At an introductory Theology class at Campion College, mention was made of a marketing campaign by Coca-Cola Amatil last year, which involved the distribution of bottles or cans of Coca-Cola emblazoned with the customer’s name. No name was too obscure or to be excluded from the embrace of Coke. In this campaign one could see an attempt to closely identify this mass produced soft drink with the individuality of the customer.
Whilst one of the most blatant instances of personalising commodities, the process itself is not new, even when it concerns the seemingly uniform products of the mass production process. Writing in the 1960s, Herbert Marcuse noted in his One Dimensional Man that people in mass societies were “find[ing] themselves” in the goods they buy, something almost akin to a transference of self from the body to the commodity. In this transfer to the commodity, the customer finds and expresses his or her true self.
Christians who consciously immerse themselves in a sacramental economy can provide another level of analysis of this personalisation of commodities generally, and the Coca-Cola campaign specifically. For more than an individualised product, the personalised Coke seems to resemble a secularised Sacrament of the Eucharist. There is the visual phenomenon of the pythonesque queues of customers, compliantly shuffling forward to the central square of a mall receive one by one liquified and bottled versions of themselves. If one is not careful, this phenomenon can look very much like a queue of congregants moving forward towards the nave of a cathedral to receive the Eucharist.
Another parallel between the can be gleaned at the level of what it is they are receiving. In pretty much the same fashion as Marcuse the Marxist drew our attention to our location in our commodities, Augustine the bishop focused our attention on a more sacramental transference in his Sermon on the Eucharist (No. 272). Going off a Eucharistic reading of Paul’s reminder that “You are the Body of Christ, member for member” (1 Cor 12:27), Augustine then exhorts those coming up to receive the Eucharist: Be what you see, and receive what you are!