Sunday, July 18, 2010

Getting Nailed on Coke

My friend Stefan Hammond, who is a media hotshot in Hong Kong, sent me one of the more bizarre news items of what is already a pretty bizarre year:

Coca Cola signed on for partial sponsorship of the annual Good Friday celebration of Christ's Passion in the Philippine city of San Fernando.

And why, you may be asking, is that interesting?

It's interesting because the highlight of the festival is twenty-three, count them, twenty-three crucifixions. Twenty-three actual Filipinos are hammered to actual wooden crosses with actual nails and hoisted into the air. In some way that isn't clear to me, this spectacle reinforces the spiritual commitment of the faithful.

But it's not the spiritual value of the exercise that interests me (although it's worth noting that Buddhism hasn't inspired any practices that even occupy the same end of the craziness spectrum). What interests me is the buy.

I spend many years of my life working with some of the world's largest corporations, including General Motors, ExxonMobil, IBM, and a dozen others. I've been in the room when ad commitments were proposed, for events like – let's say, the Superbowl or the Grammy Awards. No matter how obvious the buy might be or how enthusiastic the buy's advocate, there are always questions asked.  It's interesting to imagine the Q&A around this buy.

For example: What demographic are we reaching?

Well, overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, possibly unstable, religious zealots with sadism/masochism issues. And a small subset of style-obsessed Goths who regard stigmata as a desirable fashion accessory.

Or: What are the product placement opportunities?

The original crucifixion would have been a lot more pleasant for the onlookers if they'd had a cold, sweating can of Coke in their hands. And above the head of the crucifixees, to coin a term -- where painters often place the little scroll that says INRI -- we could put the Coke logo.

Who are the ancillary audiences?

This is a real strong point. For every crucifixion at the festival, there are dozens of people being scourged. And although many of them will scourge themselves, there will also be some scourgers. Scourging is hot work, especially in the Philippines. Getting scourged is probably even hotter work. All those amateur scourgers out there will realize that a Coke is an indispensable part of the experience.

If we don't want to buy 100%, are there potential advertising partners?

Sure. Black & Decker, for example. Think how really first-rate power tools would streamline the crucifixion process. Or, for even more obvious reasons, Bayer Aspirin.

What are the possible downsides?

Well, there's death, of course, since that was the original objective of crucifixion, although in this case, the crucifixees aren't kept up there long enough to expire. And then there's infection, but we don't have to worry about that because (and this is completely true) the City of San Fernando is insisting on tetanus shots and sterilized nails.

Okay, sounds good to me. Let's buy it!

Someone at Coca-Cola actually spoke those words. Think about that the next time someone says, “Coke or Pepsi?”


  1. In fairness, Tim, and to maintain the health and safety of your readers, you should warn people who drink coffee while reading your post that they are going to come across -

    "Sure. Black & Decker, for example. Think how really first-rate power tools would streamline the crucifixion process. Or, for even more obvious reasons, Bayer Aspirin."

    The scene in "Ben-Hur", when the man in the desert gives Charlton Heston water, could be re-worked to show a Coke can instead of a ladle.

    Coke did have that jingle, "Things go better with Coke".


  2. There is a fabulous urban legend that, once upon a time, Coca-Cola's ad line of the time, "Coke Adds Life" was translated into Chinese as "Coke! Brings your ancestors back from the dead!"

    So, they've been here before.

  3. You know, Beth and Ingrid, I really debated over whether to (a) write this piece and then (b) post it. I thought it might be too twisted for the MIE readership.

    But you guys came along and validated me. You're both more twisted than I am. Coke was the ONLY thing missing from "Ben-Hur" -- it had more than enough of absolutely everything else. And I really appreciate the Chinese rendering of the Coke slogan. I'll bet it's literally true, not an urban legend at all.

    Thanks for coming by.