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Selling Coke in Myanmar

June 9, 2013


Coca-Cola Returns to Myanmar/Burma.

Coca-Cola Returns to Myanmar/Burma.

NPR yesterday carried a very interesting story outlining Coke’s problem of marking its product in Myanmar (Burma). For years, it noted, Myanmar was one of three countries in the world in which Coke was unofficially unavailable (the other two being Cuba and North Korea). But the relaxation of sanctions against Myanmar has permitted Coke to reenter that market after a 60-year hiatus, and it faces a marketing challenge.

That challenge, in essence, is how to market Coke to a country that hasn’t been exposed to its marketing campaigns. It’s not that Coke wasn’t available in Myanmar. Cans were smuggled in from neighboring countries, sold on the parallel market at highly inflated prices.

To sell its product, Coke turned to its own history, rekindling one of its earliest campaigns from Atlanta in the 1880s. It’s marketing Coke as “delicious and refreshing.” Its bottles include directions on drinking Coke: (1) get a glass; (2) chill the bottle; (3) put three cubes of ice in the glass; (4) pour at a 45 degree angle; and (5) add a dash of lime. It’s put the price of a Coke (300 Kyat, or about 32 cents) on the bottle to prevent price gouging. And it’s giving away free bottles of Coke at Buddhist festivals. See the label breakdown from NPR below.

Marketing Coca-Cola in Myanmar (image from NPR)

Marketing Coca-Cola in Myanmar (image from NPR)


I regularly use food to illustrate the dynamics of global politics in my classroom. I think that it provides a powerful way to think about questions that are otherwise distant from our students’ daily reality. The availability of Coca-Cola in a country is a good predictor of both the degree of economic liberalization and apparently can be used as a leading indicator of political instability. In this case, Coke’s reentry into the markets of Myanmar clearly demonstrates the normalization of the country in the eyes of the international community.

But it also raises some questions. With a per capita GDP of less than $1,300, an economy largely structured around rural agricultural production, and a 23 year history of repressive military rule, Myanmar is hardly a poster child for attracting foreign direct investment. And there are also, of course, questions about the desirability of marketing a product with no nutritional content in a country where an estimated 30 percent of all children under five suffer from malnutrition.


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