Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Your Money

warhol-coke

Andy Warhol drinks a Coke. (Photo: noisyspoon/Flickr)

Why I’m Not Sharing My Coke

• August 28, 2014 • 8:00 AM

Andy Warhol drinks a Coke. (Photo: noisyspoon/Flickr)

Andy Warhol, algorithms, and a bunch of popular names printed on soda cans.

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.

Casey N. Cep
Casey N. Cep is a writer from the Eastern Shore of Maryland. She has written for the New Republic, the New York Times, the New Yorker, and the Paris Review. Follow her on Twitter @cncep.

More From Casey N. Cep

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 24 • 6:15 AM

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.


October 24 • 5:00 AM

Why We Gossip: It’s Really All About Ourselves

New research from the Netherlands finds stories we hear about others help us determine how we’re doing.


October 24 • 2:00 AM

Congratulations, Your City Is Dying!

Don’t take population numbers at face value.


October 23 • 4:00 PM

Of Course Marijuana Addiction Exists

The polarized legalization debate leads to exaggerated claims and denials about pot’s potential harms. The truth lies somewhere in between.


October 23 • 2:00 PM

American Companies Are Getting Way Too Cozy With the National Security Agency

Newly released documents describe “contractual relationships” between the NSA and U.S. companies, as well as undercover operatives.


October 23 • 12:00 PM

The Man Who’s Quantifying New York City

Noah Davis talks to the proprietor of I Quant NY. His methodology: a little something called “addition.”


October 23 • 11:02 AM

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.


October 23 • 10:00 AM

The Psychology of Bribery and Corruption

An FBI agent offered up confidential information about a political operative’s enemy in exchange for cash—and they both got caught. What were they thinking?


October 23 • 8:00 AM

Ebola News Gives Me a Guilty Thrill. Am I Crazy?

What it means to feel a little excited about the prospect of a horrific event.


October 23 • 7:04 AM

Why Don’t Men Read Romance Novels?

A lot of men just don’t read fiction, and if they do, structural misogyny drives them away from the genre.


October 23 • 6:00 AM

Why Do Americans Pray?

It depends on how you ask.


October 23 • 4:00 AM

Musicians Are Better Multitaskers

New research from Canada finds trained musicians more efficiently switch from one mental task to another.


October 22 • 4:00 PM

The Last Thing the Women’s Movement Needs Is a Heroic Male Takeover

Is the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign helping feminism?


October 22 • 2:00 PM

Turning Public Education Into Private Profits

Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four non-profit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.


October 22 • 12:00 PM

Will the End of a Tax Loophole Kill Off Irish Business and Force Google and Apple to Pay Up?

U.S. technology giants have constructed international offices in Dublin in order to take advantage of favorable tax policies that are now changing. But Ireland might have enough other draws to keep them there even when costs climb.


October 22 • 10:00 AM

Veterans in the Ivory Tower

Why there aren’t enough veterans at America’s top schools—and what some people are trying to do to change that.


October 22 • 8:00 AM

Our Language Prejudices Don’t Make No Sense

We should embrace the fact that there’s no single recipe for English. Making fun of people for replacing “ask” with “aks,” or for frequently using double negatives just makes you look like the unsophisticated one.


October 22 • 7:04 AM

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.


October 22 • 6:00 AM

How We Form Our Routines

Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee or a glass of warm milk before bed, we all have our habitual processions. The way they become engrained, though, varies from person to person.


October 22 • 4:00 AM

For Preschoolers, Spite and Smarts Go Together

New research from Germany finds greater cognitive skills are associated with more spiteful behavior in children.


October 21 • 4:00 PM

Why the Number of Reported Sexual Offenses Is Skyrocketing at Occidental College

When you make it easier to report assault, people will come forward.


October 21 • 2:00 PM

Private Donors Are Supplying Spy Gear to Cops Across the Country Without Any Oversight

There’s little public scrutiny when private donors pay to give police controversial technology and weapons. Sometimes, companies are donors to the same foundations that purchase their products for police.


October 21 • 12:00 PM

How Clever Do You Think Your Dog Is?

Maybe as smart as a four-year-old child?


October 21 • 10:00 AM

Converting the Climate Change Non-Believers

When hard science isn’t enough, what can be done?



Follow us


Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.