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Cold Drink Means Coca-Cola
To do this, Coke and McCann-Erickson India (their long time global advertising agency) mined popular rural culture to construct the localness of Coca-Cola with the repeated tagline “Thanda Matlab Coca-Cola” or “Cool Drink Means Coca-Cola,” and launched an advertising campaign that saturated media spaces from the new private television channels and the rapidly commercializing public service broadcaster to magazines and facades of buildings.
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][i] Ibid.[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.