There's Nothing Wrong With Spreading the Joy of Cola

Optimistic Ad Campaigns From Pepsi and Coke Actually Aren't Ridiculous Amid a Recession

By Published on .

Forget your troubles c'mon get happy
Ya better chase all your cares away

OK, two things: We're in a recession that may become the next Great Depression. War rages around the globe, terror looms, and don't forget eco-catastrophe. Plus, Britney's back and the Yankees have bought themselves a playoff spot. Obama, schmobama. Objectively, things suck. So that's one thing.

The other thing is: Cola is a soft drink. It is tasty, thirst-quenching and just fabulous with cheeseburgers. But it doesn't loosen the credit markets. It doesn't reduce your carbon footprint. It doesn't get you a date or find you a better job or make your kids less sullen or make your husband talk to you.

Go ahead. Chug an entire 2-liter bottle. Al-Qaida still wants to kill you.

So what's up, suddenly, across the vast Caramel Carbonation Complex, with all this colaptimism? Coke and Wieden & Kennedy reportedly are poised to unveil "Open happiness," a worldwide slogan positioning Coke as bottled contentment. And Pepsi, which flopped spectacularly with "The joy of cola," is splashing its new ad with words such as "optimism, joy, hooray, oh boy, wow, love, happy."

Presumably the 30 seconds ran out before they could squeeze in "serotonin-specific reuptake inhibitors" and "orgasm."

We know that advertising is reputed to be manipulative and lousy with puffery, but isn't all this disingenuous happy talk kind of ridiculous?

Well, actually, no.

For starters, in a world where genuine happiness is elusive, there's something to be said for a modest, easy-to-come-by experience of guaranteed non-heartbreak. Maybe a can of cola isn't actually "Wow," but it also isn't "Please, God, no!" and that's not nothing. Secondly, counter-intuitive as it may seem, both marketers have truly latched onto a zeitgeist proposition.

There is always a bull market for optimism when there is a bear market for everything else. Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler wrote "Get Happy" in 1929. Johnny Mercer wrote "Accentuate the Positive" in the darkest days of World War II. Or think of Mickey Rooney, Shirley Temple and, especially, Fred Astaire. All those escapist musicals about society people in top hats and ball gowns were the pre-Prozac antidote to depression. As FDR put it, "When the spirit of the people is lower than at any other time, it is a splendid thing that for just 15 cents an American can go to a movie and look at the smiling face of a baby and forget his troubles."

But, of course, we're not discussing mere wishful thinking. We're speaking of genuine opportunity. The Obama presidency is a promise of change -- a promise backed not only by historic political circumstances but by historic crisis. Especially among so-called millennials, confidence is high that dire times offer a mandate for a reordered economy, a reordered politics, a reordered environment. A new deal, you might say.

Or, as Pepsi puts it, "Refresh everything."

It's a very clever tagline, embracing 1) the spirit of the times; 2) the internet-browser analogy, evoking instantaneous "in with the new"; and, not least, 3) the real, intrinsic, utterly un-puffed-up product benefit -- once again, maybe not "Wow" but definitely "Ahhh ..."

We're betting on success, but naturally that's out of our hands. Also TBWA's and Barack Obama's. Because sometimes optimism anticipates not prosperity around the corner but a new deal of a very different kind.

Forget your troubles c'mon get happy
Ya better chase all your cares away
Shout Hallelujah, c'mon get happy
Get ready for the judgment day

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