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Cokehead Junkytude

December 15, 2005

Well it’s that time of year again when Coca-Cola trots out their Satan Claus packaging to fire the folks up for some ice-cold Coke as the snow starts to fly. Though the tradition hasn’t quite been the same since learning that the modern style man-sized red-garbed elf was not created by Coke but only exploited as a marketing ploy to get their colors out there for the holidays. Oh well, another favorite urban legend debunked for Poor Montag.

Pepsi ChallengeWell, Poor Montag isn’t the only one this year in a Coca-Cola-marketing buzzkill funk. It seems Coca-Cola themselves are falling on hard times. According to the linked Reuters article of Dec 7th, the company’s investors have fretted that “…new product introductions seemed risky and expressed disappointment about no big acquisition being in the horizon.” What’s more, the pitiful behemoth “…has struggled for five years to boost sluggish soft drink sales and meet changing consumer tastes…” in Coke CEO Neville Isdell’s words its been a downright “innovation deficit!” Dark times indeed!

And the troubles don’t stop there:

Chief Financial Officer Gary Fayard said that currency translation would likely be a drag on next year’s results. A stronger dollar hurts U.S. companies as it reduces the income from overseas when converted into U.S. dollars. Fayard also said Coke plans to spend $2 billion to $2.5 billion on share repurchases and boost its dividend next year.

“It is going be tug of war between underlying fundamentals, which are looking better, and the currency, which they have no control over and it could be a big negative,” said John Faucher. [Emphasis added.]

Don’t ask who John Faucher is, but Your Montag is pretty sure he just said there’s going to be a war between fundamentalists and the currency! The Stump’s own (we thought) resident crackpot Schismism has written about this. Little did we realize.

So how will Coke overcome the “innovation deficit” they have saddled themselves with?

Coca-Cola Blak is a new cola-coffee beverage that will debut next month in France. Also during the presentation, Coke marketing chief Mary Minnick said Coke was introducing higher- margin extensions in the fast-growing water category and that it plans to launch “Tab” energy drink targeting women. [Once again, emphasis added.]

Hey Coke, I have a fantastic idea for you. It’ll help you out in the fast-growing water category. . . . A water bottling factory that does nothing more than bottle local tap water. . . and, (this is the good part,) pollutes the local water supply! (Extra growth if you pollute it with something only you know how to filter out!) Whaddaya say? Too cynical? Hey, it’s worth a try. Just think how fucking rich your investors are gonna be when drinking water becomes a commodity! You guys are gonna kick ass then. Think of the profits!

What? You got anything better in the cynical marketing department?

The company unveiled a new advertising campaign expected to debut in North America during the 2006 Winter Olympics that will promote wellness and showcase its broad lineup of drinks.

The wellness campaign comes amid obesity concerns in the United States, particularly among children.

Oooh! That is good! By the way, are you putting corn syrup in Dasani yet?

You: Gee, Montag, I thought you were a big-time Cokeologist. What’s with all the disdain?

Me: I’m just getting to that.

You see, Your Montag has been a big-time Cokeologist for a long time. A long time. Since before their Cokeologist ad campaign, even. In Junior High, I hyperbolically waxed poetic — in the journal we were required to keep on the 8th grade survival trip — about the withdrawal trauma I was suffering from 72 hours without Coke. The New Coke debacle was one of the hardest periods of my young life. As a high School Freshman I experimented with religion and gave up soda for lent. I got through the tribulation, but religion didn’t make sense to me after that.

My enthusiasm for the beverage has at times given me pause. Previous attempts to come to terms with — and make light of — it led to this shtick I used to do where my frantic little inner paranoid conspiracy theorist would fret about the mind-control properties of High Fructose Corn Syrup— in between guzzles of my fourth Coke of my twelve hour workday, of course. Well, some time later, as it would turn out, Your Montag found that the mind-control part wasn’t totally off the wall.

Check out this article from the Independent: Official: Coke takes over parts of the brain that Pepsi can’t reach.

Uhhh . . . whaa? . . . takes over . . . hmmm? . . . parts of the brain. TAKES OVER PARTS OF THE BRAIN, WTF?!!

Properly motivated one might even find themselves reading the study cited in the Independent article: Neural Correlates of Behavioral Preference for Culturally Familiar Drinks

No! That’s not possible! Your Skeptical Montag is the most marketing-weary fucker there ever was. A logo or advertising scheme could never infiltrate my brain to cause an addiction. No. Fucking. Way.

Still, not satisfied with my own convictions, Your Wary Montag, decided to put them to the test and take the Pepsi Challenge.

YOUR MONTAG’S ADDICTION

Yes, Your Montag is afflicted with an addiction to Coca-Cola. Your Montag has easily overcome many vices. So-called gateway drugs, alcohol, ice cream— none of these are any match for my ability to stop using them cold turkey. But the allure of that demon-whore Coke seems inescapable.

Perhaps it’s simply reliance on caffeine to get through the day, same as many coffee drinkers. Perhaps there’s more to it. Past attempts to switch to iced tea were thwarted by tea’s lack of carbonation: like drinking flat soda. Unsweetened iced tea? Forget about it. Perhaps it’s a sweet tooth that is the culprit. Perhaps there’s something to my paranoid High Fructose Corn Syrup theory. After reading that Independent article I began to wonder about the persistent nature of my addiction… Has Coke’s advertising message insinuated itself in my nervous system?

…the researchers found that the Coke label stimulated a huge increase in activity in parts of the brain associated with cultural knowledge, memory and self-image – so much that the scientists could use brain scans to predict which soft drink an individual was likely to prefer. The Pepsi label produced no such increase.

Is it possible that this pop-drinking habit has been hardwired into my precious brain? This is not acceptable. If true, it would mean there exists in me weakness greater than that of simple caffeine addiction. It would mean weakness of mind. This is why I must take…

THE TASTE TEST

If I could differentiate between the taste of Coke and another cola product (i.e. Pepsi) and I had an honest preference for Coke, then I could feel better about whatever weakness underlies my junkytude.

I procured one can of each beverage: Classic Coke and Pepsi. This in itself would prove more difficult than I had anticipated. There are no longer can dispensing machines at the entrance of every store. Modern soda machines dispense bottles. Nor are there refrigerators full of cans of soda inside every store. Modern store soda refrigerators contain bottles. After all, in dissecting the Reuters article I learned that Coke is pushing “higher-margin single-serve drink packages” (i.e. bottles) over, I presume, cases of cans which aren’t as profitable.

Through perseverance, I found a wayside convenience store that deals in cans of soda (which they keep covertly in a small cooler off to the side near the self-serve microwave. I also purchased a loaf of peasant bread which is just some good-ass white bread. This, to cleanse the palate in between tastings as wine drinkers do. At home we naturally had two identical glass cups which would be employed in the experiment.

Bizarro Pepsi ChallengeMrs. Montag was kind enough to assist me in administering the trials; but not without a noticeable amount of snickering and eye rolling. I would leave the room and she would pour the colas into the glasses and keep track of which was which. I hoped she would be patient enough to endure four trials.

The first trial went smoothly. I entered the room and sampled the first specimen. Upon tasting, I immediately felt that it was my faithful Coke. But, my intent was not to see if I could merely tell the difference, but to see which product I preferred. I had a bite of the peasant bread to ready my palate for the next tasting. I sampled the second soda in earnest, but honestly preferred the first sample, (which I still believed to be the Coke.)

The second trial went the same as the first; only what I thought was the Pepsi was first, followed by what I thought was the Coke (whose taste I again preferred.)

During the third trial, I became aware that I could see a difference in the specimens. I say I ‘became aware,’ because I knew I had looked at the specimens as I tasted them in each of the two previous trials. I began to think that a blindfold would have been a good idea. Perhaps I subconsciously keyed in to visual cues as to which one to select. Hence, if one was interested in conducting a more scientifically legitimate test, a blindfold would be in order. I’m just sayin’.

You: Hey, Montag, what exactly did you observe about the appearances of the two samples in that third trial?

Me: I observed that what I thought was the Coke specimen had “swirls” on the surface, not unlike swirls of motor oil in a parking lot puddle. The specimen I believed was the Pepsi appeared “fizzier,” that is, the bubbles of carbonation were more readily visible and were disturbing the surface of the drink to a greater degree.

Nonetheless, as honest as it was possible for my opinion to be, in the third trial I again preferred the specimen I believed was the Coke. I now believed it was Coke based upon the flavor, and my hypothesis regarding appearance.

On the fourth trial, things got squirrelly. Perhaps Mrs. Montag was getting bored, but for whatever reason, when I returned from my isolation chamber (the bedroom down the hall,) there were two glasses presented on the counter same as before, but I noticed that there was also a third glass set off to the side. (Again, perhaps a blindfold would have been in order.)

“You fucking with me?” I asked Mrs. Montag.
“No,” she replied, laughing.

(Fuck.)

Undeterred, I pressed on with the fourth trial. Somewhat unsettled by the turn of events, and determined to try and not focus on visual clues, I was at somewhat of a loss as to which one I preferred the taste of. I chose the second one for no real reason I can put my finger on.

THE RESULTS

Alright. Right off the bat, we have to throw out the fourth trial. I had preferred Pepsi that time; but only because my suspicions were correct: Mrs. Montag was fucking with me. She’d set out two glasses of Pepsi. (Along with the blindfold, if you’re looking for scientific results, work with a more serious minded assistant.)

As for the other three trials, I preferred Coke each time. Despite the visual cues that I had eventually become aware of, the first trial yielded what I believe to be an honest result. It was the taste, after all, that I preferred. Truth be told, motor oil swirls are disturbing! If I had based my determination on appearance alone, I’d have chosen the fuzzy-bubbly Pepsi, hands down.

CONCLUSIONS

I have come to the conclusion that a neurologically imprinted reaction to Coke’s labeling is not the cause of my problem. At least not the sole cause of my problem. I am as sure as I can be about this, without, of course, undergoing a brain scan to determine if there is any undue activity in my hippocampus and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex when I look upon a Coke symbol.

But I have enough evidence to realize that I must resist the coercive power of the Coca-cola corporation and the corn syrup industry, with their poisonous marketing and high-calorie, diabetes-inducing nectar sweeteners.

Perhaps an alternative “treatment” as described in this story could get me off the Coke.

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