Santa Claus: we all know him. He's the pudgy, jolly fellow with the
ample white beard, dressed (of course!) in his bright red suit with
the white trimmings. He's wholesome, he's all-American, he's
traditional... and this image of him is largely an invention of Coca-Cola. Pre-Coke, "Santa"
was St. Nick, who was sometimes depicted as slim, sometimes as fat;
sometimes wearing red but more often dressed in yellow or blue. But
Coca-Cola's ad men wanted a Santa dressed in their brand's trademark
colors of red and white, so that's what their illustrators gave them, and that's the image that took root in popular culture.
Jolly old Santa, seller of Coca-Cola!
this shocks you, be prepared to be amazed by The Cola Conquest.
Have you ever really thought about how much you're influenced by
advertising? How some brands just seem to be part of everyday life...
without showing the signs of how hard companies work to make them
seem that way? Do you take for granted that a drink that's 95% sugar
water should be such a popular first choice for refreshment, instead
of more traditional, healthier, cheaper, and tastier options? Were
you part of the "Pepsi Generation" and did you have a
strong opinion about "Coke Classic"... and did you ever
wonder why changing the color of a label on a bottle of soda should
be an international media event?
is the way of life in the U.S. today, and no one product embodies
consumerism more than Coca-Cola and Pepsi, the two giants of soft
drinks. The Cola Conquest takes a long, hard look at the
origins and operations of these giants of global capitalism, showing
to what extent business issues (making a profit on a bottle of soda)
have shaped cultural and even individual identities in this age of
Cola Conquest is subtitled "A Trilogy," and it indeed
consists of three parts, each with a different title and focusing on
a different aspect of the overall topic.
"The Big Sell" opens by taking a look at the origins and
early history of Coca-Cola, all the way back to the formula's
invention by a Civil War veteran desperately searching for a cure for
his morphine addiction. While the cocaine- and caffeine-laden
beverage got its start as a patent medicine, a "brain tonic,"
it soon became (sans cocaine) a popular option for perfectly healthy
folks at the soda fountains. From this fascinating beginning, "The
Big Sell" traces the development of the brand as a brand,
showing how the manipulation of image through advertising was
essential from the very beginning. As the program comes closer to the
present day, touching on various aspects of Coca-Cola's role in the
near-religion of consumerism, it becomes somewhat more unfocused, but
it remains an engrossing look at a marketing machine of astounding
"Cola War and Peace" covers some of the same ground as the
first episode, though with a slightly different focus. It's not as
tightly organized as "The Big Sell," but two main themes
are developed throughout the piece. First is the "Cola war"
between Coke and Pepsi: the Goliath of the premier brand with its
firm hold on the public, and the David of the upstart competitor. But
along with this war for market share, we learn about the positions
that Coca-Cola and Pepsi took in the Cold War, and how the first
"coca-colonization" of the world began.
The third part of the trilogy is "Coca-colonization," which
focuses on the attempts by both Coca-Cola and Pepsi to expand into
the global market. There's quite a bit of detail here on the cola
advance into the Soviet Union (both during and after the Cold War),
France, and China (where Coca-Cola is determined to break a
three-thousand-year-old tradition of drinking tea). How does the
introduction of Coca-Cola change a culture? What does it mean to
drink a Coke in France, Russia, or Guatemala? The documentary raises
some interesting points about how culture is shaped (especially youth
culture), about the "imperialistic consumerism" of the
United States, and about the triumph of advertising over the quality
of the product itself.
of the key aspects of The Cola Conquest is its total
objectivity on the subject. This is not a program that's critical of
Coca-Cola; nor is it celebrating the company. Instead, the
documentary is taking a clear-eyed look at the origins, methods, and
fundamental nature of a brand that has come to represent "America"...
while becoming a trans-national juggernaut.
Cola Conquest packaging offers a great solution to bilingual
packaging. The DVD cover art and the DVD insert have their text both
in English and in French, but the cover of the DVD case is
English-only... because the French version is printed on the other
side. So if you were to order this disc from a Canadian retailer and
you get the French cover, all you have to do is flip the cover insert
Cola Conquest is presented in its original aspect ratio of
1.33:1. It's of satisfactory image quality for the most part,
especially since much of the footage is archival material (sometimes
more than a hundred years old) and material from television
broadcasts. The main flaw in the transfer is that it is extremely
pixellated. Colors look good, however, and the picture is bright and
clean; it's watchable.
stereo soundtrack for The Cola Conquest offers a satisfactory
listening experience. The various interviewees and the narrator sound
clear, and the music is blended into the overall track appropriately.
A French soundtrack is also provided.
main bonus feature here is a commentary track for "The Big
Sell," with director Irene Angelico and producer Abbey Neidik.
The remaining special features are fairly limited. An insert inside
the DVD gives a brief outline of the idea behind the film. On the DVD
itself, we get trailers for The Cola Conquest, Horns and
Halos, and Family. There's also a rather odd 19-minute
featurette, which is an interview session with Michael Galinsky, the
co-director of Horns and Halos. Apart from sharing a
production company, this has nothing to do with The Cola Conquest,
so I'm not sure why it's here.
it about Coca-Cola, a product that's 99% sugar and water, that makes
it such a potent symbol of all things American? What does the history
of the Coca-Cola company, and its biggest rival, Pepsi, tell us about
the role of advertising in creating a consumer society? Why do we
drink this stuff? While the three parts of this documentary trilogy
could have been tightened up into a somewhat shorter and more focused
program, overall The Cola Conquest does a solid job of
presenting its core subject. It's a very interesting and
well-researched program that will be of interest to a broad audience;
I'll give it a solid "recommended."