Commoditized Visibility: Coca-Cola, The World Cup, and the People

Curator's Note

A man rides in a small boat over the calm waters of the Amazon at dawn; a young woman in hijab juxtaposed with a wild black horse, running through rocky terrain and the worn buildings of Ramallah, Palestine. The woman says: “We’re not just playing football; we want to show the world we exist.” Eventually their existence is vindicated by a Coca-Cola sponsored trip to the Maracanã in Brazil.

The people depicted in this ad come from areas that are isolated and poor, war torn, or disaster damaged. They claim that futbol empowers them by verifying their existence; put another way futbol gives them a sense of value. Notably, Wendy Clark, VP of the marketing firm associated with the creation of the film, claimed that it would “create value” for both Coca-Cola and the people depicted in the film and to celebrate the power of the sport to bring “community closer together.” In this case, value is derived from being seen because of and through the “people’s game.”

Coca-Cola’s value as a brand has always derived in part from their visibility. That said, the value created for the people depicted derives from their association with futbol and with the Coke brand. As such, their visibility is circumscribed by both consumerism and the depoliticization of sports in general and FIFA in particular. While sport might give them courage and visibility the way in which it is depicted here seems to erase the contextual politics which undergird their reality and ultimately reinforce the depoliticization of consumerism and sports through the exploitation of its most downtrodden fans.


Thank you for this piece and for your insight. The World Cup at its best brings players and fans together in appreciation of the sport. Viewed through sponsor-colored glasses, it becomes a vehicle for hyper-consumerism that obscures even the game itself. I remember reading about the Budweiser sponsorship of World Cup 2014. Though alcohol is not allowed in sports stadiums in Brazil, FIFA (and Budweiser) prevailed. I shrugged it off. Reading your analysis, though, I turn back to the

Thanks for your comment. I became aware of the "Budweiser Law" on the John Oliver Show. Notwithstanding that Oliver's program is on Time Warner owned HBO, there is presumably little interference in the content and editorial line on the program. That said, your comment put me into mind of the possibility of "tiers" when it comes to media content. Bud and Coke are mass consumer products, the marketing for them plays on people's fantasies and spectacle and their personal lives in these respective cases. HBO on the other hand is a higher tier, a subscription service that was, and maybe remains, a mark of status for its purchasers. There seems to be a bifurcation here, separate levels of fantasy for different levels of consumers. As for your comment on the people's "willingness" my research indicates that at least the Palestinians did not know that they were actually going to go to the World Cup. A marketing director said: "In Palestine, the girls thought the invite was part of a script and that they had to act out the scene. We had to tell them later that they were actually going to Rio." Imagine, they apparently spontaneously acted out a script of consumer capitalism without, again apparently, questioning what was happening. This is according to a source connected to the ad campaign so it may be less than truthful and is not from the perspective of the women depicted. I wonder, if given a voice, what they would say.

Thanks for your interesting analysis of this video! I was very impressed by Coca-Cola's use of K'Naan's song "Wavin' Flag" in the 2010 World Cup. The song became ubiquitous worldwide, in large part because Coca-Cola attempted to incorporate different languages and people. The Spanish version featured David Bisbal, the Arabic version featured Nancy Arjam, and the American version featured and David Guetta. After these versions became hits, individuals throughout the world created bootleg versions of the song to reflect local languages (including Thai) and to support national teams (including Nigeria). I was less than thrilled with K’Naan’s final official Coca-Cola remix version, which has similar issues of representation that you outline in the above video.

Thanks for your comment. I think you identify another interesting site of analysis. I didn't discuss it in my post, limited space and all that, but I think there are dimensions of cosmopolitanism in Coke's marketing and the World Cup that run up against the nationalism, consumerism, and depoliticization present in international sporting tournaments. The K'Nann song is a synergistic marketing tool, as much as it is also a song. Interestingly, people put their own spin on the song to voice their own desires and interests. I wonder, given Thomas Corrigan's post for this week, if Coke policed these action or permitted them as a way to gain greater recognition. Whatever the case may be, cosmopolitan engagement is subject to the vicissitudes of Coke's power to control intellectual property, and thus they have the power to shape the contours of such engagement.

Thanks for your post, Chris. World Cup advertising is attractive to Coca-Cola and other corporate giants because of the sheer visibility of the matches; however, you've also made an important point that the social meanings associated with sports and community (e.g., togetherness) are something that corporate advertisers seek to have rubbed off on their brands. What strikes me about this campaign and clip are the overlapping, neoliberal narratives associated with both sports and development. Specifically, the clip emphasizes both "overcoming adversity" (football gave us the courage to go on) and "democracy/meritocracy" (everyone's invited). What's interesting to me is that (rather than relying on sports' meanings, alone) these well-trodden sports narratives are being inscribed on these communities first. And, then, those sports/community narratives are inscribed on (and enabled by) Coca-Cola. The clip is a really striking illustration of the way symbolic meanings are not just mined and transferred for branding purposes, but also actively cultivated. I'd be interested in what other narratives we could unpack here...

Thanks for your comment. What I like about your observation is that you unpack multiple narrative possibilities as well as the various paths those narratives can take. I think you're on to something when you note that meaning is actively cultivated by corporate marketers. It suggests something fundamental about how meaning can be more than simply attached, through mechanisms such as juxtaposition or metaphor, but can be crafted through longitudinal cultivation of particular meanings. In terms of Coke, and your subsequent post (thanks again for participating), these meanings are also subject to legal regimes that actively police possible meanings. Its as though meaning is now subject to vertical integration in an economic chain. Thoughts.

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