February 3, 2014

Schmaltzy Coke, cool Pepsi

Syrupy advertising is Coca-Cola's specialty, such as their nuclear family of cuddly polar bears. (Where are the saber-toothed tigers when you need them?)

So their schmaltzy Super Bowl ad glorifying the families of all colors across the world should not be surprising. It is community cohesion that makes a cultural group confident enough to ask that other cultures prove themselves as equals, rather than lazily accept them as such. Nuclear family-centrism breaks down communal bonds as each household isolates itself from the others, leading to the "amoral familism" that Edward Banfield described as the "moral basis of a backward society," i.e. Southern Italy.

As long as other family units leave our family unit alone, we wish them all the best. And if our standard for evaluating the worthiness of foreign cultures is the flourishing of family life, then everybody wins. How hard is it to find a place in the world where parents are raising families? Just spin the globe, and there you go -- parents nurturing children, siblings playing with each other. These behaviors are so basic to human existence that they don't set much of a standard for judging which cultures are worthy of our respect and which are not. Some places are ruled out, sure, but the family standard is far more inclusive than it is discriminating.

Before the shift toward atomized family units in the 1990s, our culture prized communal bonds. Outside of the family, people tend to associate with folks their own age, so the communal focus meant especially a focus on the cohesion of peer groups and generations. Hence all of those classic teen movies about belonging to a group in the '80s, and their lack of descendants in the age of helicopter parenting.

What kind of advertising did audiences resonate with back then? Whatever was cool. Coolness does not play a role when social interactions are entirely among family members. It only takes on a life of its own when folks are interacting with people outside the family. If today's victims of helicopter parenting strike you as being strange for not caring about whether they're cool or not, that's why. In whose eyes would they be cool -- their parents? B.F.D. Might as well worry about something else.

Pepsi began to gain on Coke's popularity during the move away from families and toward peers, namely from the '60s through the early '90s. This success was due to their ad campaigns emphasizing hanging out with friends and being part of a broader cohesive generation.

As early as the late '50s, their slogan was "The sociables prefer Pepsi" -- y'know, unlike those dorky kids from Leave It to Beaver who don't have a broad social life. Phrases like "sociables," "think young," "the Pepsi generation," "Join the Pepsi people," and so on, all underscore their appeal. This would culminate in their slogan during most of the '80s and early '90s: "Pepsi. The choice of a new generation." Their cola was chosen as the membership badge for the cohesive generation of young people.

Pepsi began losing the cola wars in the mid-1990s, as the return to cocooning and helicopter parenting took hold, and by now they place behind not just Coke but Diet Coke as well. New attitudes favoring family life over communal (peer) life have eroded Pepsi's advertising appeal and ensured Coke's return to saccharine glory.

Also, Pepsi's attempt to stay relevant by continuing their emphasis on what was young and cool ran into a big problem during the '90s -- young people were not so cool anymore. Britney Spears and Beyonce are not Madonna and Michael Jackson, nor were their fans as cool.

But before the lame-ification of society, Pepsi's commercials tapped into the thriving youth culture, and looked and sounded about as cool as you can expect TV commercials to be. And given how many of them we watch, that's no small improvement for daily life.

Here are a handful of memorable ones on the theme of new wave and "more than meets the eye." Notice how many are shot at night and have an exciting light-dark contrast. Lots of commercials back then did. You can find the other ones on YouTube, including the ones with Michael Jackson and Madonna, which aren't wave-y to go here.

David Bowie and Tina Turner sing a duet for "Modern Love" (turn up the volume on this clip). He fits great as a mad scientist in the re-working of Weird Science.

Miami Vice.

Michael J. Fox finds a Pepsi can photocopy that comes to life.

A futuristic archaeologist discovers a Coke bottle and doesn't know what it is. Pepsi has taken over (feels dystopian when you watch it now).

Cindy Crawford in jean shorts and a tank top with no bra. As a counter-point to the futuristic and electronic ads.

Pepsi also spanked Coke when it came to product packaging. Who else remembers their "cool cans" designs from 1990? It was cool, and unexpected, to see neon lights on a black background for a soda can. And so stylishly restrained -- not like the explosion of bright, sharp shapes you'd see on today's energy drinks.

The closest that Coke would come in coolness was the Max Headroom campaign when it launched New Coke. The taste was made to be sweeter like Pepsi, and the ads echoed their rival's new wave style.

I haven't drunk soda regularly for probably 10 years, so I have no dog in this fight. But all of us have to put up with advertising, and I'd rather it look and sound cool than be drab and schmaltzy.


  1. Off-topic, but here:

    "Gay and bisexual teen boys use illicit steroids at a rate almost six times higher than do straight kids, a "dramatic disparity" that points up a need to reach out to this group, researchers say."

    So we chalk up to steroid use as a Peter Pan trait.

  2. *chalk up steroid use as a Peter Pan trait

    "Dr. Rob Garofalo, adolescent medicine chief at Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago, said the differences aren't surprising, since it is known that gay youth often have "body image issues." But he said, "It is still shocking. These are dramatically high rates.""

    So much for all those roid-users being macho. What the heck is wrong with society that those guys are exemplars of masculinity?


  3. It's not surprising since gays are physiologically as well as mentally stunted, and don't have much muscle (even when they try).

    Guys whose life mission is to get ripped are obviously suffering from severe depression, of which body dysmorphia is only one symptom. The homoerotic nature of the gym culture these days follows from that -- they're too awkward around girls, and are insecure about how girls perceive them, and depressed and isolated folks are more likely to result to "last resort" stuff like getting a little too touchy-feely with the dude bros.

    It could be channeled toward macho ends, like if they play a sport and are trying to get an edge on their rivals. Poor sportsmanship, but still in the vein of imposing your will on others. But bodybuilding is not a sport, and your average roid-rager is pursuing purely isolated / individualistic ends -- "to look good naked," i.e. to assuage his ego while looking at himself alone in his room.

  4. The family system in southern Italy is not "nuclear". HBD Chick has written about that. Adults living with their parents is very common there. There's more of a history of inbreeding. The extended family/clan system is what helps give rise to their crime families. Societies based on nuclear families tend to have more civic participation outside the family.

  5. Banfield and I don't say amoral "nuclear" familism, but just amoral familism. Like the family of a tranny kid pushing the entire community to let him piss in the girls' bathroom at a public school.

    "Societies based on nuclear families tend to have more civic participation outside the family."

    Americans have become more nuclear family-centric over the past 20 years -- where is the surge in civic participation? It has fallen, not risen. Cross-sectional analyses are too weak of a method to tease apart cause and effect.

  6. You specified nuclear families: "Nuclear family-centrism breaks down communal bonds"

    "Americans have become more nuclear family-centric over the past 20 years -- where is the surge in civic participation?"
    It's been offset by the decline in pirates, who as you know also determine global warming. Be serious. America inherited the English (or northern European protestant) tradition of the absolute nuclear family. As hbdchick/Emmanuel Todd have explained, the cultural root of exogamy in those cultures go way back. We don't have a tradition of extended families & inbreeding or polygamy to shift away from.

  7. I decided it would be interesting to get some actual numbers on changes in family structure: in 1970 the rate of illegitimate births was 11%, in 1990 it was 28%, in 2009 it was 41%.

  8. Try again. Familism is opposed to a communal orientation, whether the closed-off families are nuclear or extended -- that's orthogonal.

    You keep trying to bring up differences in family structure, which is irrelevant. It's how the family behaves toward the community that is at issue. Families shutting out the community corrodes communal bonds -- simple enough to understand?

    You claim that A encourages B -- then when A rises, so should B. HBD types haven't internalized this yet because they are too absorbed in cross-sectional comparisons.

  9. What does the illegitimacy rate tell us about how open or closed-off the typical family household is to the neighborhood, community, and nation? Diddly squat.

  10. Quote anywhere in my post where I sing praises to extended as opposed to nuclear families. I'm pressing for a greater *communal* focus, i.e. genetic strangers -- not an extended family focus.

  11. Orphic Mystery2/4/14, 2:37 PM

    I feel TGGP is trying to make the point (as he has before) that rather than being more outgoing in then sense of being people loving and lacking suspicion, the circum-Mediterranean semi-pastoralist peoples instead generally tend to be more amorally familist towards their extended families, with a veneer of glib charm and approach orientation to allow them to engage with the wider society. It's a good point and probably true, but this perhaps not the post to make it on.

    Re: trying to be cool, modern people seem *really* concerned with being cool in the sense of being on board with the latest trend (whether it's some lame social justice trend or some fashion trend), having the latest materialist gadgets or fashion, knowing where the best pop up restaurant is, being in the know, being hipster. That's driven by the inequality cycle.

    But not really in the sense of trying to seem relaxed, open, free from anxiety, natural, enthusiastic, stable, able to relate effortlessly to strangers. Being cool versus playing it cool. That's driven more by the outgoingness-crime cycle.

    The 70s-80s were cooler than the Midcentury by both measures, while the Millenial era and 60s have people who are only really trying to cool by one measure.
    I reckon there's a bit of an interaction between these two where some people who could be cool by one measure find it hard to be cool when the other norm is also in force, so opt out. Like, if you're poor and not set up for status striving cool, why bother to try and cultivate your temperamental cool, if your era requires both to be considered truly cool?

    Not on topic, but I was watching Inside Llewyn Davis a couple of weeks ago (liked it), and it kind of struck me how tight that whole folk scene moment it documents seems to fit with the twin cycles of inequality and outgoingness.

    Folk music celebrates tradition, it's democratic and it's communal, and where there is dancing it's about getting in tune with one another not at all about any kind of florid individualist cutting a rug and meat market peacocking. So all as we'd expect from a falling inequality period.

    But it's also low on energy, enthusiasm, danceability and individualistic artistic assertion (songs are covers of standards that connect you to your cultural ancestors, not individual expressions, as in the low status striving era, or self promotion tactics, as in the high status striving era). So as we'd expect from a falling extroversion period. It's also pretty low on Black-White musical cooperation, unlike the rock that was born from the blues.

    All just as we'd expect from a movement that spanned the entire Mid-Century, before being electrified (and as a major cultural force) absorbed and supplanted into rock pretty shortly into the 1960s.

  12. didn't they used to put cocaine in Coke during the 1900-1930 crime wave?

  13. You were the one who said "nuclear family", and I responded to it. Just recently you discussed cultures in which there's more inbreeding and male kin play more of a role in the lives of their female relatives. Like Orphic Mystery said, it was an extension of previous discussions.

    "You claim that A encourages B -- then when A rises, so should B"
    You're not stupid, quit pretending to be. Imagine a ridiculously simplified model in which Putnam's bowling-alone index is a function of ethnic diversity and whatever family measure you care to take (I honestly don't know what, other than it's neither Hajnal nor legitimacy type stuff). Changes in one factor can always swamp another, and it seems quite unlikely those are really the only two factors to change over these decades! Cross-sectional comparisons, particularly if we can look over really long time periods, allow for more data & ways to check. Just comparing two years decades apart (two points are ok in an event study over a very short time period, though even then you'd like more examples to check for robustness) in one country is way too little.

  14. You responded to an irrelevant distinction -- the argument is FAMIILY vs. COMMUNITY. That's clear throughout the post, as I never once contrast nuclear vs. extended families. "Nuclear" is for dramatic emphasis, since that's the kind of families we have.

    You're such a lazy, shameless spazz 80% of the time. You skim through an argument, misinterpret it mentally, then mischaracterize it in writing, all while sounding like a high school essay genius who crapped the glib POS out 5 minutes before it was due.

    Admit you misinterpreted and mischaracterized the argument. You dishonor yourself every time you backpedal.

  15. If you argue that A encourages B, but you don't see its effects because C (and D and F) swamp A, then A is not very important to keep in mind.

    Also, no one who ever makes an argument of that form ever actually runs a multi-variate regression to show that in fact A encourages B, that the swamping variables discourage B, and that the balance of all those forces is to make A's effects invisible.

    It's just a lazy way to wave away the obvious. "I know this looks bad for my argument, but what if....?" Fine, just go ahead and run that regression.

  16. "If you argue that A encourages B, but you don't see its effects because C (and D and F) swamp A, then A is not very important to keep in mind."
    No, A can still be the variable with the most explanatory power.

    Someone running a regression is just what I'd like to see. Presenting any numbers at all would be an improvement over typical internet proof-by-assertion. I don't know what measure of family-centrism you'd like to use, but if Putnam overlooked something important that would be a valuable addition to our knowledge.

  17. Tangentially, the ad featured, exclusively, US residents in US locales. It was a celebration of the disUnited States of Babylon.


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