Monday, September 15, 2008

Delicious Happiness

Today, while throwing out the garbage that routinely accumulates over the weekend, I came across what looked like a Coke bottle with lettering in a script I have never encountered. ‘In Mandarin, Coca-cola means “Delicious Happiness”’, went the tagline and the coloured rings looping around the lettering could either have been the Olympic rings, or the number 08-08-08. You didn’t have to read the Olympic trivia, or turn the bottle to catch the Olympic logo to deduce that must have been a part of a commemorative mega branding exercise for the cola giant.

Was I impressed by the strategy? Strangely, no. For me, the brand identify of Coca-Cola has been intimately linked to the logo. Some people swear by the patented hourglass shape of the Coke bottle, others recall the red and white colours – but for me, it has always been the logo. And the logo in Mandarin, looks nothing like the English one!

Even so, my obvious distaste for the commemorative packaging was slightly inexplicable – I normally enjoy the novelty of such experiments, even if I do not particularly take to the idea. Why then this revulsion to this the Olympic logo?

Perhaps it has something to do with the way people all over Mumbai are being forced to defile their shopfronts by adding the name in Marathi. I have nothing against signboards that are bilingual because the owners choose to have it that way. I personally like some of the more aesthatically executed bilingual signboards – the signs announcing the names of the stations on the Western line immediately spring to mind. What I object to people being forced to adopt bilingual signboards to avoid mob violence.

I was at the Food Court of a suburban mall the day the stalls were adding names in Marathi to the existing signboards. The operation took less than five minutes per stall – a man climbed onto a stool, took measurements, placed a sticker, checked the alignment and peeled the backing paper – voilá, another signboard defaced!

Café Coffe Day, Salsa, Subway – they all got the treatment in front of my eyes, and the logos looked equally stupid in Marathi. Even the Marathi logo of Kailash Parbat looked weird – maybe because we associate the logo more with the font of the letters than with what it spells out.

I do not like what the Marathi brigade is doing to my adopted city, and that resentment must be spilling over to the Coke logo in Mandarin. After all, though the logo in Mandarin looks nothing like what I am used to, the flow of the characters retains the flavour of the original. And, it is a limited edition commemorative packaging after all – the first time something like this has been attempted in 150 countries globally.

The magpie in me had prevented the bottle from being chucked into the garbage can – I think I will keep it with me a bit longer. After all, it is not often that bilingualism spells ‘Delicious Happiness’ in Mumbai.

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