Or, Why Coca-Cola has failed as a brand, and icon, of western civilisation.
25 years ago I visited Venice for the first time. I was overwhelmed by the history, the art, the architecture, the canals, the carnival, the engineering, the beauty, the sheer willpower to exist in such inhospitable terrain – it’s a historical and geographical feast to the senses.
This beauty understandably attracts its fair share of tourists. And with tourism, comes commercialism. Again, nothing wrong with that. We all need to make a living. Whether your gliding through the labyrinth of canals in a gondola or sipping cocktails in Harry’s Bar, somebody somewhere is making money out it.
Depending on which way you enter the city, (via the train station or by water taxi), at some stage chances are you’ll want to take a peek at St. Mark’s Square. It’s one of the ‘must sees’. Once there, you’re surrounded by grandiose architecture on all sides. One of the main attractions is the 14th century gothic Doge’s Palace. (A Doge is a sort of elected Duke.)
Next to the palace is the prison. To save poor prisoners having to get their feet wet in the oft-flooded piazzetta, the Doge kindly built a bridge between the palace and the prison connecting the two – The Bridge of Sighs. So called because when prisoners walked over it to meet their fate it was the last time they would ever glimpse their beautiful Venice. Either because they were getting a life stretch in pokey or they were going to have their heads, and in all probability, certain other parts of their anatomy lopped off.
My brother went to Venice a couple of weeks ago and returned with a less than glowing account of St. Mark’s Square 25 years on. My initial reaction was that he’s a luddite. Once I’d put my prejudices behind me I started to flick through his holiday snaps. And my opinion of him as a luddite did not alter. In fact, it made me a luddite too. Because the reason he was less than enthusiastic about the cultural delights of the Venetian Republic was this…
The Doge Palace draped in a Coca-Cola building wrap.
Now, I have it on good authority that the reason Coke have been allowed to deface this monument to Gothic architecture is that they help preserve the palace from sinking into the murky depths of the lagoon.
What I like about this piece of subtle advertising, is how it sympathetically blends in with the environment. (Of course, the point of most good advertising is that it stands out from its environment and stops people in its tracks.) But there has to be a time, and a place. This place being St. Mark’s Square. It would say much more about the brand to show a tad less gaucheness. Like a small sign at the entrance of the palace saying: Proudly sponsored and preserved by Coca-Cola.
Okay, it might not have the same visual impact, but it might generate more goodwill toward the brand. After all, the city attracts over 20 million visitors a year, so it’s safe to assume a good proportion of these (probably all) will visit the palace. Not to mention the positive PR Coca-Cola could spin off of it.
To make matters worse, the wrap continues down the side of the palace and the prison to The Bridge of Sighs. The origins of the name of the bridge suddenly loses all of its gravitas when a twenty foot bottle of Coke looms above it.
For me, this advertising stunt has utterly backfired to the extent that I now have negative feelings toward the brand. What’s next? Ronald McDonald atop Nelson’s column? Or Pringles sponsoring the Leaning Tower of Pisa?
My inaugural Creative Courtmartial goes to the mighty Coca-Cola Company. Shame on you.