Do Polar Bears Like Coke?   13 comments

What commercial do you hate? What commercial is your favorite? (YouTube link us if possible) Have you ever gotten an idea for a story from a commercial?

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Commercials Ain’t What they Used to Be

Should the Polar Bear Still Sell Coca-Cola? | The New Yorker

All commercials are selling something and work to manipulate you into buying what they’re selling. That is one of the first things I learned in Marketing class as a journalism major.

I grew up in the 1960s and 70s when television commercials were all there were. Between every program, there’d be about four or five and sometimes a station break/ID. Then between the 12-minute scenes, there’d be two. There was no mute button and no remote, so the option to change the channel during the commercial break was a cumbersome one. Usually you used those times to get a drink or snack or go to the bathroom. Sometimes we’d talk about the program. Yeah, in those days parents and kids watched the same programs because the content was generally appropriate for all ages and most people only had one television set in the house. My mom really loved mystery shows, so we would often use those commercial breaks as an opportunity to guess whodunit. But also my parents would sometimes see things on the screen that they thought needed to be discussed. Do parents still do that now? Oh, that’s right, the kids are usually watching their own shows on the Internet, not even in the same room as their parents.

Notice, we were having these conversations when the television was on and we just ignored the commercials. If you turned off the television, the old vacuum tubes would cool down, so even if you timed the commercial break right, you’d likely miss the first part of the scene because the television had to warm up before it could broadcast.

People just learned the art of ignoring the chatter in the background.

What One Commercial Stuck With Me?

Well, let’s start by explaining that I grew up in Alaska where we often didn’t have access to the things being advertised. We typically had two items on the shelves — the fancy brand (like Charmin or Lays) and the store brand. I later learned in high school economics class that these items came out of the same factory and just received a different label and the fancy brand got advertising while the store brand didn’t. Mom was right! There were no differences other than price and hype.

So, the commercials often didn’t mean anything to me. They were advertising Seattle stores if they were national ads and we were a six-hour plane ride away from Seattle, so — yeah, why bother to watch them? We also got our television on a delay. We watched Thanksgiving shows at Christmas and Christmas shows in late-January. And, yes, the advertising was delayed too. Sometime around 1975, we finally got a satellite uplink here in Fairbanks and got same-day broadcast — though the 6 o’clock national news programs played at 4 in the afternoon…before anyone was home to watch them…so our local broadcast station would record it and play it at 6 o’clock. Again, commercials were for Seattle or California stores and activities and we hadn’t yet perfected energy-beam transportation, so why bother watching the commercials?

Man, were we glad when the Mute button became a thing. Our first one required you to physically get up and hit it on the television, but it was a step in the right direction. At least you didn’t have to listen to the commercials.

A Message of Unity During a Time of Division

But, of course, some commercials were universal. Fairbanks had Coca Cola. Alaskans thought the polar bear Coke commercials in the 1980s were hysterical. I know, it was supposed to pull at our heart strings, but…yeah, giving a coke to a man-eater just seemed like a dangerous idea.

Of course, the iconic Coca Cola commercial was I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke. That is probably still my favorite commercial of all time. It was just so well done and appropriate to the era. Yes, all commercials are manipulative and selling something, but this one also sent a great message. All races can find unity in something we share in common. I certainly hope it wouldn’t be a bottle of high-fructose corn syrup (Original Coke didn’t contain HFC in 1971), but the point spoke so much to my community in Alaska where races had been coming together over the shared issues of extreme cold, isolation and poverty for decades. This was pre-oil, when Alaska was still the poorest state in the union.

Although my mom’s best friend was a lovely person, her husband was a racist who would occasionally, when he’d have too much to drink, jab at Mom about her American Indian ancestry. Before you think, “How horrible!”, Mom would jab right back. The woman had a wicked tongue and knew how to use it. That wasn’t always a great thing when you were her kid who’d done something to anger her, but it was fun to watch when someone else needed a comeuppance. Les had lived in Alaska long enough by that time to know the people around him disagreed with him. Alaska outlawed racial discrimination in 1945 (yes, nearly two decades before the nation got around to it) and, even in the 1960s, we were a very diverse community, so Les and his opinions had experienced pushback in a community that had moved beyond him a long time ago. Still stuck in his ways, whenever the Coke Hilltop song would come on, Les would harrumph and subside into his chair like Archie Bunker after a well-earned lesson. Les knew he’d lost the racial argument with his own children (who were friends with me, my mother’s offspring). But more, he knew the world had changed and left racists like himself behind in its wake. It was a comeuppance without Mom needing to say a word. My dad would occasionally start whistling the tune when Les would be looking for a fight. If often shut him right up.

Which is why I found Coke Corporation’s actions visa vis race in this last year to be so ironic and frankly disheartening. Enough said on that topic.

Annoying Commercials?

Of course, I can think of dozens of truly annoying commercials. I know a lot of people who thought that “Where’s the Beef?” Wendy’s commercial was funny, but I found it annoying. The fact that the local Wendy’s stopped selling beef burgers last year caused that commercial to come to mind. There was one with a singing (and mounted) fish. I don’t remember what it was advertising, which might be my point. There was a Quizno’s ad that arrived here ahead of the food chain – singing rats singing badly – I know people who won’t eat at Quizno’s because of that commercial.

I hadn’t really watched commercials in years. There’s the Mute button and then when we had Dish, there was a feature that allowed you to click through the commercials. Then we cut the cord and the Internet, until recently, was commercial free. But, Youtube now has commercials and this last fall, during the election, we had to watch one, two, sometimes three, for Al Gross who was running for US Senate against Dan Sullivan. They played about every 10 minutes and you can’t really zap them, so….

Note to Youtube – figure out a way to put ads at convenient breaks in the show we’re trying to watch rather than interrupting it mid-sentence. Seriously. I’m not paying for Youtube television EVER until you fix that issue.

Note to politicians — annoying your potential constituents might result in them choosing not to be your constituents.

Al Gross did nearly 60 commercials, so I’m just going to post the one that annoyed me the most. The brief on this – Al Gross is an Anchorage brahmin (think the Cabots speak only to the Lodges and the Lodges speak only to God). His father Avram was a good guy (according to my dad, who knew him) who was involved in Alaska state politics. I think Avram wasn’t a brahmin (Alaska didn’t really have those back then). I think Al probably had a few adventures growing up here. You can drive to the woods if you live in Anchorage and back then, Anchorage was small. Because we lived right on the edge of a vast wilderness filled with primary predators, Alaskan teens lived pretty exciting lives when the Lower 48 idea of teen adventure was the mall crawl.

Do I believe Al had all those adventures from the commercial. No way! And nothing he listed (other than the lies) would have been considered a big deal when we were growing up here (we’re about the same age). So emphasizing that really torqued my Alaska-born-and-bred self because it was aimed at “cheechakos” –new residents who just moved up and don’t know anything about Alaska’s recent past. Al “took down” a grizzly bear? The story floating here in the state is “That’s the story he tells. Truth varies when you want a bear hide to hang on the wall.” My husband actually held off a grizzly bear with a chain saw, so I’m not impressed with Al’s story. Lots of Alaskans work the fishing fleet to put themselves through college. They didn’t let girls on the boats back then (unless your daddy or your husband owned it), so I worked a slime-line instead. Not impressed. And, never lie outright in a commercial. Avram got the loan for Al — banks don’t give 14-year-olds loans because minors can’t sign contracts. Even in the 1970s, Alaska banks were bound by federal law from offering loans to 14-year-olds.

So, aside from the style of the commercial and the fact that Youtube made us watch it and dozens of others over and over again for weeks, the lies he was telling got to me. I had planned to vote against Dan Sullivan for Senate, but Al convinced me he needed to lose the election in a big way — which he did. But it was more than that. The commercial I posted shows him wearing brand-new Helly Hanson rain gear. Nobody but tourists wears brand-new outdoor gear in Alaska. It makes noises in the woods whichscares off the wildlife and there’s a commonsense wives tale theory that the petroleum outgassing attracts bears. It reeks, I know that. My Helly Hansons are 25 years old, patched with innertube rubber and probably have another 20 years of wear in them. Once my husband pointed that out to me, I started watching and every commercial Al did showed him wearing brand-new and high-end clothes, which is a clear indication that he was making crap up. Then he had a commercial where his daughters were talking and you could see out the window behind them — at trees that don’t grow anywhere in Alaska, but are found in landscaped yards in California. Turns out, Al owns a mansion in Santa Barbara, California, and his family lives there full-time. They come back to Alaska for periods of time to qualify for the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend and to run for Senate. That doesn’t make him any worse than Dan Sullivan, but Dan at least admits his attachment to Alaska is through his wife, who was born and raised here. This libertarian was not going to help give carpet-bagger Dan Sullivan a second term, but Al Gross so annoyed us with his incessant commercials (and then I found out he doesn’t live here anymore) that I voted for Dan just to send Al packing. A lot of other Alaskans apparently agreed with me, though there’s rumors Al might run against Don Young in 2022. Either way, Alaska can get rid of Sullivan in 2026, after we focus on getting rid of Lisa Murkowski in 2022.

Commercials that Inspire Me

I got to say, I still try to avoid commercials, but Youtube doesn’t really allow you to do that, so I had to think of ones that had inspired me to the point where I might have learned something or that I want to put them in my writing. I think PragerU commercials have influenced some of my research and might have inspired some events in my novels. PragerU has a lot of videos that often deal with history or something going on in culture and that’s not what I’m referring to. Those are usually longer than the five-minute or less commercials that become attached to other shows — like this older one on how to reengage boys in learning and, hopefully, reengage the next generation of men in society. I don’t use these commercials to inform my opinions, but I sometimes learn things I didn’t know and then I go out to research to find out if PragerU is telling me the truth. Usually they are, but I don’t assume that. I fact-check them through my own research (as I do with most articles I encounter). Always question anyone claiming to be an authority. I don’t always agree with the PragerU commercials. While looking for this commercial I’d seen before, I ran into a Jill Simosian commercial where I just found her condescending, even though I largely agreed with her facts on public schools because I’ve already studied the topic.

And while looking for this commercial, I also found this one by Adam Carolla which echoes something my husband and son have been discussing for a while and a character in one of my WIPs has been trying to express. I like how Carolla presents a familiar argument without sounding like he’s lecturing. There’s not a lot to fact-check in the commercial but I did google Carollas bio and he wasn’t making up his childhood. I also ran across a video he did about the whole neighbor-calling-the-cops thing. That apparently also happened.

All advertising is manipulative and trying to sell something…but occasionally it’s just trying to sell a broader perspective on the blinders we put on ourselves. In many ways, truth and liberal thought are commodities just as much as sugar and butter. In our current strait-jacketed culture where we all self-segregate into our own information bubbles, I think it’s brilliant to advertise alternative viewpoints and hope they get attached to videos that present self-segregated opinions from an opposite perspective.

Last night we sat through one that pleaded with us to understand that the world is going to end in a decade if we don’t start giving polar bears cokes. That last part’s a joke, but not really — the commercial (which I couldn’t find as a standalone) suggested some things we should do to control climate change that might prove almost as dangerous as trying to give a coke to a polar bear.

Posted June 7, 2021 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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13 responses to “Do Polar Bears Like Coke?

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  1. We all try to avoid commercials, don’t we? At least in the UK we have BBC1 where there are no adverts, but sometimes the best programmes are on other channels, lol.

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  2. Between the drivel that we are fed by commercials, and how quickly we are learning to ignore them, I wonder if commercials are really effective anymore?

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    • Marketers and their clients have researchers who verify the effectiveness, so somewhere there must be people who succumb to the brain washing. I do occasionally try products I see in advertisements. About every two years or so.

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  3. Coke goes way back before TV, and teach the world to sing was a fave. But dig deeper into the real killer psychology in marketing and and you get – the coke bottle.

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    • It’s a very cool Art Deco shape, I’ll give you that.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s also shaped like a female. Systemic patriarchy and suggestive “get a hold of one”. They own it, that’s why everything else has fewer curves. The Barbie of beverage bottles!

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      • I don’t believe in the patriarchy myself. My mother would point out that the women in our tribe owned the land and told the legendary Wyndake warriors when and if they were going to fight and against whom. Once that was decided, the males got to decide how they planned not to die.

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      • A very small corner of a much larger universe – my mother was half Cherokee. Not that it matters. She could talk birds out of trees, calm wild dogs and plants would stand up when she walked by. For a majority of NA tribes the rule followed the old quote by Two Eagles (paraphrased) about how before the white man there was no debt, not much disease, plenty of buffalo and women did all the work.

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      • Cherokee were much further south of Wyndake/Wyandot range. They were St. Lawrence Waterway/Ohio/Michigan. Lots of deer and the women farmed–which is why they owned the land and chose the sachems (chief warriors). They also arranged the marriages. Once a war was declared, though, the warriors had a lot of say, which might explain why the Wyandot participated in almost every war anywhere near their range.

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  4. If I were a polar bear, I’d go for Dr. Pepper.

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  5. This is very interesting, Lela. I always learn a bit about Alaska from your posts.

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