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Cola Wars: 2000

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Coke label Coca Cola label  Diet Coke labels  Diet Coke label  Diet Coke label

Pepsi can  Pepsi can  Pepsi Max label  Pepsi Max label  Dr. Pepper label  Dr Pepper label

Fanta Orange label  Fanta Orange label  Fanta Lemon Label  Fanta Lemon Label

Lilt Cherry Coke


It's the real thing

Coca Cola labelThis label was the subject of a brief discussion on the Ads of the Month page (August, 2000). Superficially the labels appear pretty innocuous. However, the 'spray' emerging Excerpt from Coca Cola label showing 'gremlin' type face.from the bottle appears to contain a very thirsty 'face' rather reminscent of the Gremlins from the movie of the same name.

If one were to consider this label on its own it could simply be an aberation or the idiosyncratic work of the team who produced the label. But below you will find another label and a curious element from a special classic 'remembrance' bottle that features on many other Coke cans and bottles.

This second label would seem to indicate that the Gremlin 'face' is not an aberation. And, of course, Coca Cola market Sprite, whose continental European promotions are noted on the Viva Espana page. The second label seemingly tells a 'story' about how sexy Coke drinkers could be if they drink Coke - or how they have 'balls'.

Is it perhaps the case that Coca-Cola are getting worried about other brands taking a slice of their market share and they have decided to do everything they can, including the use of 'subliminal' techniques, to get Coke drinkers to associate Coca-Cola with basic motivational notions? Perhaps also it is a 'homecoming' for Coke as Coca Cola was one of the first products mentioned in the early literature on subliminal advertising. James Vicary claimed to have used subliminal messages to increase the sale of peanuts and Coca Cola in a movie theater in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Vicary's study seems to have been a scam but his claims may have impressed itself on the collective memory of the Coca Cola company.

Diet Coke labelLook first at the sketch of the dancing couple on this label. At first glance it would seem to be incomplete i.e. there are gaps in the outline, most notably around the bottom edge of the man's jacket. This in fact turns upwards and could be perceived as a representation of an erection.

Extract from Diet Coke label with dancing couple.Coca-Cola are not going to be caught out by making this too obvious, hence the incomplete sketched figures. Nevertheless this is what this aspect of the sketch is seemingly intended to be. Other aspects of the label make this interpretation quite justified and the argument is completed by the label on the 2lr Coke bottle.

If you look at the young man's left hand you will see it is placed under the dot of Diet. And there are two of these dots on the label.

As Shakespeare might have said: 'Dots or balls? That is the question.'

Coca Cola might not have the balls to admit their attempt to manipulate the thoughts of some consumers. But the 'balls' on the label clearly go someway towards complementing the 'erection' aspect of the label. But 'balls' and an incomplete 'erection' might not be quite enough to ensure the reception of Coke as a 'sexy' drink or to enhance the self perceptions of their customers as sexy consumers. More cues are needed.

Look further to the left of the label. There you will see a faint, but nonetheless clear, letter S, or at least the top of the letter. On the original label it is also relatively easy to perceive the letter E. And, in a different colour, very faintly embedded below these 'letters' there are a couple of X's. You will need to have the light shining on the label at an appropriate angle for these variations to 'stand out'.

Put the letters of sex, a (couple of) ball(s) and an apparent 'erection' together into one mental package and you have one very sexy label.

If you don't believe that Coca Cola wish to have drinkers associate sex with their product then ask yourself why they needed to bring sexy games into their labelling, as in the label on the left. The banner on this label emphasising sex is enlarged in the image on the right. Given the prominence of the banner and the Diet Coke logo it is reasonable to assume one impression created by the configuration of this ad would be to make Diet Coke the subject of the question. Mentally, the question now becomes 'How Sexy is Diet Coke?" and Coke is certainly 'Hot Stuff' 'Wow!'

Could the three elements in the first label have arisen by chance? I doubt it. There are not enough Gremlins around to screw up professional artwork that easily.

If the designers of these labels also had a say in the design of the special issue of the classic Section of Diet Coke bottle.Coke bottle and standard cans then one is left in little doubt as to the meaning that some consumers are expected to 'extract' from the figure '6' and the other major visual element that appears, for no apparent reason, on the glass illustrated alongside Diet and above the C of Coke.

Use your imagination and six could presumably be 'read' as sex. But why should such an apparently unreasonable interpretation seem justifiable to the author?

Note that the shape of the figure 6 is not similar to any of the letters of Coca-Cola, except possibly the lower part of the letter C. If it is intended to be the initial C in the brand name it is disproportionately large - and where are the other letters of the brand name? Only one other possible letter is visible, the figure to the upper left of the glass. And this is also rather odd. It again bears little resemblance to any of the letters of the brand name, except possibly the e in Coke or the a in Cola. If this figure is perceived as a letter with a 'flourish' underneath then it is seemingly intended to be perceived as the a and the end of the sweeping line underneath the classic brand name. For this to be possible the brand name would have had to be inscribed around the neck of the glass yet it would seemingly not fit around the glass. One needs also to ask why only the lower portion of the brand name is represented. And, the 'lettering' is extremely 'fuzzy', despite other aspects of the image being presented clearly.

One would seemingly have to bear in mind that ambiguous imagery with multiple interpretations, such as the Coke glass, can be intentional, leaving the final perception open and subject to individualistic interpretations in susceptible viewers. Note, for example, that the 'letter' can also be perceived as a 'smiling face'.

In 2002, Coca-Cola Co produced a poster/ad campaign using only parts of the classic brand name. Such a campaign was clearly functional, as the colouring and shape of the classic logo is extremely well known, but would the company actually produce souvenir/marketing devices with only part of the brand name showing? I doubt it.

With regard to the illustration on cans of Diet Coke, and in line with the view that any ambiguous visual elements can be interpreted in a variety of ways (see the Psychology pages), a certain Dr. Lechnar has apparently managed to convince his/her friends and Link to Fravia Reverse Engineering Siteothers that the elements on the glass are representations of female breasts. Click here for Doc. Lechnar's views before reading on. The page can be found by using the search engine on the Fravia site should the specific page link not function.

If one takes into account that the shape of the glass is somewhat similar to a female torso the sketched elements can be perceived as breasts if the can is held at arms length. AND, going beyond Dr. Lechnar's interpretation, as if to trigger such a 'sexy' interpretation 'sexy' letters can also be found in this portion of the illustration (at least on cans). Look closely at the 'bubbles' alongside the middle of the glass. It is possible to perceive an x and an S, in that order and with relative sizes in proportion to the print size in this sentence. Below the S is a bubble with a smudged X in the centre.

One should note that one can only claim that this is an approximate representation of a woman's torso including breasts. Neither of the two elements really is breast shaped although there are elements suggesting that one should 'think' of breasts. Recognition of the 'breasts' requires overlooking the fact that the sketched lines include features that would not exist in reality e.g. the inwards curve of the '6' on the right hand 'breast'. Another way to indicate that this is not a good representation is to note that light and shade are not represented appropriately. However, note also that the left hand shape can be perceived as a 'mouth' attempting to suck the 'breast' on the right. This is especially apparent on 2 litre bottles where the 'breast' and 'mouth' are more evident and the 'breast' possesses a 'nipple'.

Such ambiguous representations can be taken in another direction - and possibly capture the preconscious attention of another group of Coke drinkers. The curled shape contains a pretty obvious phallic shape if one focuses attention on the central aspects of this figure rather than the overall image.

This glass thus contains a pretty ambiguous set of elements that can be interpreted a number of different ways dependent upon ones preferences or predispositions.

Bear in mind when considering the interpretations of the glass and its letter-like/breast- like features, that smaller letters are clearly presented on the bottle e.g. the details of the contents. These additional visual elements on the can indicate there is no technical impediment to a clear representation of the brand name or any other feature. It therefore seems unlikely that the ambiguity in the artwork meant that the artists responsible for this ad were so incompetent they could not produce accurate representations of (die)t and C(oke) - or breasts - if they had wished to do so.

The other possibility is that the Coca Cola company have developed and implemented a strategy to manipulate the thoughts of some of their customers by producing labels containing ambiguous figures. As pointed out elsewhere, on the Psychology page, with ambiguity there exist a number of possible interpretations. Meaning for the ambiguous figure is 'supplied' by the viewer in line with their primary interests. And, given the age group of the primary cohort of consumers of Coca Cola, their prime interest is often members of the opposite sex. So, is this The Real Thing? Or what?

Pepsi cans with 'lettering'.Another site that indicates that Coke's main competitor might have a fairly long history of attempting to use 'subliminal' type messages to influence consumers is on Dr Rajiv Vaidyanathan's Subliminal Site Follow through the visual messages/visual embed link at the foot of the Index page to find a brief discussion of Pepsi cans whose design features can be aligned to produce the word S E X. Is this chance? Could be. But you be the judge. Check out the rollover if you cannot work out the lettering. Note the E isnot quite complete. Note also the after SEX you get the si of Pepsi. Now doesn't that make a SEXsi combination of letters?

If you are still in doubt about Coca Cola's attempts to manipulate the thirst of drinkers by means other than standard marketing activities - and including a diuretic in their drink - view the following label. The notable feature of this add is the direction of gaze of the young woman. She seems to have found the sexy connotations of Diet Coke label with dancing couple.the previous label irresistable and is focussing on the genital region of her partner.

Again you might think this is coincidence, as dancers do not always look directly at their partners. And it might be - if it were not for the fact that on the left of the label (alongside the Coke glass) can be found a smattering of shapes reminscent of three letters that are very familiar to viewers of this site. As with the label noted above, light has to be shining on the label at specific angles for the 'lettering' to stand out. And you also need to be looking carefully at this specific area of the label, not the label as a whole.

You will also find many of these 'letters' around - or rather among - the bubbles surrounding the background to the Diet Coke Logo on cans and labels. The larger the label e.g. 2 litre bottle are best, the easier these are to see. These 'letters' are part of the background i.e. the grey/silver area, rather than the white that is used to produce the bubbles. Look carefully and you will see rather a lot of the letters S e and x, in various sizes, embedded in this area of the label.

Section of Diet Coke labelIf you wish to start on a symbolic interpretation of the imagery on this label, how about starting with the 'snake like' figure above the young man's shoulder. The connotations are seemingly obvious.

Despite the set of labels analysed above, until recently the author has not personally noted many anomalous labels for either Coke or Pepsi. One Pepsi package was brought to his attention by a viewer but this may be the cans illustrated above. However, something seems to be brewing in the Coke Wars. Pepsi recently produced a curious label for Pepsi Max (see below). Other Pepsi images derived from photographs of billboard posters can be viewed on the page devoted to some ads from Mexico.

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Cherry Pickin'

As indicated above there are other Coca Cola labels that deserve closer scrutiny. Cherry Coke labels also indicate that the company is pursuing an unethical packaging and promotional campaign. Whilst TV commercials emphasise sex and eroticism overtly e.g. those frame breaking commercials in which a hunky male took of his shirt to the delight of a group of female officed workers, the labels make their claims on your mind in a covert manner. If they influence you then you have no defence against the ideas they are promoting - and this is a very manipulative and sexy label.

rollover image showing 'face'Look first at the label as a whole. On the left there is a 'face' looking towards the brand name. One could also easily image that to the left of the 'face' there is a collage of 'letters'. Associated with the brand name to the right of the label there are again a set of 'letters'. No, not s e x, just s i x but in reverse order. The i would tend to be overlooked. Furthermore there is a phallic shape to left of the brand name. More interestingly, if one looks at the label when one isrollover to inidicate s x and phallic shape drinking from the bottle, the label is upside down as in the illustration on the right.

When the Cherry Coke drinker raises the bottle towards their mouth the SX and the phallic shape move towards the mouth of the drinker. Is this oral sex in a Cherry Coke bottle? Was this intended, or was it not? Take into account all of the Coca Cola labels on this page and you will not be left in much doubt.

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Maximum Effort

Apparently in an attempt not to be outdone by Coca Cola, Pepsi has also entered the semi-subliminal stakes. This would not be the first time that competing brands make use of the same techniques. See for example the Marlboro and Camel ads or the various soap powder packages on the Squeaky Clean page.

The Pepsi Max label does not attempt, at least not quite as overtly as the special Coca Cola label, to associate itself with sex. Nevertheless, there is an embedded element related both to sex and to 'mothering' in the artwork on the Pepsi Max label. But we'll leave that until last.

Just as in the Bud Ice label discussed on the Bud page, the Pepsi Max incorporates a number of faces. Each of these is 'looking' towards the Pepsi brand name, with one exception. You can find these noted on the rollover image and view larger examples of each 'face' at the end of the section.

Pepsi Max label

There is a large, somewhat immature, face with 'sad eyes' underneath the A of the cental MAX. Thee is a second face, 'puckering up and blowing a kiss' in the direction of Pepsi Max as the text runs vertically up the label to the right of centre. And there is a third, sexy/mothering, element to be found underneath the M of the lefthand Max. This again is a 'face'. But the mouth of this 'face' is aligned with what could be perceived as a breast, complete with nipple. Is this image intended to indicate that Pepsi drinkers are not yet weaned? Or is it intended primarily to be 'identified' as a representation of sexual foreplay? Your call.

A possible fourth, 'ghostbuster' type, face' can be discerned facing towards the viewer just to the right of the 500 mle tab to the right of the label. On 2 litre bottles one can also perceive a 'couple' about to kiss underneath and to the left of the Pepsi Max logo on the left.

For additional commentary on Pepsi ads and other promotional material see the pages devoted to Mexican ads.

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Totally Tropical Sex

The Coca Cola company labels so far noted have all made use of a number of secondary images, 'faces', 'cartoon figures' and 'phallic shapes' as well as 'lettering' to convey their covert message that Coke brands are sexy. Lilt, however, presents its message in what might be considered the traditional manner. It simply incorporates the letters of the word sex into the label.

To find this, first look between the Pineapple and Grapefruit aspect of the logo. rollover to illustrate s e x.The e of sex is easy to find, it is simply an ebellishment of the ampersand sign between Pineapple and Grapefruit. Above the ampersand you will find a number of shapes easily discernible as S's and X's.

And, for good measure, just in case you did not notice (as I didn't when I first looked), much of the pattern of the Pineapple is composed of S's e's and x's. The 'letters' can be perceived when one notes the differences in coloring, certain curved lines and the lack of regularity to the segments of the pineapple. The most obvious S is marked on the rollover on the right. The X's are easy to find and you will also be able to perceive a few, less obvious e's. This level of embedding imagery makes this label almost as sexy as the Cherry Coke label commented on above.

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Fanta-stic Faces

The Coca Cola company produce quite a wide range of soft drinks, including Dr. Pepper, Fanta and others. Above, it was noted that Dr. Pepper, Regular Coke and Diet Coke had been doctored either with faces or with a smattering of sex. Fanta would seem

Fanta Orange label    Fanta Ice Lemon label.

to be a drink for younger viewers, or at least for those individuals willing to respond to an open wide mouth by purchasing and consuming Fanta.

Look at the labels on the recent Fanta bottles, two of which are illustrated above. There you will find profiled faces with wide open mouths. Look under the Orange banner on the label on the left and above Ice Lemon on the label on the right. Each has a 'face' 'Face' from Fanta Orangewith a gaping mouth and a 'spinal cord' of a 'body'. Here we have just the sort of face that has been noted on a number'Face' from Fanta Lemon of Pepsi ads and other promotional vehicles.

Check out the rollover images alongside if you are not certain of what you should be looking at. The top/back of the head on the Orange extract is obscured by the banner for Orange (in green and white). The head on the Lemon label is somewhat more obvious because the background is similar all around the figure.

If you look a little more carefully at the Fanta Ice Lemon label, just underneath and to Embedded 'face' in Fanta Lemon label.the right you will also see another 'face'. This time it is of an elderly, bearded, gentleman looking up towards the Ice Lemon label. This is much more subtle than most illusions and ambiguous figures and only the upper portion of his head is visible. It may take you some time to focus upon it as it would appear that this face bears some similarity to what would be perceived if a person was lying on their back and floating in water.

The artwork on both of these labels seems calculated to produce lots of 'faces', the Icy Lemon label in particular. Look, for example at the strip of white above the face outlined in the rollover. It can be perceived as the profile of an 'individual' wearing a mask. Around the white band on the Fanta Orange there are also a number of 'faces'. Incidentally, many 'faces' are still evident when the label (can) is turned upside down. The 'faces' with the open mouths on the extracts up above become rather self satisfied 'faces' with a rather 'squared off chin' when they are turned upside down. Note the small, seemingly insignificant - and seemingly out of place - dot on the 'neck' of the image becomes the eye of the inverted 'face.

Why faces with open mouths? Well, just think of what any parent does when they want their child to open their mouth and take in some food. The parent opens their mouth wide. The child follows suit. Bingo, satisfaction all around. And this process is followed by the imagery on the labels - desire (open mouth) followed by satisfaction (closed mouth).

If this semi-subliminal strategy has been researched, then presenting this stimuli in a printed form would seem to achieve somewhat the same goal. Namely, Fanta presents open mouthed image on label. Fanta owner encouraged to drink same. If they enjoy their drink they get positive reinforcement. Bingo. A confirmed Fanta drinker, especially if they are orally inclined.

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Doctored Labels

Dr Pepper labelHere is another label that has apparently been doctored quite effectively - but very subtly. Look carefully at the top of the label on a 500 ml bottle (these are not evident on the 2 litre bottle as the texture of the imagery on the 2 litre bottle is considerably larger and the 'letters' correspondingly less distinct). The line underneath the Dr Pepper brand name helps direct attention towards the area you ought to be interested in.

The quality of the image on the site does not do justice to what you will see if you grab a bottle and examine an original label. Additionally, one should note this type of ad is rather ambiguous. It requires a degree of 'priming' before one can consciously recognise the 'letters'. The 'letters' overlap, are at different angles, are incomplete, etc. And they are not as obvious as the 'letters' on the Diet Coke labels as noted above. However, overall, the arrangement is clearly suggestive of specific letters, and not just any of the 26 letters of the alphabet. The author would therefore contend this pattern is not simply a chance occurrence nor an example of pareidolia.

As the enlarged extract shown below indicates, the shapes indicative of 'lettering' are clustered up above the r of each Dr Pepper logo. The most easy to 'recognise' are, as might be expected, are S E and, yes, X. But bear in mind that what is happening is superimposition of your expectations i.e. logical guesses, as to what is embedded in the background. There is little if any difference in the texture of the 'letters' and the rest of the darker background. With material such as this your expectations (if any) will have been primed or influenced by many other factors: the location and social situation you are in, who you are with, the magazines you have read and other experiences. Any or all of these - if they relate to sex in any way (consider, for example, the articles listed on the front covers of many magazines), - may be enough to tilt your judgement in favour of 'sexy' Dr. Pepper when you view the ambiguous texturing on the label - rather than plain Dr. Pepper.

So .....................

C'mon Dr Pepper, isn't it enough that the Coca Cola company already doctors Coke, Fanta, Sprite, Diet Coke and Lilt labels? Isn't Dr Pepper spicy enough without the extra doctoring?

Here, viewers should note that Dr. Pepper is only produced under licence in the UK but is produced by Dr. Pepper Co. in the US. As Dr. Pepper presumably supervised the design of the Dr. Pepper label, one should not necessarily expect both companies to make use of similar promotional labels. But in this respect, since the Coca Cola company is not the only soft drinks manufacturers using 'subliminal' embedded imagery, it seems reasonable to ask if Coca Cola influenced the design of Dr. Pepper labels? Or have Dr. Pepper's marketing specialists drawn the same conclusion as Pepsico and Coca Cola Company, namely that in some markets is seems to pay to embed 'subliminal' images and messages in labels.

And one final thought. One wonders what the Coca Cola company is getting up to with their other brands, most of which are on sale only in the United States. Watch this space for information about "Coke light", "Five Alive", "Fresca", "Hi-C", "Mello Yello", "Minute Maid", "Diet Sprite" and "TAB". If these, and other Coke labels, contain secondary images they'll be revealed on the Subliminal World web site in due course. If you have any of these brand labels handy give them a careful look and let me know what you find.

Section of Dr  Pepper label

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Quick Links to other sites referred to in the discussion material on this page.

Dr Rajiv Vaidyanathan's Subliminal Site

Fravia's Reverse Engineering Site






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To the best of the author's knowledge none of the illustrations, in the format used on this site, are subject to copyright. If copyright has been inadvertently breached please contact the author in order to rectify the matter. All brands and logos referred to or illustrated on this site are the property of the relevant companies and copyright holders. However, commentary and other information produced by the author can be freely copied and distributed. Similarly, illustrations of ads, so long as they are accompanied by commentary or are presented in the form of parody, can also be copied and distributed but please acknowledge as the source. Translation of tobacco company ads and relevant commentary into languages other than English will be particularly welcomed.

Last Revised: 3rd January, 2003


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