capitalism.
The attraction of political interventions such as buycotts and share-
holder activism lies in their capacity to enable individuals to do some-
thing—to take immediate and personal responsibility for realizing moral
values perceived as unimportant to public policy makers. While some crit-
ics might dismiss such actions as purchasing Fair Trade coffee as an incon-
sequential quick fix for solving structural dilemmas (cf. Micheletti 2003,
161), my concern is different. I worry that consumption is always an
overdetermined site of moral activity, at which individuals confront com-
peting moral agendas. For example, Micheletti (2003, 151) speculates that
green political consumerism, which simply regards certain products as
Pouring Rights 227

unsustainable and thus not to be purchased, enables individual shoppers to

realize the virtue of thriftiness. Yet the very same virtue can be realized by
a Wal-Mart shopper who purchases products that are ecologically unsound
but significantly cheaper on the grounds that her family will be better pro-
visioned (see Miller 1998). This shopper is acting with others in mind; her
consumption is not motivated by narrow self-interest and it would be mis-
taken to call it unethical. Put differently, there is an irreducible element of
“perplexity” built into consumption practices (Ramamurthy 2003). Con-
sumers do not choose between ethical and unethical consumption, smart
and stupid shopping; they instead negotiate multiple and sometimes con-
tradictory moral demands. Harnessing the agency of individual consumers
to specific political goals will always involve coming to terms with these
The problem of enlisting corporate citizens in the service of civilizing
capitalism is yet more daunting. No matter how much good corporations
have done and can do, doing good will never be their “core activity”: “Their
contribution to society’s overall needs will always remain at the margins,
and their contribution to welfare will never be comprehensive” (Hertz
2001, 214). The legal mandate and main purpose of corporations is to
enhance market value for the owners of the corporation; hence the corpo-
ration’s ever present incentive to “externalize” any and all costs possible and
to calculate its destructiveness in relation to its profits (Bakan 2004). Under
these circumstances, the best consumer citizens can hope for from corpo-
rations is charity—the timing, amount, and purpose of which is largely
determined by corporations. As Marcel Mauss (1925) noted long ago, what
is so wounding about charity is that the giver, and only the giver, controls
the gift; charity is not a material vehicle for an ongoing social relation, the
hallmark of a genuine gift relationship. Charity is instead a token of
power—a sign of the donor’s lack of obligation to sustain a relationship
with the recipient. Accordingly, when profit is threatened, it is likely that
charity will be scarce.
As Micheletti (2003, 162) understands, and as the struggles over soft
drink sales in schools illustrates, a politics of products must include civic
engagements in addition to market-based efforts. Without some measure
of state-enforced regulation—regarding corporate taxes, environmental
safety, worker’s rights—it is unlikely that the practices of corporations will
be effectively monitored, let alone changed. If the choice of Cal Safety to
validate The Coca-Cola Company’s corporate policies is not reassuring, the
alternative of an underfunded, unmandated watchdog coalition such as the
Workers Rights Consortium inspires only marginally more confidence. Nor
should we confuse consumer citizenship with participatory democracy.
228 Coca-Globalization

Participatory democracy can certainly benefit from the energetic protests

of consumer citizens, but only if the protests of particular pressure groups
working on particular issues are redirected toward the general end of
reestablishing government as a forum in which all people have a say. All
people’s interests—including those of people without shares to vote on and
without the means to buy ethically certified goods—should be deemed at
least worthy of consideration. Activism outside of traditional political
channels can be a catalyst for political change, as the history of Progres-
sivism in the United States suggests. As with the White Label Campaign, it
might well be that the past history of consumer citizenship holds lessons
for the political future of participatory democracy.

Product Networks and the

Politics of Knowledge
n July 2005, Internet news sites circulated stories about Sharad Haksar,
I an Indian photographer based in the city of Chennai (formerly Madras)
and well known in international advertising circles. According to reports,
Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Private Ltd., a subsidiary of The Coca-
Cola Company for whom Haskar had done work in the past, threatened
Haksar with legal action on the grounds that he had caused “‘incalculable’
damage to the goodwill and reputation of the brand Coca-Cola” (Bhat-
tacharya 2005). At issue was a large billboard that Haksar had placed in a
busy area of Chennai. The billboard displayed a photograph by Haksar that
depicted a dry water pump with four empty pots lined up next to it, wait-
ing to be filled. In the background appear the words “Drink Coca-Cola,”
painted white on a red wall, with the name of the soft drink written in its
familiar trademarked script (see Figure C.1).
The incident condenses many of the themes of this book, of which I
have chosen a few for a final reprise: brands, value creation, and the politics
of consumption on a transnational scale. These chosen themes sound the
uncertain future of soft drinks, in particular, and of worldly things, in gen-
eral, foreshadowed by current circumstances of globalization. This future
hinges on everyday contests over commodity values, both economic and
semiotic, and on a politics of knowledge that might enable agents located
differently within spatially extensive product networks to assemble them-
selves in new and unlikely coalitions advancing a variety of morally
charged agendas.


A Coca-Cola spokesperson referred to Haksar’s twenty-foot-by-thirty-foot

billboard as an “infringement of our trademark.” The letter sent to Haksar
by the law firm representing Hindustan Coca-Cola characterized the bill-
board as “a deliberate attempt to bring disrepute to my client’s global rep-
utation built up by spending millions and millions of rupees and by its
230 Conclusion

Figure C.1 Chennai, India, June 2005. Billboard with picture by Sharad Haksar. Getty Images/AFP.

quality of product and service” (Bhattacharya 2005). Reputation—the

public meaning of Coca-Cola—was thus unambiguously claimed as
the exclusive creation and private property of The Coca-Cola Company,
regardless of the logical and material condition of reputation as an interac-
tive social process, a qualification generated by the ongoing response of
consumers to a trademark or brand (see Chapter 3). From this soft drink
perspective, Haksar’s image was both an attack on and an illegal appropri-
ation of the company’s capacity to create commercial value.
Haksar defended his billboard as a social message, one in a series of such
messages that he had communicated over the previous three years on bill-
boards that occasionally and similarly used trademarked images (such as
the Nike swoosh). The social message in this case referred to the scarcity of
drinking water in urban Chennai: “I wanted to show the irony of the situ-
ation—when there is such acute water shortage, aerated drinks are freely
available” (Bhattacharya 2005). Haksar, moreover, claimed that the bill-
board was an expression of his artistic freedom and not an attempt on his
part to reap commercial gains. He said, “If MNCs [multinational corpora-
tions] do not want their trademark image used in art, they should have a
disclaimer on every one of their products! By that yardstick, if I take
a photograph of a street, house-owners can object to their house being in
the image. Where does it stop?” (Rajagopalan 2005). From this soft drink
Conclusion 231

perspective, the legal action threatened against Haksar was an attack on his
right and capacity to produce semiotic value, in other words, to make
meaning. The question asked by one Indian blogger commenting on the
case is entirely appropriate: “The question is, when a brand and it’s [sic]
slogan becomes [sic] part of the popular culture, how far can it—or should
it—be ‘protected’” (Bansal 2005).
This disjunction in the product network—between the perspectives of
Sharad Haksar and the attorneys for Hindustan Coca-Cola—recalls the
extent to which consumption work rather than raw material or productive
(manufacturing) labor is a source of commercial value, perhaps the pre-
eminent source of value of globally branded consumer items or worldly
things (Chapter 3). If this condition holds true for carbonated soft drinks,
how much more true must it hold for the fastest growing beverage of soft
drink companies, bottled water? The Coca-Cola Company addresses this
question on its Web site: “When The Coca-Cola Company sells drinking
water in its various forms, it is not charging for the water per se, but rather
for the value we add to the water to make it a branded beverage. For
instance, we treat water to high safety and quality standards, put it into
convenient packages to suit different needs, distribute the product to places
where people want to consume it, and cool it for immediate consumption”
(The Coca-Cola Company 2005). It is not the value of the product per se—
which is, after all, municipal tap water, already subsidized by consumers—
for which the consumer is charged (again). Instead, the value for which the
consumer is charged allegedly derives largely from the activities dedicated
to evoking a consumer response to the product (branding) and inserting
the product into as many potential contexts of consumption as possible
(distribution). Since the product itself apparently has no intrinsic value,
the whole process of realizing commercial value depends upon the work of
consumers in recognizing “the branded beverage” as endowed with quali-
ties for which the consumer is willing to pay the going price. This qualita-
tive endowment is as much the work of the consumer as that of the
producer, if not more so. And it is precisely this tacit collaboration between
producers and consumers—ideally a joint project of meaning making—
that some (though not all) disjunctions in a product network put at risk.
The disjunction between Haksar and the attorneys’ perspectives also
recalls the extent to which misalignment and misrecognition in a product
network are capable of producing unanticipated outcomes. Haksar’s own
billboard cannot escape this contingency. For example, one consumer
posting to a Chennai blog is quoted as confessing, “I’ve passed this hoard-
ing a million times on Nungambakkan High Road and have been under the
impression all this while that it was a Coke ad that used one of Sharad
232 Conclusion

Haksar’s photographs!!!” (Bansal 2005). Similarly, despite Haksar’s claim

that the point of his billboard was “to highlight the problem of water short-
ages in my city, and not to bring Coca-Cola down” (Rajagopalan 2005), his
image was perceived differently by activists accusing Coca-Cola bottling
plants across India for depleting (or “mining”) groundwater—accusations
strenuously and consistently denied by the company. In fact, it was on the
Web site of the India Resource Center (IRC), an NGO initiative largely
devoted to campaigning against the company’s operations in India, that I
learned of the Chennai billboard controversy.
According to an IRC news release that appeared the day after Haksar
was served legal notice: “Mr. Haksar’s billboard highlights the severe water
shortages being experienced by communities that live around Coca-Cola
bottling plants across India. A community close to Chennai, in Gan-
gaikondan, has already held large protests—protesting against an upcom-
ing Coca-Cola plant. In the neighboring state of Kerala, in the village of
Plachimada, Coca-Cola has been unable to open its bottling facility for the
last 16 months—because the community will not allow it to” (IRC 2005a).
Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center thanked Haksar for his unin-
tended efforts. That is, the photographer’s self-professed gesture of irony
had been taken up as a public protest of transnational corporate practice.
It was perhaps exactly this interpretation of the Chennai billboard that
prompted Hindustan Coca-Cola’s legal action in the first place. Haksar, who
speculated likewise, noted that,“There is, though, no mention of Plachimada
in the five-page notice they have served me” (Bhattacharya 2005).
The charges of environmental irresponsibility made by activists against
The Coca-Cola Company and its bottlers in India are serious, controver-
sial, and often articulated in strident rhetorical terms. The company has
supplied on its Web site a substantial defense of its use of local water
resources and product quality in India (see, http://www This defense includes docu-
mentation of the High Court of Kerala and Indian Supreme Court rulings
in 2005 directing the local council (panchayat) in Plachimada to renew the
Coca-Cola plant’s license to operate, despite claims by the mostly low-caste
villagers that their underground water deposits were being depleted. A
fuller discussion of the situation would require an account of the history of
economic reform in Kerala, the politics of caste and indigenous people’s
rights in India, and the laws regulating groundwater extraction for private
enterprise. I am less concerned here with the specific charges being made
by activists such as those involved in the Stop Killer Coke campaign than
with the nature of the activism itself. Who is Amit Srivastava and what is
the India Resource Center?
Conclusion 233

A Wall Street Journal profile describes Srivastava as the sole full-time

employee of Global Resistance, the nonprofit, activist organization he runs
out of a shared house in El Cerrito, California (Secklow 2005). Srivastava is
a key figure—along with Ray Rogers—in the upsurge of protest in the
United States and elsewhere directed against The Coca-Cola Company
(Chapter 6). Like Rogers, he has toured college campuses presenting alle-
gations against the company’s operations in India that include stealing
groundwater, polluting soil with toxic byproducts given to farmers for use
as fertilizer, and selling drinks that contain pesticides. Like Rogers, he has
urged student protestors to mobilize campus officials against the renewal
of exclusive vending contracts with the company. More significantly, the
Web site he manages for the India Resource Center (http://www.indiare links activists inside and outside India while it coordinates the
activities of protestors spread across the vast subcontinent. It attracts
twenty thousand visitors each month (Secklow 2005). While a company
representative drolly commented that “the moral high ground seems to be
anyone with a Web site,” R. Ajayan, a Kerala activist, observed that “[Srivas-
tava] has such enormous resources. We don’t have a Web site or a commu-
nications system. Whenever we have a protest, we have no way to publicize
it—he’s doing all this.” Ajayan’s comment underscores the claim made by
the author of the Wall Street Journal article: “That a one-man NGO armed
with just a laptop computer, a Web site and a telephone calling card can,
with his allies, influence a huge multinational corporation illustrates the
role that social activists can play in a world that’s going increasingly online”
(Secklow 2005).
Srivastava’s activism illustrates well two different characteristics of the
heterogeneous social movements that gather loosely under the heading of
anti-corporate globalization. First, it highlights in its specific focus on
water shortages a widespread concern about the increasing privatization of
public resources (see, e.g., Barlow and Clarke 2002). And there is no doubt
that the threat of water privatization has provoked strong responses among
international activists against corporate globalization and at least one
regional social movement now taken as an emblem of successful resistance
to state, World Bank, and corporate privatization schemes—the Coalition
(Coordinadora) for the Defense of Water and Life. The Cordinadora over-
turned plans in 2000 to transfer the water system of Cochabamba, Bolivia
to a consortium called Aguas del Tunari controlled by a partner (Interna-
tional Water) then wholly owned by the giant transnational construction
and engineering company Bechtel. The Coordinadora brought together
people from diverse social sectors—“rural farmers, industrial proletariats,
disillusioned in-migrants, largely invisible members of a growing informal
234 Conclusion

economy, environmentalists, retirees, left-leaning economists and tech-

nocrats, as well as sympathetic foreigners, in provincial towns, peripheral
shantytowns, and the urban streets” (Albro 2005, 251). These people rec-
ognized each other’s predicaments in the face of both increasing scarcity of
water and a state that, embracing the orthodoxy of neoliberalism, had
undertaken the sale of public sector assets. Grounded less in a sense of
shared cultural identity or values, the Coordinadora exemplified “the
agency of a ‘plural popular’ subject,” a coalition that drew its collective
vitality from a “pluralistic appreciation of diverse constituent networks”
(even if this appreciation was lost in the subsequent translation of the
Coordinadora as an essentialized indigenous movement by international
activists; Albro 2005, 249).
Srivastava’s campaign against The Coca-Cola Company in India raises
fundamental questions about property claims, about who owns the
groundwater that provides the main ingredient of branded beverages.
These questions pertain not to abstract or intellectual property (brands,
logos, trademarks), but rather to material property—“water per se” as part
of the public commons. This question has become urgent not only in
water-poor developing countries such as India and Bolivia, but also in the
United States, Canada, and Europe, where the explosive growth of the bot-
tled water industry has prompted community resistance to and state regu-
lation of spring water takings by both large and small water companies (see
Clarke 2005). In 2002, a United Nations committee declared access to water
resources a human right and stated that water ought to be treated as a
social and cultural good and not primarily as an economic commodity.
Plachimada (see Cockburn 2005) and Cochabamba (see Albro 2005)
are increasingly cited on the left as grassroots victories in a global water
war, a war that is being fought not only in rural communities, but also at
the shareholder meetings of The Coca-Cola Company. In April 2005, at the
annual meeting in Wilmington, Delaware, Dhruti Contractor, founder and
director of the Georgia Indian American Political Action Committee,
delivered a statement in protest of the company’s actions. The statement
was notable for how it linked circumstances in rural villages of India with
the lives of Americans in the suburbs of the company’s hometown, Atlanta:
“This issue is personal. While it may not affect our families in India
directly, it still hits home. And for those Indian Americans in metro-
Atlanta and Georgia, there is an obligation, I believe, to act on this issue”
( In other
words, the mutability of “home” thus gives impetus to a new form of dias-
poric politics, in which transnational communities of migrants lobby
transnational corporations. (Amit Srivastava, incidentally, was born in the
Conclusion 235

United States, grew up in India, and attended Southern Illinois University

before devoting himself to full-time activism; Secklow 2005.)
Dhruti Contractor’s situation recalls that of the large number of
Colombians living in Queens, New York, whose elected city council mem-
ber led a delegation to Colombia and a fact-finding mission in connection
with allegations of labor abuses at Coca-Cola bottling plants in that coun-
try (see Chapter 6). And here we meet the second aspect of Srivastava’s type
of activism—its coalitional, pluralistic, and deterritorialized nature. For
not only was Contractor’s organization allied with other NGOs (Corporate
Accountability International and Georgia Kids Against Pollution), the
overall campaign against the company’s actions in India had become allied
with the Stop Killer Coke campaign against the company’s labor practices
in Colombia. Ray Rogers and Amit Srivastava spoke together on many U.S.
college campuses in April 2005. Similarly, the India Resource Center and
the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke were two of several groups sponsoring a
workshop on the International Campaign to Hold Coca-Cola Accountable
at the 2005 World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The workshop—
translated, according to the India Resource Center into English, Hindi,
Portuguese, and Spanish—linked groups campaigning against the com-
pany from platforms promoting human rights, labor rights, and environ-
mental justice (IRC 2005b). Dhruti Contractor’s personal concerns thus
articulated with local and transnational networks of activists addressing, as
in Cochabamba, diverse concerns of their own. These activist networks are
both part of the product network that takes shifting shape around a partic-
ular worldly thing and a source of disjunction among perspectives within
that network. It is these disjunctions that potentially disrupt the economy
of qualities in which soft drinks and other branded beverages circulate,
opening up new possibilities for social action across political borders and
for bringing different perspectives on mobile commodities to bear upon
each other.


The power of consumer politics stems from its capacity to connect every-
day private acts of consumption—drinking a bottle of Coke or wearing a
pair of Nike sneakers—with issues of larger public significance. It was pre-
cisely this connection, Mark Weiner (2002) notes, that The Coca-Cola
Company sought to make in its efforts to supply Allied servicemen with
Coca-Cola during World War II and in its wartime advertising (see Chap-
ter 2). The company’s initiatives, like wartime propaganda more generally,
established a kind of “moral equivalence” by suggesting that “objects of
236 Conclusion

peaceful domestic use were intricately tied with objects employed on the
field of battle, so the consumption of those objects in the United States tied
individuals to remote people and events” (Weiner 2002, 130). This equiva-
lence blurred any distinction between the personal and the civic, the
domestic and the public: saving pan grease at home supported the produc-
tion of anti-tank shells for fighting Nazis abroad. (Such a distinction is
similarly elided today in the logo of the company’s Civic Action Network—
a red silhouette of the continental United States, with a white dynamic rib-
bon spreading from California to New Jersey, and the words “Civic Action
Network” stamped across the heartland in the inevitable trademarked script.)
By the same token, soldiers drinking a Coke on the field of battle reconnected
themselves with home, their private memories of kith and kin put in the
larger civic service of lifting morale and defining the war’s purpose.
Scholars and critics have pointed out how a civic language modeled on
a language of consumption usually portends the demise of republican
ideals of participatory democracy. Stuart Ewen, for example, argues, “We
are witnessing the swift debasement of the concept of ‘citizen’—the person
who actively participates in shaping society’s destiny—to that of ‘con-
sumer,’ whose franchise has become his or her purchasing decisions. The
pernicious tendency to equate the freedom to choose between products
with the concept of democracy is bringing about the humiliation of a pro-
foundly empowering political idea” (1992, 49). Promoting consumerism as
practical patriotism might thus connect individuals to remote people and
places, but these same connections hide anti-democratic relations of eco-
nomic power, such as the collusion between the U.S. state and The Coca-
Cola Company that enabled the provisioning of Allied combat soldiers
with soft drinks. Instead of promoting a collective, participatory kind of
politics, consumer citizenship in this view privatizes citizenship, reducing
civic fellowship to shopping and limiting democratic expression to only
those individuals with the means to buy. This critique is surely applicable
to the politics of consumption in postwar U.S. history, through which ear-
lier campaigns by working-class and middle-class movements that seized
upon consumer citizenship as a way to advance the public interest were
absorbed by a state project dedicated to the interest of private capital
(Cohen 2003). But is this critique a necessary correlate of all consumer pol-
itics? Can there be a consumer politics that begins with social relations
rather than isolated individuals and that champions mutual cooperation
and care rather than freedom of choice?
A product-centered politics of the sort that has taken shape around
brand-name soft drinks seeks to establish connections among people and
events in remote places through the medium of a global commodity. It
Conclusion 237

brings about these connections not only through its coalitional nature, but
also by connecting consumers in one place to other agents in a spatially
extensive product network. Through these perspectival connections, prod-
uct-centered politics make visible what is hidden in plain view, namely, the
shared concerns (as opposed to shared identities) of people linked, how-
ever tenuously, by associations with a worldly thing. These are not the cola
connections of which Douglas Daft spoke in his 2000 marketing speech on
globalization (see Introduction), nor do they signify the “tiny bit of com-
monality between all peoples” represented by the multinational gathering
of youth chorusing their desire to buy the world a Coke in the company’s
famous 1971 Hilltop ad (Backer 1993, 7). They are, instead, connections
that, once made, close disjunctions in a network of perspectives (between
Coke consumers in Michigan and Coke system workers in Colombia) at
the same time that they open up new disjunctions (between the perspec-
tives of company officials and socially responsible shareholders). These
connections—convergences in perspective—comprise new kinds of
knowledge that carry with them new possibilities for coordinated action
on social issues that go well beyond a limited significance to individual
Disjunctions in product networks are neither new nor unusual; indeed,
they have been longstanding conditions for creating commercial value in a
globalized economy, the means by which long-distance traders qualify
merchandise acquired cheaply in one place as dear in another faraway
place (see Chapter 1). Activists such as Ray Rogers and Amit Srivastava rec-
ognize, however, that disjunctions in perspectives enable a contemporary
form of labor and environmental politics that takes shape as a wired poli-
tics of knowledge. The management of knowledge, what different actors
connected in spatially extensive networks of production, exchange, and
consumption know about their place in the network and their connections
to other actors, is a crucial feature of value creation in the current economy
of qualities. This much is clear from the campaigns of so-called anti-glob-
alization activists who strive to make visible the conditions of production
in which Nike sneakers, Gap blouses, and Mattel toys originate. The goal is
to overcome a disjunction in perspectives, to connect persons with other
persons whose diverse interests implicate a particular brand-name product
or a whole category of consumer goods. Hence a report in the New Inter-
nationalist, a magazine devoted to issues of global social justice, of an
attempt to bridge worlds of knowledge with the visit of a Ghanaian cocoa
farmer to the United Kingdom. The farmer toured various sites along the
cocoa trail, including the large chocolate processing plant, Cadbury World,
to learn what happens to the crop he grows (Swift 1998). But it is equally
238 Conclusion

clear that the management of knowledge also matters greatly to certain

companies, for whom segmented knowledge can often interfere with the
qualification of products. Alberto Arce (1997, 180–82) relates the story, for
example, of how a group of flower growers from Tanzania were brought by
KLM airlines to the Netherlands in order to see firsthand the operation of
flower markets and thus learn well the importance of “quality”—that is,
learn well the perspective of European flower consumers, as mediated by
flower retailers (see Hughes 2004).
Arce’s story recalls the similar way in which Australian colonial author-
ities attempted to combat what they saw as the ignorant notions of value
informing cargo cults by producing films to show native audiences how a
pair of trousers begins in the cotton fields of Queensland and eventually
makes its way from field to factory to steamship to tradestores throughout
Papua and New Guinea. The success of this pedagogy was equivocal at
best, and it would be likewise dubious to assume that “filling gaps in
knowledge” will motivate immediate political action on the part of
defetishized consumers. How could it, given the ethical overdetermina-
tion and irreducible perplexity of consumption in practice (see Chapter
7)? Nevertheless, the politics of product networks entails a politics of
knowledge, opening up a variety of possibilities for both corporate actors
and their social critics to pursue competing agendas for achieving ends
that are at once economic and moral. The accomplishments of student
activists in joining and forging transnational coalitions with trade unions
and religious organizations in order to publicize and protest sweatshop
labor in the globalized garment industry are just one compelling example
of this kind of politics.
Consideration of the movement of worldly things—such as soft drinks
from New York to New Guinea—promises not only a novel way of think-
ing about globalization, but also a progressive and ethical kind of political
economic analysis. Dicken et al. (2001, 106), for example, have observed
that “a network methodology expands the horizons on which our actions
can be seen to be influential and within which we might be held to some
ethical responsibility” for the “claims of distant strangers.” But it would be
naive to ignore the fundamental challenges involved. There is no guarantee
that increased knowledge of product networks will automatically translate
into changes in consumption practices let alone prompt other forms of
political action directed at changing the conditions under which products
are produced and distributed. Consumers might lack knowledge of how a
product connects them to other people and places, but such a lack of
knowledge does not mean that consumers act without ethical concerns. On
the contrary, consumption is rife with ethical concerns, not all of which are
Conclusion 239

matters of self-conscious acknowledgement. A mother buying food for her

family shops habitually with others in mind and not out of self-indulgence
and narcissism (Miller 1997). Inasmuch as everyday consumption routines
presuppose a self and others in ethical relations, consumption is “ordinar-
ily ethical” (Barnett et al. 2005). The choice between ethical or unethical
consumption is a false one; at stake is which set of ethical concerns will be
acted upon in and through particular practices of consumption. Put dif-
ferently, expanded horizons are a necessary but insufficient condition for
assuming responsibility for the “claims of distant strangers.”
Nor should we underestimate the challenges involved in making
increased knowledge of product networks available to the various actors
enrolled in these networks. For example, organic labeling initiatives that
seek to “thicken connections between producers and consumers” often fail
to make transparent the conditions under which producers labor, or the
agribusiness channels through which products circulate. Organic growers
themselves are sometimes ignorant of these distribution channels,
unaware that their crops ultimately reach export markets (Guthman 2004).
In some cases, moreover, ethical trade initiatives designed to regulate prod-
uct networks by certifying safe working conditions have created burden-
some auditing systems imposed by corporate retailers, worried about bad
publicity, upon under-resourced growers (Hughes 2004; see Freidberg
2004). The expansion of an “audit economy” effectively entrenches rather
than overturns the inequities of a global trading regime underpinned by
free market fundamentalism. Indeed, the development and implementa-
tion of auditing practices by a combination of NGOs and corporate retailers
might actually advance a neoliberal mode of transnational governmental-
ity, replacing state legislation as the guarantor of a citizen’s rights to mini-
mal labor and environmental standards.
Nor, lastly, should we forget the ways in which increased knowledge of
product networks can become commoditized. On the one hand, such
knowledge can serve as a mark of distinction in tournaments of personal
status competition and displays of conspicuous consumption. Knowledge
of a product’s connections to remote people and places thus fuels new
forms of connoisuership—including new forms of cultivating oneself as
virtuous—instead of expanding the spatial scope of ethical responsibility.
On the other hand, such knowledge can serve as a source of rent for sup-
ply-side agents seeking to qualify products with attributes that can com-
mand a premium from consumers. In this sense, a consumer’s awareness
that her coffee comes from Kenya or Papua New Guinea, or has been certi-
fied eco-friendly is a precondition for charging a higher price rather than
the first step toward enabling a form of geographically expanded citizenship.
240 Conclusion

Given these and no doubt other difficulties, wherein lies the promise of
an enhanced knowledge of product networks? I suggest that this promise
lies in the potential for transforming the moral geography of value-
creation. Let me phrase this suggestion in the Lovemarketing terms dis-
cussed earlier. The goal of a product-centered politics of knowledge would
be to replace one kind of love relationship with another; that is, to replace
the love of a consumer for a brand-name product with the love between
fellow participants in a geographically far-flung but shared moral econ-
omy. This latter kind of love is not amor (romantic, erotic, or sexual love).
It is closer in essence to caritas (charitable, self-sacrificial love) or what
might be called cari