Coke, one of the consistently ranked top brands in the world, has more political history than we know of today. After being invented in 1886 in Atlanta by a pharmacist, the drink grew in popularity for its unique taste and color. The first sign of its globalization was visible in 1906, when Cuba, Panama and Canada became the first overseas bottlers of the drink. However, Coca Cola closed-off their Cuba plant in the ‘60s and never returned until today. The first Asian plant was set up in the Phillippines in 1912. The growth continued for the next two decades, where over 25 countries were bottling this brand by 1930. However, the golden boost came in during the World War II, when US troops and allied soldiers were given Coca Cola, supported by over 60 military-controlled production plants around the world. The civilian consumers, of course, were able to get a taste of it as a spillover effect of military consumption. Gradually, it became a powerful symbol of American dream and a sign of freedom.
Well, not everybody would agree with this symbolic meaning though. During the ‘50s, French protesters thought Coke as a threat to the French society (via the influence of anything American), and the mob on streets smashed trucks loaded with Coke. During the cold-war period between the USA and the former USSR, Coke was not sold in the USSR fearing that the communist regime would enjoy the profits to fund their agenda against the USA. Pepsi, perhaps, was smarter by taking the opportunity and captured the Russian market! Over time, Coke almost became a symbol of freedom to pro-Americans, whereas it evolved as a symbolic difference between “gnawing capitalism” and “equitable socialism” to pro-Russians. In the Arab-Israel conflict that spurred at different points of time in the history, the general consumers on the Arab side would first call of boycotting products made by the USA or Israel, and Coke was probably the first brand to be named (making it a more sought-after brand after all these days of habitual consumption!).
Another side of Coke’s political journey has been associated with the US foreign policy as well. There are certain countries on which the USA has various types of embargoes, mostly of trade embargoes. Among these countries, three countries may be mentioned where one may not legally find Coke due to trade restrictions on American companies. They are Myanmar, North Korea and Cuba. Myanmar could not legally import or bottle coke since the embargo was in place from 1962 to 2011. Recently, the trade embargo has been lifted after the general election resulted in the establishment of a civilian government. So Myanmar consumers now can enjoy both the democracy and Coke(?).
Now it would be interesting to see how Coke’s next political journey would fare with North Korea and Cuba.