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.
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.
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