Nazis and the Coke Machine


Coke boasts its sales in over 200 countries. It claims that it is the first cola drink (carbonated drink flavored with extract from ‘Kola’ nuts). It outsells most of its competitors. It has witnessed a great number of rises and fall of presidential regimes and it has also witnessed a World War. The company has faced numerous amounts of attacks. Apart from poor labor standards, water pollution and spreading of diseases, Coke’s image of American patriotic drink during World War II is often ridiculed. It is referred that Coca-Cola is inherent to American-war effort. There are even rumors that the US Army took 3 bottling plants with them to North Africa. Another, often referenced theory is that “Fanta” – sugar-based drink owned by Coca-Cola – was put forward by Nazi war machine, to counter to American popular consumer culture. How much of these claim are validated?

Max Keith, the charge of Coca-Cola in Germany yearned to spread the beverage without regard to race or ideology or country. He was promoted after the death of Ray Powers (who died in an automobile accident). In 1939, he set up 43 bottling plants (not the Nazis) and had more than 600 local distributors. In the same year, Britain and France declared war on Germany due to Hitler’s continuing hostilities toward Poland. When America jumped in support of Allies, the secret ingredients of Coca-Cola were stopped, due to the imposed embargo. Coca-Cola has already stormed its way to American and European GI’s saying that they were fully in support of their side. But, when German operations of Coke stopped working, Keith, of course, wanted to collaborate with the Nazi Germans.

Like in America, they invented a new drink for newly built Nazi war machine. Keith’s strategy was to market to this newly discovered drink as German: “Mach doch mal Pause” (“Come on, take a break”) claimed the drink to make it appeal to industrial workers and soldiers. The name for the new drink was picked up by a German Coke salesman, Joe Knipp. He came up with the German word for “imagination” –called ‘fantasie.’ That word was made into ‘Fanta’ – the company’s first non-coke brand. It was alleged that Keith and his employers variety of refugees from the war to provide slave labor. There is no evidence to this claim, although it was confirmed that they gave a fund to work for the Nazis.

 "One People, One Nation, One Drink" says Coke's Olympic Game ads,  in Berlin 1936

“One People, One Nation, One Drink” says Coke’s Olympic Game ads, in Berlin 1936

When Hitler came to know about ‘Fanta’ he became so jubilant that their country has its own bottling product like that of European and American soldiers. Many allude that Hitler came up with the idea of ‘Fanta’, but no he was not involved, although Coca-Cola had a strong relationship with Hitler and his puppets. Hitler used 1938 Olympics to promote then ‘New Nazi Germany.’ Coca-Cola was the main sponsor of these games. During World War II, it placed ads in Nazi magazines, newspapers and in Nazi radio broadcasts. Fanta was introduced in Europe and US, only after the end of World War II. In 1955, Orange Fanta debuted in Europe, later in US, in the 60’s. Fanta had relatively poor sales until the mid 1980’s. The 1990’s strong marketing campaign by Coca-Cola in countries like India, China, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico and Turkey sky-rocketed its sales. In Africa (in the 2000’s), ‘Fanta’ was the highest selling soft drink.

Fanta ads with words 'effervescent lemonade fruit flavor.'

Fanta German ads (during World War II) with words ‘effervescent lemonade fruit flavor.’

Coke’s war-time conduct won’t be highly questionable, if not for the fact that its commercial success is mainly tied to the public image created through advertising. The company wanted to show themselves as a booster for American war-effort (the slogan was: “Universal Symbol of the American way of Life”). But, ‘patriotism’ was just another secret ingredient to this beverage company. Coke’s position, at the start of World War II was so secure that they could easily associate themselves with ‘patriotism.’ However, the case of ‘Fanta’ not only shows its contradictory nature, but also that the company will go great lengths to attain gargantuan profits (even during war). This is way beyond the term ‘mere opportunism.’

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