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Consumer Citizenship, Nationalism, and Neoliberal Globalization in Turkey: The Advertising Launch of Cola Turka
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Consumer Citizenship, Nationalism, and Neoliberal Globalization in Turkey: The Advertising Launch of Cola Turka

Derya Özkan

Robert J. Foster

Abstract:

A new cola-flavored soft drink, Cola Turka, made its debut in Turkey in the middle of 2003 just after the US-led invasion of Iraq. Its marketing strategy, described as "positive nationalism," started a public debate over questions of Turkish national identity and the politics of consumption. In this article, we describe and analyze this debate and the advertising launch of Cola Turka as a way to demonstrate how the construction of citizens as consumers has undergone a major transformation in contemporary Turkey. We argue that this transformation reflects a shift in the dominant nationalist ideology in Turkey away from an ideal of state developmentalism and toward an ideal of market-driven economic growth. This shift involves new strategies for defining the Turkish nation vis-a-vis other nations or, put differently, for making and managing national culture in this era of globalization. We argue that "positive nationalism" is hardly positive, but is instead an idealized representation of how nations ought to imagine and conduct themselves in a world order predicated on the ideology of neoliberalism. We show how although the Cola Turka advertising launch, like neoliberal nationalism in general, sought to overcome a sense of relative inferiority, the terms in which they imagined Turkish national culture struggled against this very outcome.

Protests against "coca-colonization" have often taken the form of consumer boycotts—not only against Coca-Cola, but against all goods perceived as American, of which Coca-Cola is perhaps the epitome.  However, a new form of protest has proliferated in the last few years: anti-Coca-Colas.  In November of 2002, Taufik Mathlouthi, a Tunisian-born French entrepreneur, launched Mecca-Cola in Paris as part of campaign against "America's imperialism and Zionism" (BBC News Online, 8 Jan. 2003).  Within a year, Mecca-Cola had expanded to 54 countries, booking about 9 million dollars in revenue in 2003.  Ten percent of Mecca-Cola's profits are set aside as donations to groups helping Palestinian children, and another 10% as funds for local charities.  Hence the company's tag lines: "Shake your conscience! No more drinking stupid.  Drink with commitment."

Three months later, Zahida Parveen, a businesswoman based in Derby, United Kingdom, launched Qibla Cola, which the CEO of the company described as "a real alternative for people concerned by the practices of the major western multinationals that support unjust causes and support the American administration, known for its colonial policies" (BeverageDaily.com, 5 May 2003).  Qibla is Arabic for direction—the direction of Mecca.  Like Mecca-Cola, Qibla Cola donates 10% of its profits to charitable causes, including those of the UK-based charity, Islamic Aid.  Qibla Cola presents itself as an "ethical alternative," and says to consumers: "Liberate your taste."

It was perhaps less surprising, then, when another new cola-flavored soft drink, Cola Turka, made its debut in Turkey in the middle of 2003.  However, the ad agency directing the launch of Cola Turka described its strategy as "positive nationalism." AdAge.com similarly said of the first two television spots promoting the drink that they "aren't anti-American but turn the idea of cola as an American symbol on its head" (28 July 2003).  Indeed, the ads seemed to assert national pride with a clever inversion of the flow of cultural fashions; they humorously depicted a typical suburban American observing what happens when his fellow Americans adopt Turkish customs after drinking Cola Turka.  There thus appeared to be a significant difference between the anti-Coca-Colas and Cola Turka.  While the former openly proclaimed an Islamist identity based on an anti-American political ideology, the latter playfully used national culture to challenge the idea of American superiority.  Nevertheless, the ads—as well as Cola Turka itself—were embraced by many consumers in Turkey as welcome expressions of the anti-American sentiment aroused by the invasion of Iraq.  Sales of the beverage skyrocketed, and a public debate ensued over questions of Turkish national identity and the politics of consumption.

The cases of both the anti-Coca-Colas and Cola Turka suggest the construction...


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