CocaCola Sees Red In India

A hoarding put up in the southern city of Chennai by well known photographer Sharad Haksar has Coca Cola officials seeing red. The photo depicts a set of plastic pots…

A hoarding put up in the southern city of Chennai by well known photographer Sharad Haksar has Coca Cola officials seeing red.

The photo depicts a set of plastic pots next to a dry handpump – an allusion to the chronic water shortage in the city. The scene is set against a red wall bearing the painted logo of "Coca
Cola". News website rediff.com reports:

On July 11, 2005, the law firm Daniel & Gladys, who
represent Coca-Cola’s Indian subsidiary, sent a letter to Haksar 
threatening him with legal action if the billboard was not replaced
‘unconditionally and immediately’.


The letter said Coca-Cola
would seek Rs 2 million for ‘incalculable damage to the goodwill and
reputation’ of the brand if Haksar did not comply with the
notice.

Incidenatally, Coke is a client of Haksar and
the photographer says he  had shown the picture to company officials 3
months ago, at which time no one objected to it. The company’s stance could have something to do
with the fact that it has been accused of contaminating ground water in the
neighbouring state of Kerala (an anti-Coke agitation has been going on there for
some time now).

However, few consumers connected the dry water pump
with the groundwater issue. Many thought it was merely one of those ‘special
extra creative ads’ which are often made with advertising awards shows in
mind.

Says one such consumer commenting on the popular
Chennai blog kiruba.com: "I’ve passed this hoarding a million times on
Nungambakkam High Road and have been under the impression all this while that it
was a Coke ad that used one of Sharad Haskar’s photographs!!!"

Incidentally, the ad is part of a ‘social
awareness juxtaposed against multinational advertising’ series. The previous
hoarding depicted a kid pee-ing on a wall,
which bore the legend "Just do it" .

The question is, when a brand and it’s slogan
becomes part of the popular culture, how far can it – or should it – be
‘protected’. Isn’t the use or even the subversion of these symbols by
artists more a tribute to how much a part of life these brands have
become?

Contributed by Rashmi Bansal

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