27 May 2012

Schools and Coca-Cola

For God, Country, and Coca-Cola by Mark Pendergrast, 1999, Excerpts

Coca-Cola intensified its drive to penetrate schools to snare youthful consumers early. “Whether it’s a morning pick-me-up, a lunchtime refresher or for after class with friends,” a Coke internal organ advised, “students want their drinks easily accessible.” School officials, eager for soft drink money to supplement their meager budgets, agreed. The Colorado Springs School District signed a 10-year exclusive contract with Coke that guaranteed to bring in $7.5 million – provided, that is, that its 32,000 students bought a sufficient number of soft drinks for the schools’ vending machines.  A school district official wrote a letter to each of the principals. “We must sell 70,000 cases of product,” he wrote, “at least once during the first three years of the contract.” To do so, he urged schools to “allow students to purchase and consume vended products throughout the day” and to add more coolers. “The Coke people surveyed the middle and high schools this summer and have suggestions on where to place additional machines.” The school official signed off as “The Coke Dude.”

In 1998 and 1999, hundreds of schools became active participants in marketing soft drinks, signing up for exclusive Coke or Pepsi deals in a veritable feeding frenzy. Coke soon received an unexpected bonus. Although it was illegal to sell soda as part of the school lunch program, many schools began to give away soft drinks in order to lure students on open campuses into staying for lunch. Coca-Cola purveyors had known that “sampling” programs were an excellent way to build business. Now, the schools were doing it for them!

Several new Coke ads made an unabashed appeal to high school students. In one spot, a teenage boy taking an exam reached up and grabbed a Coke that magically appeared overhead. He and a beautiful classmate were lifted up into a fantasy sky of blue. In another ad, a teenager went on and on about philosophical matters until his bored girlfriend suggested, “Do you wanna have a Coke and make out?” In a third, a young girl tried on different outfits while drinking her Coke. In a surreal ad called “Machine Teen Central,” active teens swarmed around a Coke vending machine. Fueled by soft drinks, they rode bikes up buildings, glided above earth on skateboards, and finally tossed schoolbooks into the air to form a stairway to heaven, the book covers changing to a Coke logo.

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