Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Sara Byala's "Bottled"

Sara Byala is a Senior Lecturer in Critical Writing at University of Pennsylvania and Associate Director of the Penn Global Documentary Institute. South African by birth, Byala has also lectured on African history in Penn's History department, Wharton School, and Lauder Institute. She holds a PhD from Harvard University and a BA from Tufts University.

Byala applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Bottled: How Coca-Cola Became African, and reported the following:
Page 99 takes us into the middle of Chapter Three, “Know Your Country: How Coca-Cola Branded a Continent and Itself,” which I often think of as my favorite in the book. The page describes the Animals of African Campaign – a novel 1960s advertising campaign launched by Coca-Cola bottlers in then named Kenya colony, where consumers could trade bottle caps for ivorine figurines of African animals. Proceeds from the promotion supported the nascent world of wildlife conservation. To this day, these animal sets are highly sought after among collectors. (When he was CEO of the company, Muhtar Kent kept one on display in his office high in the Atlanta home of corporate Coca-Cola.)

Still, it is the multilayered nature of this campaign – and not its rarity – that makes it so intriguing. It was an effort born alongside the dawn of postcolonial nations (in many places on the continent) meant to engage large scores of Black consumers, while also being a novel method of marketing and the first campaign overtly comingled with conservation. These processes, I suggest, were in fact related. Just as African nations were winning their independence, Coca-Cola embraced a new advertisement strategy that equated that which was natural with the continent. And, as this chapter explains, Animals of Africa was not the only marketing initiative of its kind. Throughout this chapter, we are introduced to a whole range of Coca-Cola campaigns that, I demonstrate, not only peddled product, but also came to help brand the African continent as a place of wildness at precisely this political moment. Most importantly, this chapter shows that these campaigns were wildly successful.

This one-page excerpt gives a decent sense of the book. It shows something of the methodology, where I telescope across the continent and use micro stories to chart larger processes, all in the service of a series of central points, presented chrono-thematically. It also gives a sense of my sources. This book is based upon extensive research in corporate Coca-Cola’s closed archives, as well as fieldwork in eight countries in Africa. Everyone knows that Coca-Cola is an unmatched marketer. And some people know that it is the single biggest employer on the African continent. This chapter gives an insight into how and why that came to be by showing one instance where Coca-Cola, as I put it, became African. So, yes, I think the Page 99 Test works here!
Visit Sara Byala's website.

--Marshal Zeringue