The ads called on the immense popularity of Bollywood star Amir Khan as he appropriated “mass sensibilities…[and] local lingo,” comically portraying various regional, ethnic, and class “types” of Indian common men and their love of Coca-Cola.[i]
But the “Thanda Matlab Coca-Cola” campaign went even further, making the commonplace of Indian daily culture and communication proprietarily Coca-Cola’s. The advertising aimed to impress upon its audience that the Hindi word “thanda,” which means “cold” – and its popular colloquial usage as “cold drink” for all kinds of beverages like water, soda, lassi, or nimbu pani (lemon-lime water) – was “generic for Coca-Cola.” When someone asks for “thanda” they really “mean Coca-Cola.” “Thanda Matlab Coca-Cola” as the tagline says.[ii] Towards this goal, the television commercials progressively asserted thanda’s resignification as Coke:
In the first ad, Amir Khan’s Mumbai street tough (tapori) explains that when he orders a thanda he really means a Coca-Cola. In the second, Khan now a Hyderabadi shopkeeper instructs customers to ask for thanda to get Coca-Cola. And by the third, when three urban girls pull in thirsty to a rural village and ask Khan’s Punjabi farmer for a thanda expecting water, he magically pulls up cold Cokes from his well.
This last commercial ironically articulated both the environmental and symbolic expropriation and the hierarchy of rural/extraction and urban/consumption characteristic of the Coca-Cola commodity chain in neoliberal India.[iv] In proclaiming that “Thanda Means Coca-Cola,” the Company enclosed a whole symbolic commons of drinking culture and communication for its own -- what once had meant common water now “means” commodified Coke -- privatizing this term for the Coca-Cola brand. The Indian advertising community declared that it “made the almost universal rural word [thanda]…a hot catchphrase.”[v]
[ii] Sumita Vaid Dixit, “‘Thanda III'– Coke Scores on Naturalness,” AgencyFAQs, September 30, 2002. http://www.agencyfaqs.com/www1/news/stories/2002/09/30/4958.html
[iii] Aamir Khan as a Punjabi farmer in “Thanda Matlab Coca-Cola” television ad in 2003.
[iv] Sumita Vaid Dixit, “’Thanda III’ – Coke Scores on Naturalness,” Agencyfaqs!, September 30, 2002, http://www.afaqs.com/perl/news/story.html?sid=4958, “Coca-Cola India’s Thirst for the Rural Market,” ICMR Center for Management Research, June 18, 2009. http://www.icmrindia.org/free%20resources/casestudies/Coca%20Cola%20India%20Thirst%20for%20the%20Rural%20Market1.htm
[v] Shailesh Dobhal, "The Real Thing," Business Today, May 23 2004. Gouri Shukla, “Prasoon Joshi: The ‘Thanda matlab Coca-Cola’ Man,” Business Standard, May 5 2003.