It was a long dog day. I was home early, and out of cold brew coffee, so in only an hour, I drank two Diet Cokes. The empty cans sat like unsigned yearbooks on the table where I was writing: “BFF” and “Friend” in thick red letters on the sleek silver cans reminding me that I was alone, nowhere near my friends.
It is the Summer of Sharing, or it has been since the beginning of June and will be until the end of this month, when all bottles of Coke and cans of Diet Coke, each 20-ounce and every two-liter vessel of Coca-Cola products will bear the Share a Coke campaign. Like some fashion house’s new line, Share a Coke is the design that Coca-Cola will wear through the fall.
Share a Coke with your BFF! Share a Coke with your Friend!
Like the Ice Bucket Challenege that’s become so popular this summer, the Share a Coke campaign was destined to become a meme.
I’d filled my refrigerator with cans of Diet Coke right as the campaign began. An unfortunate sale at the grocery store meant I’d be living with this absent cast of characters for weeks. My father came to visit a few days after I drank those two friend cans alone, and he lined up all the “Dad” cans on the second shelf of the fridge. When I called to acknowledge his prank, my mother asked whether there were any “Mom” cans or if Coke hadn’t bothered printing those.
No one should drink alone, I guess Coca-Cola wants us to believe, or enact, as we double our Coke consumption and triple our Coke promotion, hunting for the funniest cans and relaying every single “Share a Coke With Blank” the way an aunt who knows you collect carousels manages to gift you every thimble, figurine, T-shirt, toy, and poster of a carousel she finds in a tri-state area from your 10th birthday until her last.
The generic shares are only the first level of the Summer of Sharing, which came to America by way of Australia, where Coca-Cola first launched the Share a Coke campaign in 2011. The company chose 250 first names for the second level of sharing, adding individual, personalized names to cans. There’s a third level, involving live events around the country where you can customize mini-cans with any name, word, or combination of letters. You can also create a digital can on Coke’s website.
I suspect this is all a lot cheaper than it was to pay Taylor Swift to drink Diet Coke on her Red Tour. Here is what the Coca-Cola Company says about the Summer of Sharing: “Summer is the perfect time to get together with others and share moments of happiness over an ice-cold Coke at barbecues, sporting events, family reunions, amusement park outings and other gatherings.... Now, enjoying a Coke with your name on it and sharing the occasion with someone else makes these moments even more special.”
It’s too bad that Andy Warhol didn’t think of personalizing his paintings or silkscreens—they might be “even more special.” I say that with some uncertainty, because he might very well have done just that, not only because his work was bought early and often by a few very wealthy collectors for whom he might have willingly, happily personalized his work, but also because he might very well have loved the Summer of Sharing.
ART CRITICS, HISTORIANS, AND theorists disagree about what exactly Warhol was doing with those Brillo boxes, Campbell’s soup cans, and Coca-Cola bottles. Some argue his work was a celebration of consumer culture, an adoring collage of all his favorite brands. Others insist it was a critique of those brands, a roast of consumerism using its own materials. I suppose that same conversation would take place today using terms like “irony” and “sincerity,” as it perhaps has with every tweet and post and text sharing these Coke bottles and cans.
Ogilvy & Mather, the Australian advertising agency that created the original campaign, leans hard on the sincerity side of that scale. Their “challenge” they write, was “to increase consumption amongst the masses and get people talking about Coke again,” which they did by recognizing that “in our digital world, the way we connect has changed.” By focusing on first names, Ogilvy & Mather realized they could “jump start some real conversations—with people you may have lost touch with, or were yet to meet.” You don’t actually need to share the Coke, just the image or the hashtag.
The campaign was a huge success in Australia where in just the first few months, Coke consumption went up, millions acknowledged the campaign on Facebook, and thousands of personalized cans were created online or printed at designated mall kiosks. Like the Ice Bucket Challenge that’s become so popular this summer, the Share a Coke campaign was destined to become a meme. With the apathetic accuracy of an algorithm, Coca-Cola selected 250 most of the popular first names among American teenagers and twenty-somethings and the campaign went viral in the United States.
The genius of the Coca-Cola brand, as Warhol explained decades ago in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B & Back Again), is that a Coke is a Coke is a Coke: “What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.”
Like any meme, Share a Coke will run its course: The sharing will stop, or the summer will end. In the meantime, I’m not sharing any cans, and I bought more cold brew.