Iconography of the USA

The USA is host to millions of organizations, brands, industries, and products, each with their own ranges of success. Yet, America has always been known for its massively successful and massively influential food and drink industries. Coca Cola, McDonalds, Snapple, Lays, among others. Most of these brands began as small-scale operations that grew from local popularity into multi-billion dollar industries in their own right.

Nearly everyone can tell you that one of America’s most impactful contributions to the modern marketplace is the fast food industry. McDonalds and Burger King are among the most commonly named popular American fast food chains. Coca Cola follows shortly afterwards, in most scenarios.

Coca Cola began in the late 1800s, as a product developed by a physician called John Pemberton. The drink was developed as a type of painkiller that did not include morphine, a substance that Pemberton was addicted to at the time. The tonic was marketed as such, and Cola Cola began its life as something in the way of a medicine. Its popularity surged later in the 1800s and early 1900s. Recipe changes were implemented to earn Coca Cola approval from the prohibition-era offices. When bottling plants began to bottle the mixture, the drink exploded in popularity. Easily bought, sold, carried, and distributed, Coca Cola became a drink for the everyman.

As is any business owner’s want, the brand began to make its way overseas. Coca Cola’s famous script logo remained unchanged, and its lineage could be traced back to its humble origins. The easily identified brand name and at-home popularity led to its spread outside of the USA. Canada and Mexico were among the first “foreign” markets to begin selling Coca Cola. Europe and Asia followed afterwards.

Now, it’s hard to find a country that doesn’t stock Coca Cola in some way or another. Coca Cola has even gone to great lengths to purchase and adopt other soft drink companies to capitalize on the local popularities of these drinks. Around the world, the Coca Cola takeover has received mixed criticisms. The mass-globalization of the world at the hands of large industries, specifically that of food industry, attracts a lot of attention and not all of it is beneficial.

Like Nestle, Coca Cola has been accused of taking advantage of locally available resources for profit. Some bottling locations come under fire when the plants utilize too much water to create and bottle the drink. Others feel that, culturally, Coca Cola has very little to do with the locations it is often sold in.

My personal experiences mirror the latter sentiments. When I lived overseas in Armenia, brands like Coca Cola and Doritos were commonplace to see in snack stands and grocery stores. You’d often see lines of Coca Cola cans in coolers on street corners, next to local beers, mineral waters, and iced teas. The aggressive red and white logos of Coca Cola draw attention away from these other beverages. Even in the poorest regions of Armenia, as far away from the capitol city of Yerevan as you could possibly go, you still see the same coolers full of Coca Cola and Pepsi.

When I asked my cousins about what they thought best represented the United States, they were quick to point out the same food and drink industries that have cropped up around the world. Coca Cola, Pepsi, McDonalds, KFC, and Lays. Responses to the question hardly varied. Furthermore, none of them could really state why these brand names were so popular.

Part of the reason why many find the spread of these industries distasteful is how little these brands mean to the populace there. Culturally, these brands have never existed in their lifetimes and were placed there by the USA’s marketing and development teams. Coca Cola does little, if anything at all, to benefit the countries it peddles its goods in. When I asked what my cousin’s favorite drinks were, he responded with homemade beverages or drinks that were manufactured in the country of Armenia. Despite living with Coca Cola and these same beverages during the same lifetime, Coca Cola has done nothing to contribute to its popularity. It’s just popular because it’s an American brand being sold in dozens and dozens of countries that have almost nothing to do with American business.

In class, we discussed media scholar, Arjun Appadurai’s, work in studying globalization. According to his ideas of “Ethnoscapes” and “Financescapes” operating in unison to create a world market, Coca Cola’s success overseas is reliant on two fronts. In my mind, as influenced by Appadurai’s article, Coca Cola is only successful because it is an easily consumed product. However, its iconicity is effectively meaningless to most cultures. Coca Cola is a “Big American Brand” with little else associated with it than the idea of “America.”

In essence, Coca Cola’s market strength is immense, its reach equally so. But staying true to the Frankfurt School and Marxist philosophy, there is nothing more represented in Coca Cola other than the “American Ideal.” In cultures where these American concepts are not well-received or known at all, Coca Cola has no representational meaning.

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One thought on “Iconography of the USA

  1. Tigran… you fail to mention what might have been a more culturally relative icon when you were abroad… but I will let it PASS as this is the last and you are clearly conscious of the incongruities.

    Like

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