India and Pakistan have been bitter enemies ever since a forced partition in 1947 created these two behemoth nations. The two states have fought a number of brief wars and currently stare each other down with scores of nuclear warheads on either side as a deterrent to a final cataclysmic conflagration.
While decades of efforts by diplomats and politicians have largely failed to establish any sustainable peace between India and Pakistan, a very well known Western beverage company took a novel approach to bring the peoples of these neighboring countries together.
Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO), one of the most popular brands in the world, recently placed specially made soda-vending machines in India and Pakistan which actually served as a kind of “live communications portal” between people in the two countries.
Co.Create.com reported that these vending machines, called ‘Small World Machines’ were conceived by Coca-Cola and advertising firm Leo Burnett and featured webcams that allowed people in India and Pakistani to view each other and interact in real time.
“We used special active-shutter 3-D technology that projected a streaming feed onto glass while filming through that glass at the same time,” Jon Wyville, Leo Burnett’s executive creative director, explained. “This allowed people to make direct eye contact and touch hands.”
The special machines were put in shopping malls in Lahore in Pakistan and New Delhi in India in March. “When the machines came on, there was just this really powerful energy -- laughter, smiles, cheers,” said Jackie Jantos Tulloch, Coke’s creative director, who was in the New Delhi mall when the machines were activated.
“People were waving frantically to each other because the idea of this type of seamless, live interaction is so unusual.” The participants also exchanged smiling faces and peace signs with their counterparts in the other nation. Afterwards, they were rewarded with a free can of Coke.
Following the emergence of many joyous and warm exchanges between Indians and Pakistanis who participated in this unusual experiment, Coke produced a video showing what happened.
Tulloch added that she was particularly moved by one elderly man who was inspired to dance when he interacted with someone across the border. “He’s dancing and spinning in a circle,” she said. “That moment was an incredibly short cut of what was about three minutes of him dancing. He walked away, and he was breathing so heavily. There were so many moments like that that were so surprising and so energetic and so emotional. Being a part of it was really awe-inspiring.”
Saad Pall, Coke's assistant brand manager in Pakistan, commented on the company website that the people of India and Pakistan share much in common. "What this project did was connect people who are not exposed to each other on a daily basis, enabling the common man in Lahore to see and interact with the common man in Delhi,” he said. “It's a small step we hope will signal what's possible."
Coke may want peace in the subcontinent, but it also wants more sales and higher market share in the increasingly robust consumer sector of the emerging markets.
According to the Indian Brand Equity Foundation, Coca-Cola has invested more than $1 billion in India and employs more than 5,000 people in the country. Coke has 60 percent of the market share for the carbonated drinks sector; 36 percent share in fruit drinks; and 33 percent in packaged water.
Coke is also aggressively seeking to expand its business in Pakistan, where it has a 30 percent market share of the beverage industry, second to PepsiCo. (NYSE: PEP). The Pakistan Tribune reported that Coke had invested $172 million in Pakistan last year, and plans to invest another $248 million over the next two years.
“We see great potential in Pakistan’s future, which is why the company is investing significantly in upgrading infrastructure and adding value to allied industries,” said Rizwan Khan, Coke’s general manager in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.