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This morning on the show there was a discussion about Coca-Cola’s Aboriginal Art Bottle program. When I first started working on this, I wasn’t expecting much. After all, there’s been a fair amount of criticism surrounding certain Olympic sponsors’ use of indigenous symbolism, and if our own homegrown companies could have such a huge miss in this arena, what are the chances a huge multinational could do a successful job?
I don’t have the background, academic, cultural, or otherwise, to provide a proper evaluation of this campaign, but I can say that at a glance it’s far, far better than I expected. For one, unlike most mainstream uses of Aboriginal art, this one actually goes beyond Inukshuks and Bill Reid (not that I have a problem with either of those) and represents artists from across the country. The show spoke to Garry Oker, a member of the Doig River First Nations near Fort St. John, and here in Prince George Kim Stewart was selected for her piece representing Metis culture. A quick glance at the iCoke gallery reveals pieces from Labrador, the Pabineau First Nation, and Winnipeg, with more still to come. While the canvas is distinctly Coke, it seems each artist has put their own personal style into place.
Of course there’s always debate over whether it’s right for a product such as Coke to start mucking around in other cultures, but in this case the artists chose to become involved in the brand and it seems to have been handled as well as could be expected. I have mixed feelings towards this very complex debate, but at a gut level I think its unfair to the artists and the wider cultures to assume that they lack the resilience to adapt to a changing world, including a commercial one. That’s not to say there aren’t valid concerns that could be raised, but by the same stroke it’s probably too simplistic to assume that Coke and the Olympics will automatically fail at any attempt to incorporate indigenous culture into their ‘brand’ (for lack of a better word).
Another thing I find really interesting here is that in an attempt to ‘brand’ Canada in the months leading up to the Olympics, there’s been a huge influx of Aboriginal motifs into arts and advertising. I’m curious if this will lead to foreign visitors having a false sense of the amount that Aboriginal cultures make up the mainstream Canadian identity, and if so, what the longer term implications of this might be.
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