Family and Cognitive Dissonance (latter not caused by former)

My parents and youngest sister, along with her husband, made the 2ish hour drive up to Atlanta Friday so they could join the tour for a couple of days. At my mom’s suggestion, we met up at Ikea for Swedish meatballs and discounted home goods. We all enjoyed the meatballs, but only my mom partook of the homegoods. I’d never been to the Atlanta Ikea before, but as I’m sure they intend, it felt like every other Ikea I’ve ever been in. Which meant it was easy to pick up a box of cinnamon buns on the way out.

I can only imagine some manager at Ikea throwing up their hands and demanding that some employee “make it impossible for people to keep making the anatomical model flip everyone the bird”

Saturday we got up early and made our way to the World of Coca-Cola. The four block walk from my Atlanta apartment was freezing, but I think it was worth it given how interesting the experience was.

It was 18 degrees on Saturday morning

The World of Coca-Cola is a fascinating post-modern experience. It is built to look and feel like a museum: full of exhibits, historical explainers, and “educational” experiences. Like “here are a bunch of brands Coca-Cola owns” and “here’s a replica soda fountain like the one Coke was first served in” and “New Coke was this fascinating thing, the motivation of which people still argue about to this day”.

But, wait… This whole thing was built and is maintained by the Coca-Cola Company. They have all the internal documentation about New Coke. They could definitely just explain what that was all about!

Also, they sure spend a lot of time and space in exhibits talking up how big a deal Coke’s secret formula is. They really want to imply that Coke’s place in the market is significantly due to how amazingly special the Coke recipe is. No discussion of blind taste tests or anything, just a subtle suggestion that if they make this big a deal of it, it must matter.

The World of Coca-Cola uses the rhetoric of the museum in the service of a giant advertisement. One you pay to get into. Notably, there is no competitor presence. No comparisons to other beverages or brands. All Coke, all the time.

And make no mistake: while there is some vaguely educational content here, like an area focused on commercial beverage chemistry, everything on offer is intended to make you like Coca-Cola more. In fact, one of the first things you encounter is a five-ish minute video which everyone sits in a theater to watch before entering the broader space which is mostly a montage of feel-good moments that don’t involve Coke at all. A couple getting engaged on a hot air balloon, a tween boy giving a girl a heart shaped cookie and getting a kiss on the cheek, a couple being told they’re going to be grandparents, and so on. Then a bunch of people are drinking Coke. Pure image advertising.

The last part of the experience is a section with a broad selection of Coca-Cola owned beverages from around the world for you to sample. Most of these aren’t particularly interesting, but some definitely are.

The Cucumber Sprite from Romania was exactly as described: Sprite crossed with cucumber water. Turns out that this is way better than regular Sprite. Not as cloyingly sweet, and actually kind of refreshing to drink.

Most of these were actually pretty interesting. Not all good, but interesting enough that it was fun to try them. The stand out here, and of all the selections, was the Sour Plum flavor of Fanta from China. My brain had absolutely no idea how to process the flavor. It kept trying to tell me that I was drinking something salty/savory even though I definitely wasn’t. The closest flavor comparison I can make, which isn’t tremendously accurate, is BBQ potato chips. That’s what the flavor most reminded me of.

Melon Frosty from Thailand tasted pretty much like honeydew melon. Not bad at all. I think the Beverly was.mosy interesting, though, as it was basically just sweetened soda. No other flavors mixed in that I could detect. Not a flavor I’d expect to work in the States.

No real standouts here. Aquarius Libre was the one I was most curious about, but upon tasting it became clear that it’s just a Pocari Sweat competitor: kind of a less overwhelming lemon-lime Gatorade flavor without the need for neon yellow food coloring.

The Thumbs Up was the most interesting here. It is undoubtedly a cola based flavor, but tastes nothing like any cola flavored drink I’ve ever had. The extreme difference between this and Coca-Cola or Pepsi makes it really clear what cola actually tastes like because it’s the only flavor overlap.

Ultimately, the time I spent at the World of Coca-Cola was fascinating enough that I’m glad we went, but just unsettling enough in its co-opting of museum rhetoric that I don’t know if I recommend it to anyone else. A fascinating, conflicting experience. I wonder how many other companies have similar commercial-focused “museum” experiences around the world. Tell me if you know of one.






One response to “Family and Cognitive Dissonance (latter not caused by former)”

  1. Brendan Avatar

    The “box of cinnamon buns” line was very funny.
    Your balaclava looks very warm.
    I want to try Cucumber sprite; I found it on ebay ( but shipping is $25

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