Coke and Pepsi

Coke’s Plan to Teach the World to Sing Is Almost Complete

Earlier this month, Coca Cola announced that it to open its first bottling plant in Myanmar – the nation formerly known as Burma. This now leaves just two countries in the world – Cuba and North Korea – where the brand is not officially available.

The Myanmar launch presents Coca Cola with an interesting challenge. Here is a market that not only has no idea what Coke tastes like (sweet, fizzy, vaguely fruity) but one without any previous exposure to advertising either.

I’ve no doubt that Coke will succeed, but I think the manner in which it will how achieve that success is very interesting, because it also tells us a lot about ourselves.

There have been other colas available in Myamar for many years; Max Cola and Star Cola for example. I imagine they don’t taste all that different to Coke, but whether they do or not doesn’t matter at all. Nor does the fact that Coca Cola needs to be served chilled and Myanmar is a tropical country where domestic electricity is in short supply.

Coca Cola is well aware of this, so on a practical level each bottle of Coke in Myanmar will come with instructions on the correct way to ‘enjoy’ the product and, by implication, the essential tools required to do that – electricity, a fridge, some ice – which are not widely available. Thus the second issue is boxed off: ‘What do you mean you didn’t enjoy it? Well it’s probably your fault for not serving it properly. We did warn you.’

Coke’s inevitable triumph – and it is inevitable – will in fact have nothing to do with what the real thing tastes like (The Product). It will be down to what the people of Myanmar can be made to believe The Real Thing stands for (The Brand).

Coca-Cola and Pepsi are long standing arch-rivals, but in terms of their chemical composition composition they are virtually identical. Despite this, people commonly express a strong preference for one over and above the other. A 2004 study into how our perception of the brands shapes our preferences was carried out at the Baylor College of medicine in Houston USA. In the experiment, one group of subjects was given Coke and Pepsi anonymously without any branding or indication as to which was which, while the second group was given branded versions of the colas to try. During the tastings, the subjects were given MRI scans to determine if anything different was happening in their brains. In the anonymous task, brain scans revealed that the group was relying exclusively upon sensory information to inform their preference, however scans revealed that the group with the branded products were also using a different parts of the brain, including the hippocampus, which plays an important role in the formation of new memories about experienced events. This showed that brand knowledge was biasing preference decisions.

And it’s not just cola. As we stroll through the supermarket aisles, with several thousand different brands on display, it’s easy to reach out and put whichever seems to be speaking to us into our basket, without ever stopping to consider why we’re doing it.

The next time you’re out shopping, try asking yourself why you’ve chosen to each particular item over all the competitors. You might be surprised how difficult you it is to come up with an answer.

What North Korea and Cuba are holding out against is not bottles of pop, but a ruthlessly efficient system for communicating ideas and making emotional bonds with people: a system that makes the frankly ludicrous notion that sweet, vaguely fruity fizzy drinks can have ‘values, heritage and history’ an unremarkable fact of life.

So where now the people of Myanmar thought, ‘I’m thirsty – I need a drink!’ many will soon start to think, ‘I’m thirsty – I need a Coke!’

Which is of course, the title of the song that Coke has been teaching the rest of the world to sing.

This article by Steve McKevitt was originally published on Huffigdon Post. Click here to see all Steve’s Huffingdon articles.

First Reviews

The first round of reviews are in:

‘Having spent several years working within the grubby wheels of the marketing machine at senior executive level, the author has especially telling insights into how advertising and marketing attempts to sway us from one product towards another, near identical one. Read this before you shell out for a new, ever-so slightly shinier mobile phone or pay a premium for anything that goes out of its way to convince you how ‘ethical’ it is.’ – Time Out, Book of the Week.

‘If stuff made us happy, we’d be the happiest people in history. Everything Now explains why we’re not.’ – David Hepworth, Word

‘A clear-eyed and very readable dissection of the bind we find ourselves in today.’ – The Crack

‘McKevitt’s brilliant and persuasive book highlights the gaping void in Western society, ironically created by its own success. All our needs are now met, leaving us to focus on our ever-changing, and ultimately unsatisfying, wants.’ – David Bolchover – Author of The 90 Minute Manager

‘If you’ve found yourself questioning why we have, need or want so much stuff, Steve McKevitt’s Everything Now gives us many credible, well-researched reasons as to why.’ – Dig Review

‘It has tapped into a growing vein that something somehow is not quite as it should be.’ – Sheffield Star

Dig Review

A review of Everything Now from Dig Yorkshire.

If you’ve found yourself questioning why we have, need or want so much stuff, Steve McKevitt’s Everything Now gives us many credible, well-researched reasons as to why.

He is an expert in marketing, communications and branding with a roster if multinational clients over a 20 year career. Born in Liverpool and now based in Yorkshire the book is published by leading regional press, Route Publishing.

His skill in Everything Now lies in his rendering of the factual with the anecdotal that leaves one thinking, ‘so that’s how we got to here from there’. He gives cogent reasons as to why we do in fact have these concerns as to why we may still be dissatisfied, despite having ‘stuff’ all around us.

We presume to have ‘everthing now’ because we are led to believe that everything is always here now. McKevitt’s point being that we need to concentrate on the fact that certain resources are limited. Actually, will become no more. The inference being if we stop merely wanting, by extension we will be free from manufactured and illusory desires.

McKevitt uses UNICEF collected data and WHO figures that explain how the culture that we are living in now is a deliberate product of the last thirty years. All our needs have been met according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, more than any previous generation. “But we are not happier”, McKevitt concludes.

He puts forward the idea that now the role of branding is to persuade us that we do not have needs but that we want something, like the latest Smartphones we are constantly proffered. “The solution is simply to demand something different”, he argues.

It’s not a post-oil apocalyptic vision that he has, and he does believe that science has the answers, he’s very optimistic. Through the combination of environmental, economic and political change with self-awareness of our lifestyle and mind-set the onset of social and personal crisis can be avoided.

The Tesco Choice

The retail sector has been in trouble since the credit crunch in 2008, but Tesco’s fall in profits was still a shocker. Certainly the grocer seems to have pressed, if not the panic button, then the one marked ‘Action Stations’ announcing it has has completely revised its strategy away from expansion, concentrating instead on refurbishing its existing stores and ‘improving customer service’ at a cost of £200m. Its ad agency The Red Brick Road – long regarded as ‘part of the Tesco family’ – has been asked to re-pitch for the £110m brand communications account, so expect an ‘All New Tesco’ coming our way soon.

These initiatives are an attempt to engage more effectively with customers and good luck to them. But behind the new strategy, the goal remains exactly the same:. Put simply, Tesco want us to buy everything from them. To that end, great strides have been made over past two decades: in 2011, one in every eight pounds spent on the UK high street, was spent in Tesco.

Tesco and its main competitors epitomise one of the biggest contradictions of Everything Now. Whatever shape the rebrand takes, you can be certain that, like all major retailers, Tesco will talk a lot about wanting to offer their customers choice. But what is ‘choice’ in this context?

Tesco is the UK’s leading retailer, and one of the world’s biggest companies. It began by selling us groceries, but these days it sells us pretty much everything – from fish fingers and furniture to finance and foreign holidays. Tesco is no longer just a supermarket, it’s a bank, insurance broker, mobile phone operator and music download platform (with a surprising 10% of UK music download market).

Yet while the range of goods and services across the board, is vast, the choice within each category is usually extremely limited. Supermarkets cherry-pick the biggest selling titles so while Tesco is the fourth biggest bookseller by volume, where it is possible to get the latest release by JK Rowling or Jeremy Clarkson, for a fraction of the cover price, the number of different titles on offer will be more on par with a motorway service station, dwarfed by even the smallest branch of Waterstones.

I am amazed that the supermarkets’ definition of choice isn’t challenged more often. In reality nothing it is more than the opportunity for us to buy any item that they have elected to stock and, to me, the ability to select one from 150 brands of chemically-identical toothpaste, doesn’t really seem much of a choice at all.

New study claims having it all will make you depressed and antisocial

It’s a truism that neither money nor materialism can buy happiness, but  a new study by psychologists at Northwestern University Chicago, published in the March 2012 edition of Psychological Science, claims that people who place a high value on wealth, status, and possessions are more depressed, anxious and less sociable than those who do not.

The report’s findings are interesting, and I don’t doubt the probity of the research, but I am sceptical of conclusions that suggest it is somehow better to be poor than rich. I’ve no doubt the anxieties of the well-off are genuine, but surely there’s a sense of perspective missing: a concern over where the next Gucci bag is coming from vs a concern over where the next meal is coming from.

The difference is that if  you’re affluent, you don’t ‘need’ things – you just ‘want’ things. This is why our participation in consumerism requires us to be kept in a permanent state of dissatisfaction. Only by convincing us that we should be dissatisfied with what we have – whether it’s a phone, bag or car – is it possible to persuade us that we ‘want’ the new version.