Coca-Cola’s recent ad went viral (13 million views on YouTube) and watching it it’s not hard to see why. As a social experiment about the strength of prejudices based on appearance, it was wonderfully done (especially with the rising islamophobia around the world). It isn’t until the end that the free-coke-for-everybody promotion comes out, and it becomes an ad. Normally just an ad would be disappointing, but it’s not. It’s a great ad because it’s still an awesome social experiment in itself and a characterization of Coca-Cola as a can.

Character Development

Characters in any work are developed through

  • Physical description
  • Name
  • Action
  • Dialogue

Physical description and name can only develop a character to a statue, and one that we make automatic characterizations of like deadpan teenage fast food worker, or hot asian chick. It takes action and/or dialogue to actually flesh characters out to see them through a narrative.

For example “Professor Snape” from Harry Potter is introduced as someone cold and dark and with a name like “Snape” even Harry probably assumed that he was going to be that hard-ass prof who was going to make his academic life miserable. However he is also one of the most complex and tragic characters in the entire series which we read through his actions and his relationships with other characters.

Article- Severus Snape & Lily Potter

Coca-Cola ad

Now take the Coca-Cola ad, its hypothesis is: “It takes 7 seconds to build a prejudice based on someone’s appearance”. Translated: Check out the pimple-faced fast-food worker saying “would you like fries with that?” in the voice of death, and already that’s a loser heading nowhere, not someone putting himself through college having an exhausting day. So by having the participants learn about each other through dialogue alone, they are essentially characterization each other through dialogue alone.

It’s the Ernest Hemmingway way of storytelling, where quite a few characters are never named but rather sustained through dialogue with one another. Another example would be Cormac McCarthy’s “On the Road” where no one had a name. Even without a face or a name, by getting to know one another’s hopes and dreams and fears now they would probably love to go out for a beer now than if they just saw each other on the bus.

Article- The Road Characters

How does Coca-Cola work in all of this?  

Now of course it’s an ad and so yes Coca-Cola offers that nifty can at the end that says: we understand labels now drink us!. However it also shows that Coca-Cola knows it’s as famous as Mario, with a well-established fanbase to match (probably learned that when said fanbase nearly mauled them for introducing New Coke).

This prejudice ad is a continuation of Coca-Cola’s understanding of itself as a cultural imprint. It played with it in its Filipino Name ad, regarding how people refer to each other in simple greetings i.e ‘boss’ or ‘dude’ without actually knowing their real names or who they were as humans.

This also ties to it’s nifty name on a can campaign, where common names replace the ‘Coca-Cola’ on the can. Which was not only sweet but helped highlight the relationships that are developed, whether through people sitting in a dark room or through sharing a coke.