Nostalgia Land

I returned yesterday from a three-day business trip to Atlanta; I was part of CNN’s “decision team” that determined when and how to call the outcome of the Florida Republican primary election on Tuesday night. I’ve been part of the team since 2006, mostly working on calling House races in general elections, and this was my first primary. The decision process is fascinating, and I will say more about it in a future post. Suffice it to say that for someone who grew up a political junkie from his early teens, working behind the scenes at a major network on election night is like being in the broadcast booth for the Super Bowl.

One nice thing about working election night: the morning schedule that day is usually pretty light. I took advantage of that opportunity to visit an iconic Atlanta landmark: the World of Coca-Cola. If you’ve never been (or, heck, even if you have), I highly recommend it. The best way to describe it: a high-tech interactive museum of all things Coke.

I arrived right at the 10am opening, so got to experience the place while crowds were lightest. The two dozen or so of us were led into a cavernous room called “the Loft,” decorated with all kinds of vintage Coca Cola memorabilia and advertising, and were treated to an interesting introductory talk about the company’s history and all the different things we could see later in the day. They then led us to a theater and showed a fun, upbeat animated film on an enormous screen, after which we could roam through the remainder of the rooms and exhibits — including the actual vault where they keep the secret formula locked up. (No, you don’t get to go through the locked vault door.) Another exhibit takes you inside an assembly line, where you can see bottles being prepared, filled, and capped. And so on.

My favorite part of the place was called “Milestones of Refreshment.” It’s a series of ten galleries that you can wander deeper and deeper into, at your own pace. There are video clips playing, telling the story of the company, but the rest of it is decidedly low-tech. It’s the most museum-like part of the tour, and I really enjoyed browsing the vintage memorabilia and getting lost in my own memories and feelings of nostalgia.

The most high-tech part of the tour was a 4-D theater show, which I saved for near the end. It was amazing, but the over-the-top effects (such as moving/shaking seats and occasionally hyperbolic acting) are probably more popular with kids than adults. Still, the 4-D experience of speeding down an African river in a small boat delivering Coke to an isolated village was unforgettable.

The tour ends with a tasting room, filled with soda fountains dispensing sixty some odd different beverages that the Coca-Cola company sells all over the world. I tried a few of them, and am still puzzling over why a certain bubble gum flavored drink is so popular in Latin America, but mostly just enjoyed sipping Classic Coke itself.

I emerged from the building into warm Atlanta sunshine, which was a perfect match for how I was feeling inside: cozy, nostalgic, and like everything in the world was right. In other words, pretty much exactly how you’d expect to feel after nearly two hours of immersion in a Coca-Cola commercial. (Nearly forty-eight hours later, I still have some of that happy, upbeat music in my head.)

Am I simply a sucker for corporate advertising? I like to think not, but Coca-Cola is an interesting (and in many ways unique) product. It’s one of the best-known brands around the world, and I think all of us have special memories of times we enjoyed a Coke. The company’s marketing has always been warm, upbeat, positive, and focused on the way Coca-Cola brings people together. It reminds us of the times and places and people with whom we’ve experienced Coke; as such, it’s difficult to disentangle how many of my feelings for the product come from my experiences with the product itself, and how many feelings come from the marketing which reinforces my memories of those experiences.

All I know is, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Coca Cola World. And then, as I strolled across Centennial Olympic Park toward my hotel, I remembered the conference call that I’d need to be joining in a few minutes. And a check of my phone revealed an urgent data analysis request from a client. I quickened my pace, and tried to refocus my thoughts on work. Because as much as I like Coke, and as much as I enjoyed the morning’s tour, you can’t live your whole life immersed in a Coca Cola commercial.

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