A Bear-Sized Footprint

Who doesn’t enjoy an ice-cold Coke every now and then?  Occasional consumption, however, is hardly the outcome desired by big business.  To achieve the capitalist ideal of perpetual growth, the Coca-Cola Company relies on constant marketing efforts on a global scale, including the use of seasonal advertising.  Say hello to the Coca-Cola Polar Bear, a character seen on billboards and in commercials, usually around Christmastime.

Coca-Cola “Always Cool” print ad from 1993: Polar Bear holds a bottle of Coke.

Although Coke has made use of the polar bear in advertising as early as 1922, the animal wasn’t officially adopted as a mascot until 1993.  Always Cool, Always Coca-Cola was the catchphrase accompanying a friendly, cartoonish bear who was to become the prototype of the sloth.  Since then, the social context of the polar bear and the Arctic region has changed dramatically.  “Always cool?”  Alas, not always.  Due to the effects of climate change on sea-ice habitats, polar bears were listed as a threatened species in 2008 under the Endangered Species Act.

Three years later, Coca-Cola launched the philanthropic Arctic Home campaign in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund.  But do annual donations of a few million dollars offset the carbon footprint of manufacturing half a trillion bottles and cans in the same year?  For the Coca-Cola Company, Arctic Home surely falls under the category of public relations, essentially grease in the cogs of a gargantuan marketing enterprise.  Corporate conscience cleared, the ads keep running and the bears resume their Disneyesque narratives in an Arctic wonderland.

Despite consumerism’s well-documented link to global warming, Coke continues to do business in the spirit of 1922.  And the ads featuring polar bears that at first appear merely childish are in truth outrageous.  Presenting Ursus maritimus as a cuddly and contented creature disregards the wild aspect of nature and the severity of man’s ecological impact.  The wish to retain a mascot with significant branding capital is of course understandable, but making the world a more palatable place while simultaneously contributing to its destruction is not.

Coca-Cola Happy Holidays Commercial: Polar Bears Build a Snowman

World of Coca-Cola: Take a Souvenir Photo with the Coca-Cola Polar Bear

Coca-Cola “Always Cool” print ad from 1993: Polar Bear holds a bottle of Coke.
One Cool Bear

Coca-Cola “Happy Holidays” commercial (end frame): Polar bears drink Coke with a snowman.
Happy Polar Family

Coca-Cola “Open Happiness” billboard from 2013: Polar bears make snow angels with a bottle of Coke in hand.
Slushy Snow Angels

Author: Todd Garlington

Urban spectator, Inner space cadet

4 thoughts

  1. I feel we are doing too little too late. But the viral pandemic will hopefully alert some to the complex interrelationship we have with the world’s flora and fauna. Climate, for anyone paying attention, has been oscillating wildly. Meanwhile big business is trying to sound socially conscious and supportive, but “hey, why don’t you drink a Coke while you quarantine.”

  2. I am so relieved to be following someone online who realizes the danger of climate change. I live in a very conservative part of Ohio, out in the country. So I am constantly seeing and feeling the signs of climate change, but I live in a place where people either don’t know about it or don’t believe in it. I’m frustrated that there’s so little I can do.


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