Mecca Cola: Building a Protest Brand in an Increasingly Anti-American Environment
In November 2002 French political activist, Tawfik Mathlouthi began selling a new brand of cola in France. Mathlouthi called his cola Mecca, after the city in Saudi Arabia when Muhammad was born. While some religious leaders question the use of Islam’s holiest city for a brand name, not many people are questioning the brand’s success. Mecca, the site of the Great Mosque and the yearly hajj, or pilgrimage, holds a very significant meaning to followers of Islam. Mathlouthi hopes the name can have an equally significant meaning for consumers of soft drinks.
Mathlouthi is capitalizing on the rising tide of anti-Americanism in the Arab world and beyond. He has fashioned his product on Zamzam Cola, an Iranian Coca-Cola substitute sold in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain. Mecca Cola sponsored a large peace rally in London to promote opposition to America’s war in Iraq and the Mecca brand. The company gave out 36,000 bottles of Mecca Cola, and 10,000 shirts with the Mecca logo and the words “Stop the War” and “Not in my Name.” The product uses phrases such as “No more drinking stupid” and “Drink with commitment” to sell the brand and makes no apologies for its political position. Mathlouthi, who was born in Tunisia and moved to Paris in 1997 to start a radio station admits that his product is political in nature. He states that it is an attempt to fight “American imperialism and Zionism by providing a substitute for American goods and increasing the blockade of countries boycotting American goods.”
A particularly strong appeal of the product for some consumers appears to be the fact that twenty percent of the company’s net profit goes to charities, including ten percent to Palestinian charities. One consumer in Paris, Youssef, age 26 states “The product is very good too. It has a taste somewhat between Coke’s and Pepsi’s.” In certain markets it appears that Mecca Cola has begun eating into Coca-Cola’s popularity. A storeowner in a Muslim part of Paris states, “Since I started selling Mecca Cola, consumption of Coca-Cola has fallen 80%. People are attracted to the idea of supporting the Palestinians.” Mathlouthi defends the charge that the company may be funding terrorism by claiming that money is not given directly to the Palestinians, but rather, the company provides the Palestinians with food, clothing, and the construction of buildings. Mecca Cola also uses proceeds from its sales to support some European non-government organizations (NGOs).
Mecca Cola (the packaging which looks much like the product it is attempting to replace) is now sold in over 28 countries, including a number of Western European countries. At first the product was only sold in small ethnic shops in Muslim areas, however, the product can now be found in large grocery stores in the Arab world and in France, Britain, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and Germany. Mathlouthi purports to be filling orders for two million bottles a month in England alone. Mecca Cola plans on a rapid expansion of Europe and even into the United States market.
As the popularity of Mecca Cola increases, Mathlouthi has set his sights on other products. He plans on introducing Halal Fried Chicken (HFC) and Mecca Coffee soon.
1. If you saw Mecca Cola on a store shelf would you consider purchasing it? Why or why not?
2. What should be the response of Coca-Cola to the Mecca brand?
3. Will Mecca Cola and the other protest products do long-term harm to American brands?
The question belongs to Marketing and it discusses about the brand Mecca Cola, a soft drink started with a clear intention of boycotting American products. Questions about the brand’s political positioning have been answered in the solution.
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