Should I really despise Coca-Cola?

I don't know why, but every time I type the name Dasani, it makes me laugh
Click to follow
The Independent Online

You would have to have a heart of stone not to laugh at the latest and surely final blow to the heart of Dasani, the Coca-Cola company's branded water. The launch was very swiftly followed by the revelation that the source of this marvellous stuff was tap water in Sidcup, Kent, bottled and flogged at a mark-up of several thousand per cent.

You would have to have a heart of stone not to laugh at the latest and surely final blow to the heart of Dasani, the Coca-Cola company's branded water. The launch was very swiftly followed by the revelation that the source of this marvellous stuff was tap water in Sidcup, Kent, bottled and flogged at a mark-up of several thousand per cent.

In vain the Coca-Cola people explained that, for that massive mark-up, the punter was not only getting Sidcup water in a New Age blue bottle with a mystic guru sort of name, but Sidcup water which had gone through the process, hitherto unknown to physical science, of ionized inverted oxygenoxydent reversion bombardment, or something. Having failed to persuade people that this was a natural product, straight from the alpine mountains and rippling rills of Sidcup, the PR boys had, you could see, decided to go for a different strategy, the science-fiction one beloved of shampoo manufacturers: this water, we were now being told, has been cooked up in the Batcave.

Alas, it all went terribly wrong, with the subsequent revelation that some bottles of Dasani - I don't know why, but every time I type the name of the product, it makes me laugh - have been found to contain illegal levels of something called bromate. It's poisonous! It comes from Sidcup! Kids run from it! Do your best with that one, marketing boys.

Actually, I think it all went wrong with the revelation that it was the product of the Coca-Cola company. I have to say, at first sight I had no feeling for or against it. When the story of what it constituted broke, however, I instantly thought "Well, that'll be rubbish then."

What inspired the thought was not the detail that it was not much more than water from Sidcup - nothing wrong with that - but the fact that it was, carefully disguised, marketed by Coca-Cola. Aesthetically and culturally, I automatically despise Coca-Cola, just as I automatically despise McDonald's; I was probably one of very few white English people who, when they heard of Muslim backed alternatives to the horrible brown fizzy drink called things like "Mecca Cola", went to Brick Lane to buy some. My own fault: it turned out to be as nasty as the real thing.

If there's one thing, surely, that we all agree on, it's that we loathe and despise multi-national companies. Any news story about one of these giant companies getting into trouble has the effect of sending a little shock of amused pleasure up our spines. Another small pleasure came yesterday with the news that Microsoft has been convicted by the EU of illegally abusing its near-monopoly. It must now offer its Windows operating system without its digital Media Player to PC manufacturers, and pay a fine of around €500m.

I enjoyed reading this, and admit to a feeling of schadenfreude on hearing that any such enormous corporation has suffered a really humiliating set-back. I don't think that's at all unusual. But is it entirely rational? Microsoft has, without a doubt, used its market dominance to crush rivals and to promote itself further. But, actually, one of the main reasons that computer systems have penetrated society to an extent nobody could have dreamt of 20 years ago, and done so with incredible speed, might be the simplicity which results from the dominance of a juggernaut like Microsoft.

Of course, if Microsoft had exploited its dominance to keep prices artificially elevated, that would be a serious problem. But I don't think anyone is actually arguing that. It is easier to agree with the commentator who said that the EU's order constitutes "a corporate welfare programme for market losers". Real competition, in this area, might well form a barrier to the dissemination of computers throughout world society.

You can say whatever you like in favour of Microsoft; you can point out, too, that Bill Gates is a model of enlightened capitalism, and his welfare programmes and help for Aids foundations in Africa are doing a great deal to help in difficult situations. All the same, many people will smile at the discomfiture of a major multi-national. Deep down, we hate them.

The Coca-Cola company's misfortunes in Sidcup are harder to defend, but all the same, is it not unfortunate that a major company, contributing in a substantial way to the local economy by establishing a plant, should be endangered not just by their own folly in failing to check legal bromate levels but by the gleeful ridicule of people like me who despise their products? After all, I don't suppose anyone else had thought of selling water from the region; and selling an image like this is not so very different from the rest of the industry which, let's face it, does not exclusively sell water freshly melted from Antarctic glaciers.

No doubt about it, multi-nationals do have too much power. It is not inconceivable that, over the next few decades, a new sort of armed conflict may emerge: say, one involving an immensely rich multi-national oil company that sees its interests threatened by a maverick African state, and decides to hire security forces which build up to the point of being a proper army. We dislike them for bad reasons as well as good, however; and before we laugh too heartily when they come a cropper, perhaps we ought to think that the scale of investment is not the same as exploitation, and that virtues may flow even from an organisation of a gigantic size.

Comments