I remember when the first McDonald's opened in Moscow in 1990. There was something powerfully symbolic about seeing tens of thousands of Russians lined up to get a taste of America. It meant communism was on the way out. Capitalism had won. And Muscovites were waiting hours in the cold to get a "Big Mak" just to prove it. The store needed 27 cash registers and seating for 700 just to accommodate the crowds. Young Russians left jobs at coveted scientific institutions in order for the chance to earn 1.5 rubles an hour making fries for Ronald McDonald. Take that, Mr. Gorbachev.
Put bluntly, the whole thing felt like a victory. Eighteen years later, the conduct of U.S. companies with regard to the Beijing Olympics offers a different feeling indeed. Here's the slogan Coca-Cola (a company which is in bed with the Beijing Olympics to the tune of between $75 and $90 million) is using in its Chinese marketing: "Red Around the World." Yeah, you read that right. The slogan comes in the form of a jingle that makes up the centerpiece of Coke's Olympics-specific marketing efforts in country.
Now, call me McCarthyite if you want, but this rubs me the wrong way. We're talking about a country that, just a few years ago, was aggressively forcing down U.S. military aircraft and currently maintains one of the most robust -- if not the most robust -- spying platforms against the West. Now Coke, an American icon if ever there was one, is publicly envisioning the spread of "red around the world?"
Andres Kieger, Coke's director of marketing in China, says the color red isn't all that bad. "This isn't meant as a patriotic song," he says. "It is meant as an emotional song. Red is the color of a lot of good things." Presumably he was referring to Coke cans and not the nationalistic symbols of, say, Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany. Had someone at Coke bothered to check, say, Wikipedia, they would have found multiple entries explaining that, politically at least, red is the color of communism. The phenomenon dates to the Russian Revolution, when red symbolized the bloodshed of the working class in the fight against capitalism. For the more artistically inclined, the folks at the Guggenheim explain here.
I'm all for the forces of capitalism and target-specific marketing. But somehow, kowtowing to Beijing by trumpeting the spread of Communist red just doesn't feel like a victory to me.
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