Pre-requisites to the Human Chain

‘I’d like to buy the world a Coke’ (1971)


It’s worth a reminder that advertising has long flirted with the aesthetics of collective activism, stirring our inner insecurities and hopes for a better future with the purchase of a perfect ice cold beverage. While it is easy to lament the mis-steps of Kendall Jenner, no stranger to the exploitation of personal or collective fame, one might do better to examine a history of advertising designed to co-opt and manipulate idealism.


Some may recall the seminal ‘I’d like to buy the world a Coke’ advertisement for Coca Cola released in 1971. Perched ‘on a hilltop in Italy’, Coca Cola assembled a few hundred young people from various countries and cultures, belting the ‘I’d like to teach the world to sing’ jingle in unison. Each person held a sweating bottle of Coca Cola branded in their home language. Sunlight streamed through its caramel liquid – a talisman for utopia.


Since the advent of formalised marketing, designers and advertisers have understood the power of visualised unity, and its ability to incite momentary or long-lasting belief in the consumers of their images. In the midst of widespread political upheaval, advertisers consistently turn to the image of multicultural collectivity. The South African advertising industry, lauded for its effective use or adoption of ‘cultural difference’, has employed this ‘unity in diversity’ approach consistently since 1994.


An unsurprising symbiosis between government and industry propagates a sense of stability through the dissemination of these images, resulting in a superficial, heart-warming conception of harmony. Branding and advertising thus appear to play out a kind of ‘national service’ in the circulation the utopian ideals, making up the balance of political figures. South African Breweries (SAB), the largest brewing company in the world, has employed the notion of the ‘Rainbow Nation’ consistently, one of its highlights being the jolly ‘multi-racial’ masculine friend group of Castle Lager who attend a national soccer, rugby and cricket game in 24 hours.


In an iconic SAB ad from the 1990s, South Africans from all corners of the country come across a mysterious, seemingly never-ending rope. All who encounter said rope are suddenly compelled to join forces in a national ‘tug-of-war’. The collective strength of citizens draws the physical mass of the other continents closer, manifesting in a miraculous landscape of the world’s famous landmarks – the Statue of Liberty and the Sydney Opera house included. Johnny Clegg’s Osiyenzi provides the backing track. YouTube user HorseZee commented: “I love this ad … trots Suid-Afrikaans, maak nie saak wat nie!!”


Absurdity is an expected aspect of advertising that somehow instills faith in consumers, belying the chain of power that is cause of grit in daily life. Curious then, on Friday, 7 April at the National Shutdown in Cape Town, the presence of corporate groups with branded t-shirts, umbrellas and signs. In this feedback loop, at the eleventh hour, the commercial gesture arrives to aid the cause. The effectiveness of corporate sanctions during political crisis is up for debate, but ‘keep calm and buy a Castle’ probably won’t cut it.


‘South African Breweries: Inspired by a Nation’


‘Castle Lager SuperFans United'(2013)

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