I’m not really sure why I picked up this history of Coke. I guess my interest was more to get an understanding of how one of the strongest brands in the world was formed, rather than looking for an expose on every despicable action the corporation has taken in their quest for profit. For that reason, I was somewhat overwhelmed by this book. There is an incredible wealth of detail here, with everything referenced and documented to within an inch of its life.
Starting with the genesis story we all know of the cocaine-laced patent medicine, Coke’s rise to become the world’s most recognizable brand is incredibly impressive and horrifying at the same time. The chapters concerning international expansion, with subsequent environmental destruction, murder and intimidation against unionization, standover tactics to enforce illegal monopoly and strategies to gain consumers literally from cradle to grave, are every bit as bad as you might imagine.
I don’t think I was surprised by anything I read in this book – sadly, the behaviour depicted here is pretty much what I expect to be manifested by a global corporation. It is interesting that Coke has managed to remain relatively unscathed through it all. Then again, Nike recovered from the sweatshops “setback” as did Nestle from their powdered milk disaster. It is this fact that overwhelms me as a consumer – these corporations are now simply so large and integrated that a simple product boycott appears to have lost all power to effect any real change. The irony that the catchphrase “Think Globally. Act Locally” now so strongly identified with environmental and social change movements was actually originally coined by Coke CEO Roberto Goizueta as he targeted international growth to make Coke “the number one beverage on Earth” was not lost on me.