polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

Coca-Cola in Africa

by Natalia Echeverri

Source: Natalia Echeverri

While driving through Kenya's vibrant landscapes this winter, I was fascinated by the unexpected colors in the towns and villages along the way. No matter how remote or small, these "Main Street" buildings almost glowed along the dusty roadside. It was incongruous that these structures — some made of sun-dried mud, others cobbled together from metal sheets — had the shine of a fresh coat of paint.

After some time, one realizes that these colors aren't the spontaneous work of artisan-shopkeepers. Rather, color follows brand — and the freshness is simply the result of a pervasive and effective advertising strategy. Companies use the buildings and shacks that sell their wares as ready-made billboards.

Bright colors, text and logos are readily identifiable and cover every wall. Bright green is usually an MPesa/Safaricom shop (a mobile phone/banking enterprise). Dark green is the local cement distributor. Yellow may be a bar selling Tusker beer. And nearly everything that is red is for Coca-Cola.

Source: Clean Water for All

Coca-Cola's strategy in Kenya (and Africa in general) is contextually effective. It works in developing economies and uses lessons learned in Latin America. Distribution is centered on independently owned shops in cities, villages and remote locations. The soda is most often consumed in the store, so the glass bottle can be returned. The dominantly painted storefront appeals to this on-the-go reality.

Source: Natalia Echeverri

But Coca-Cola's strategy goes deeper than the coat of red and white paint. The corporation is responsible for sales infrastructure, supplying signs, ice boxes, refrigerators (if electricity is available) and bottle openers. It encourages owners to pair the beverage with local snacks to create "combo meals." It helps — usually just a man with a push-cart — make their routes more efficient. It teaches business skills and promotes entrepreneurship.

As part of its corporate responsibility goals, Coca-Cola has taken on other community projects. It has built clean drinking wells and toilets in some informal settlements. It also sponsors athletes and sporting events and funds scholarships and medical research.

Source: Natalia Echeverri

Coca-Cola is big in Africa. It is the largest private-sector employer on the continent and plans to spend $12 billion in the next decade. The company knows that Africa's middle class will increase substantially in the next decade, and that soda consumption will growth with it. The focus will likely shift from strengthening economic and mercantile potential to simple market dominance. In this light, the infrastructure that Coca-Cola is building is one of brand-addiction.

Source: Natalia Echeverri

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