If you’ve ever found yourself wondering about the global dominance of Coca Cola (Is it really the most recognized and valuable brand in the world?) look no further than Africa. Again, I may be extrapolating based on one sample country, but it’s hard not to be struck by the sometimes surprising ubiquity of the red and white cursive script on this one billion-strong continent. You find it on billboards, street signs, shop signs and on the clock tower of the main roundabout; entire houses are even painted in homage to this all-powerful, all-knowing brand. In absence of money to make signs or buy paint, Coca Cola has cleverly stepped in and found an easy and effective niche for its branding: Don’t bother advertising through media, just sponsor people’s daily lives.
And they’ve been extremely successful. Not only are bottlers of Coca Cola products local big-wigs – they even came to Amani before Christmas to donate food and gently persuade/bribe our former street kids with candy and warm Cokes – but their drinks are absolutely everywhere. From bars and restaurants to family celebrations, soda bottles are not merely vehicles for quenching one’s thirst, they’re gifts, very minor status symbols of sorts; a sign that the buyer and the receiver have bought into the candy-colored Coca Cola dream of a better life, perhaps even a better world. This subtly aspirational message resonates in still-poor, but forward-looking Africa; a place where the small joys in life – the new set of pens, the crisp new shirt, the joyously orange Fanta bottle – mean so much.
As long as local governments lag behind in providing both the material and psychological building blocks for a better tomorrow, millions of aspirational Africans will look to corporations, and outsiders like China, for help.