Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Coca-Cola, product placement and The Road

For those unfamiliar with The Road, at one point the man and the boy find a can of Coke and the man gives it to his son to drink as the boy has never tasted soft drink in his life.

The following was posted as a comment earlier this afternoon in response to my film review of the film adaptation. In it I said

I saw this film with a friend who hadn't read the book and there was eye-rolling at the scene with the can of coke. It came off as terrible product placement in the film, unfortunately. I explained that in the book, that can of coke tells the reader several things: that this boy was born post-apocalypse and how long approximately it has been since the world fell apart. Because you're told this explicitly by Mortensen's narration at the beginning of the film, the scene is redundant and unfortunately comes off looking like advertising.

I asked the writer if I could repost his comment here and he agreed. From Solidarity Community News Melbourne, here's Ben's thoughts on the scene with the can of Coke:

I think it's useful to consider the ideological world-view of the film in trying to assess the use of Coca-Cola. In the book it may indeed serve the narrative by providing information about the birth of the kid and the recentness of the apocalypse, but - try as I might - I just can't see how this information couldn't have been conveyed in other ways. As you've pointed out Rhiannon, in the film it was already apparent from other narrative clues - not just the voice over but also in the flashback scenes with Charlize Theron. So narratively the Coca-Cola scene was redundant. What else was it about then?

Both McCormack and Mortensen claim the iconic status of the Coke can and its ability to signify something specifically American (consumerism? World-capitalist dominance? The singular, superficial language of brand identity?) were integral to their attachment to this narrative device in the book and film.

Mortensen said "we were approaching the day we were going to shoot that scene, which I was looking forward to, and they said, 'we're not going to be able to use Coke. We’ll have to use...Brand X soda or something.' I said that's not the same thing. Coke is so iconic around the world. It's a symbol, of America, of a certain way of life."

Meanwhile, McCarthy's take is: "Well, it just struck me. It's the iconic American product. The one thing that everybody knows about America, the one thing above cowboys and Indians, above everything else that you can think of, is Coca-Cola. You can't go to a village of 18 people in the remotest part of Africa that they don't know about Coca-Cola."

In the end, according to the article at the first link above, it was Mortensen lobbying a Coca-Cola executive about what a wonderful branding opportunity the film represented that resulted in the can of Coke actually being included in the film. Initially - so the story goes - Coca-Cola had been reluctant to allow the use of their product because it was going to be an R-rated film. (A curious story, as ratings are made upon censors viewing the final theatrical cut, not during the development and production phases, though in fairness ratings can usually be accurately guessed ahead of time given a story’s content).

Mortensen claims he told the executive "you’re going to get for free something that potentially is as good as having an ad in the Super Bowl". Considering how much the scene resembled a Super Bowl ad, it's quite plausible that there is more to the story which Mortensen has neglected to mention on the publicity circuit; that the scene was subsequently developed to satisfy the commercial interests of Coca-Cola more than to satisfy the narrative requirements of the film.

Regardless, I think that McCarthy and Mortensen are kind of tools if they really thought the Coca-Cola motif was *so* integral to the story because of its iconic connection to the American Capitalist Way of Life. It's kind of obvious given that we're looking at a post-apocalyptic scenario that this phase of history has ended - why do we need cheap, shallow reminders of its worst aspects to drive home the blatantly obvious? It's hard not to read their enthusiasm for the 'iconic' Coke can in fiction as implicit enthusiasm for Coca-Cola's global market and cultural dominance in reality.

Personally I am ethically, politically and spiritually opposed to the system in which brands, marketing and monopoly capitalism dominate lives and human cultures. I think the prioritisation of the Coke can could only have come from people who are more comfortable with this.

As I write this, I feel the film's ideology is becoming clearer to me. It essentially presents an argument for private property and the sanctity of the consuming, Christian, heterosexual, nuclear family-unit. Despite having really quite enjoyed the film at the time, I'm now not quite as enthused by it after all.

For those of you that have read the book or seen the film adaptation, what is your opinion? Was the can of Coke a theatrical device or evidence of our love of branding and consumerism? Was there any difference in the way the scene was presented in the book compared to the film?


  1. I havent read this book or watched the movie, I was drawn here by coca-cola fuelled lust. I love coca cola, seriously, its my one vice. This seems like a very interesting book though, I love books set in post-apocolyptic societies, so i'm going to look up The Road, thanks Rhiannon :-)

  2. I haven't seen the movie yet but I never paid much attention to the use of coke in the book. I think that's mainly because I'm in a daze when I read--things tend to slip by.

    I will probably check back here after I've seen the movie. I'm really intrigued about the scene now.

  3. I loved the scene in the book, but it sounds like it wasn't very well done in the movie. I want to see this soon, so I will let you know!

  4. I wouldn't quite say it was publicly motivated. The coke can represents a sense of very small hope for the boy. Being small and never having seen a canned beverage being intrigued by it was very natural to him. The writer blames the brand as an iconic item that links to America. Even Coca-cola (the company itself) and several other people seem to think similarly. Which to me seems depicted of common sense. The very fact that this point came up enraged me. Although I now positively know most peoples' views on any bloody thing are the same and will be the same in a country made of fools.

  5. I saw the film last night after reading the book a few months ago. The book was incredible and left me in tears and with a sense of bereavement so I was quite nervous to see the film - a part of me desperately wanted the film to be as good as the book and part of me knew it wouldn't be. It's quite well made, but doesn't even touch on the inner pain of the love between a father and a son.

    However, the Coca-Cola scene almost made me walk out. Anyone who thinks this film wasn't shot for maximum commercial advantage for Coke needs to have their head looked at. It even looks like a coke advert - it's shot with long lenses so the background is soft and out of focus and the kid even says 'it's good, try it'.

    Hillcoat has missed McCarthy's intentions by a mile with this scene, and thus brings the rest of the movie into doubt.

    Reluctantly I have to say this film is largely icing, with very little cake.

  6. I haven't seen the movie yet but I never paid much attention to the use of coke in the book. I think that's mainly because I'm in a daze when I read--things tend to slip by.

  7. This scene left me bawling. My friend couldn't see why I was crying, he commented, "It's only a Coke." That's the reason I think it had to be Coke. For better or worse, Coke is something we all know and take for granted. Just something simple that IS pretty good. "It's good. Taste it." I can't put it into words without sounding corny, but the scene made me sad in the same way I felt sad when I saw John Coffey enjoying a movie in The Green Mile.

  8. When I was a child, there was a can of coca cola someone had left at the center of the kitchen table. "Whose is that?" "I don't know." So, it sat there long enough for it to become a fixture. For about a year, it sat there, without ever being moved.

    One day, I actually bothered to notice it, hanging between two napkin holders. It had become swelled, and the top was distended. I told my mother I was going to open it, and she told me to do so over the sink, believing it would spray all over the kitchen.

    However, once it was opened, we discovered it had become solid. It was nothing more than a gel-like mix of syrup and sugars. In no way was it quaffable, and neither was it edible.

    Reading the original scene simply left me confused as to how a can of coke had stayed fresh, for so long. Maybe given the relatively cold environment it had kept a little better, but I always sincerely doubted that they would have enjoyed that can of coke, either way.

    As for the film, it often tries too hard to reference the book when it's apparent that the screenplay writer did not understand the book's methods. The completely unemotional prose does not translate well to film, especially when the writer, director and producer seem so intent on trying to force emotional reactions.

  9. dear all check this video from youtube:

  10. i have been watching the movie and was horrified by what seemed to me to be blatant product placement. i don't know the book, but i doubt that my reaction would have been any different if i did. it has pretty much ruined the movie for me. i can't really take it seriously now

  11. Product placement? Its not about that. The can of coke is symbolic of the old world. A glimpse of the old world, An old world icon. Gone and never to be seen again, and gone with it everything that used to be. The boy knows this when he asks his father why he let him drink the cola all by himself.

  12. i forget how it was in the movie but it really made an impact on me in the book.

  13. As someone who hadn't read the book beforehand, this scene was almost beyond belief in its blatant promotion of Coke. From that point on, the whole film just seemed cheapened and lacking in any authority whatsoever.
    Obviously, the brand is ubiquitous, and a Coke machine is evident in almost every film of recent times into which one can be squeezed. But usually the appearance is brief; this just seemed to go on and on, and I remember turning to the person I was watching the film with in disbelief.

    Anyway, great to know that even post-apocalypse Coke is still fresh and fizzy and tasty and unites the generations in moments of shared joy (he said with heavy irony).

  14. To say that the inclusion of the Coke scene cheapens the film and makes Mortensen and McCarthy "tools" is ludicrous. It's painfully obvious that he did not write Coke in his novel for big business, and if he feels it's an integral scene, I believe him. I found it incredibly touching, just from the father/son stand point,not to mention what the Coke represents. If your beef is with the conservative message that some see in the book/film, then say that. Don't bash the Coke scene as product placement.

  15. have you ever noticed the sound came out from the can, when the boy leaves it on the ground and kicks it? Famous cocacola jingle? All those can voices? it's a Subliminal advert... Simply.

  16. I watched the movie and just in the cocacola scene I dislike it, then i wondered if more people noticed too and i googled for it and found this. it is obvious how they try to sell the product. No more to discuss, right? Obvious.

  17. I thought it was an obvious and very clumsy example of product placement. It cheapened the movie.