Seeta Pena Gangadharan

From COINTELPRO to Prism: Why the Government Spies on Communities of Color

WASHINGTON D.C. – Revelations of a massive cyber-surveillance program targeting American citizens holds particularly chilling consequences for immigrants and communities of color. Given the history of such programs, going back to the pre-digital age, these groups have reason to fear.

Who is mined, who is profiled, and who suffers at the hands of an extensive regime of corporate and government surveillance raises issues of social and racial justice.

PRISM, the National Security Agency’s clandestine electronic surveillance program, builds on a history of similar efforts whose impacts have affected racial and ethnic minorities in disproportionate ways. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Counter Intelligence Program (“COINTELPRO”), established in 1956, represents one of the forbearers of PRISM. Created at a time when political decision makers worked to promote the idea of national security in the public consciousness, the program targeted first Communist sympathizers and later domestic dissenters under a broad remit which allowed COINTELPRO to monitor and interrogate groups that threatened social order at the time. 

Though COINTELPRO targeted whites and nonwhites, journalists and researchers have shown that some of the program’s most controversial—and life-threatening—targeting focused on African Americans, or what the FBI categorized as “Black Nationalist Groups.” The lion’s share of COINTELPRO targeting fell upon the Black Panther Party. The agency also targeted mainstream civil rights groups, like the NAACP, Congress for Racial Equality, and Southern Christian Leadership Conference, as well as mainstream civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. Other minority groups, including those representing Arab Americans, Filipino Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans, also found themselves under COINTELPRO’s watch.

Though COINTELPRO was eventually dismantled and held up as an example of overbroad, abusive exercise of government surveillance, subsequent administrations have expanded government surveillance programs, including most recently with the aid and abetment of digital technologies. Former Attorney General Ashcroft, for example, amended guidelines to permit the FBI to purchase data profiles from commercial data mining companies (e.g., Axciom) without cause for suspicion. Ashcroft’s guidelines also permitted the FBI to store such information for an indefinite amount of time. 

For communities of color, this expansive, digitally enabled form of surveillance has had particular dire consequences. For example, the availability of big data has facilitated government efforts to map and monitor Arab American populations. As reported in Wired Magazine, the FBI’s analysis was extensive: it included and tracked ordinary Arab Americans, suggesting that the FBI suspected and classified all Arab Americans as potential terrorists. Moreover, as the ACLU (which was responsible for surfacing FBI mapping and monitoring documents) has argued, the commercial data purchased by the FBI and other agencies is riddled with errors, which once stored indefinitely become truth. Using a set of indicators that correlate with terrorist activities, analysts compute the likelihood that a person represents a threat to national security. That is, flawed data become part of routine analysis and reanalysis that wrongly targets individuals.

Despite the Obama Administration’s attempts to define PRISM’s consequences narrowly, it is fair to speculate that the burden will fall unfairly on communities of color. Like domestic surveillance under Ashcroft, PRISM collects electronic communications and also stores information indefinitely, a process which again risks wrongly classifying and targeting communities of color. 

In fact, little is known about the parameters used to define algorithms that search PRISM data or a combination of PRISM and other commercial data. As privacy advocates have argued, characteristics that define everyday behavior of some ethnic and racial minorities –the use of cash versus credit, purchase of a pre-paid cellphone, or mobility (e.g., moving residence frequently) — may also be used as parameters to identify likely terrorist activity. Until there is greater transparency in the nature of data analysis, including the possibility to examine and assess the accuracy of the analysis of telecommunications records, email communications, and other commercial data, ethnic and racial minorities will remain at risk of discriminatory data profiling.

For now, there are three potential avenues for addressing the unique problems that government surveillance poses to communities of color. First, community members can speak up and express their concern about the overbroad nature of government surveillance and demand that decision makers scrutinize its particular effects. That means not only contacting members of Congress and urging them to reform laws like the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act and Patriot Act, but also asking them to lead a broader national conversation on surveillance, online privacy, and justice. Questions of surveillance go beyond national security; they connect to the ability of groups to define themselves as opposed to being defined by flawed algorithms, to partake in everyday transactions and routines without recrimination, and to express themselves without fear of being erroneously categorized and linked to terrorist activity.

Aside from pressuring Congress, communities of color can also explore using technology to protect themselves against undue surveillance. This entails using search engine tools like DuckDuckGo, which keep online searches anonymous, or privacy protecting plug-ins like Ghostery that prevent corporate entities from collecting and storing data about an individual surfing the Web. Increasingly, these tools are becoming more user friendly, making it easier for the ordinary individual — as opposed to a person with a programming background — to avoid being tracked and targeted.

Lastly, communities of color can connect with organizations that advocate on their behalf to begin thinking holistically about privacy and surveillance in a digital age. A holistic approach means thinking about when, how, and why to share information about oneself and one’s community. With these small steps, we can begin to reclaim our own digital reputations rather than leaving them to corporate and government data analysts.

Seeta Peña Gangadharan is a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute (OTI). Her research focuses on the nature of digital inclusion, including inclusion in potentially harmful aspects of Internet adoption due to data mining, data profiling, and other facets of online surveillance and privacy.

Why Are Civil Rights Groups Neglecting Media Policy?

With the awarding of three Academy Awards to African-American actors, hopes are high for a greater appreciation and presence of people of color in Hollywood.

Yet, while Oscar winners Halle Berry and Denzel Washington, as well as the lifetime achiever Sidney Poitier, set a positive tone, their success is no more than a symbolic statuette.

Thanks to recent deregulatory decisions that foreshadow more consolidation in the U.S. media industries, minorities will continue to be grossly underrepresented in all ranks of the business, from executive level down to creative staff and working journalists and actors. Unless those who celebrate the diversity of this year's Oscar recipients, particularly civil rights groups, enlist in the larger battle against media consolidation, the opportunity to compel real, institutionalized change in the media industry will be sorely missed.

Since the start of the year, consumer advocates have been decrying decisions made by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Congress and the federal courts that pave the way for more media mergers throughout the United States. Yet, while opponents of media consolidation predict a dismal future of multi-platform monoculture, organizations that have long fought for racial equality have been uncommonly quiet about the matter of media deregulation.

Searching through the Web site of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and after attempts to reach them for comment, I couldn't find any reference to media communications and policy issues. For an organization that has more than once threatened and then abandoned a boycott of network television for the industry's lack of inclusion of minorities, the lack of response or reaction was disquieting. While they have gotten involved in digital divide issues, media ownership policy is virtually absent from the range of concerns of Reverend Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition. The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, President John F. Kennedy's brainchild civil rights group, is conspicuously silent on media policy and law.

Among the leading U.S. civil rights organizations, only the Leadership Conference of Civil Rights (LCCR), whose position on media issues surfaces irregularly, has made an effort to speak out against deregulation and in favor of local media production and ownership. Yet, despite a cautionary statement from its executive director, Wade Henderson, member groups that comprise the LCCR network have not adopted a similar concern for deregulatory trends in the media business.

Quiet Minorities

If the major civil rights groups have been quiet about the matter, the more specialized minority media groups are even quieter.

Although born of the civil rights movement and specifically charged with bringing greater diversity to the media and communications fields, these groups are ignoring policy issues relevant to their very causes. Of the five principal minority professional associations -- the UNITY Foundation, National Asian-American Journalists Association, Native American Journalists' Association, National Association of Hispanic Journalists and National Association of Black Journalists -- only the latter responded to the latest upheavals on the policy front.

Given that these groups are historically tied to affirmative action and other workplace initiatives, the lack of concern, particularly of FCC prospects to weaken Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines for broadcasters, seems like a major blind spot. (The Federal Appeals Court asked the FCC to rewrite the biennial process that reviews whether broadcasters are fulfilling their EEOC requirements. Given the laissez-faire stance of Chair Michael Powell and the Republican-dominated FCC, diversity hiring practices are likely to be less scrutinized, leaving media companies even more unaccountable.)

Why aren't the Asian-American, Native American, Hispanic journalists' groups and other like-minded organizations at the forefront of this debate over media policy? We know the battle for media diversity is far from won, why aren't we talking together about the ramifications of these regulation issues?

Reflecting on the inaction of civil rights groups and of minority media associations in policymaking debates on the future of media, Dori Maynard, president of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, fears that the campaign to make policy issues resonate with civil rights groups may already be lost. "We need to remind people why regulation is an essential issue � for the media, for us and for or communities throughout this country," she says.

Strategies For Diversity

In 1997, Mark Lloyd, director of the Civil Rights Forum on Communication, urged civil rights organizations to consider a larger strategy to achieve a diversity of viewpoints and a plurality of media outlets that reflected the richness of a multifaceted, multicultural, multi-ethnic society. Challenging the market ideology and revaluing local media production was intrinsic to his argument. Wrote Lloyd, "The civil rights community will not be able to create sustainable reform if they do not protect the arena of public debate and empower ordinary Americans to participate."

Since Lloyd made his initial plea five years ago, the challenge to civil rights leaders is more urgent than ever. The message from Capitol Hill, the FCC's Michael Powell, appellate judges and right-leaning media practitioners such as William McGowan is that the new media landscape adequately serves diverse constituencies a diet of diverse viewpoints.

Current trends and reports by public-interest groups, however, reject this thesis. As media and communications deregulation intensifies, the civil rights angle of media and communications regulation couldn't be more relevant. With the threat of additional consolidation, inclusiveness at media outlets promises to worsen. Already at a disadvantage, minorities will struggle even further to gain entry to important decision-making positions. In a recent report by the Economic Policy Institute, Michael Gormley, professor of journalism at the University of Maryland, explained how converging media companies will inevitably slice local content, whittle away local staff and fill stations with national programming that rarely reflects the interests and needs of people at the community level. Despite changing demographics and growing ethnic and immigrant populations, minorities will be the first casualties in the media job market, in the newsroom and in coverage of their communities and issues.

Research by advocacy groups and academics over the years has examined deep-seeded institutional barriers to minority inclusion at media companies. What has been found is that people of color rarely assume active roles in advising program or editorial decisions. Don Heider, author of "White News: Why Local News Programs Don't Cover People of Color," and assistant professor of journalism at the University of Texas, Austin, finds that broadcasters superficially incorporate viewpoints of non-white constituencies. Describing the station practice of hiring news anchors of color, Heider looked at how stations in New Mexico and Hawaii, two areas with high concentration of non-white populations, felt therefore absolved of the need to incorporate ethnic diversity at higher decision-making levels. News anchors of color gave viewers the impression of diversity while more influential roles were retained by a less heterogeneous group.

Children Now, a leading media research and advocacy group based in Oakland, California, also links diversity at the decision-making level to diversity of voices in the media. Their "Prime Time Colors," a study of diversity in children's programming during the prime time viewing hours, found disproportionately low levels of ethnic representation in the casts and storylines of network television shows. Faulting decision-makers at stations, Children Now spokesperson Kevin Donegan explains that "diversity on screen is representative of people who make decisions about programming. These programs reflect the tastes of relatively similarly-minded decision-makers rather than the diverse needs of local communities."

Without mixed representation at the top, media companies are simply not going far enough to reflect demographic changes in local communities. The Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) argued that, in view of census data, racial parity at the decision-making level should have been at 27.1 percent. Yet, in last year's survey of television stations nationwise, RTNDA found that minorities held 8.7 percent of general manager jobs in television. Also in 2001, the percentage of minority news directors at television stations fell to eight percent from 14 percent in 2000. Citing that the percentage of minority news directors was eight percent in 1999 just as in 2001, RTNDA called the increase in 2000 an anomaly.

The fallout of these findings is clear: Without representation in the media, minorities are less likely to be involved in the larger social, economic and political frameworks of the United States, as well as of global civil society. As deregulation leads to more media mergers and acquisitions, minorities will have less wherewithal to vote, enter public debate and shape political outcomes that affect our everyday lives.

Sadly, the wheel of misfortune is already spinning. As minority media groups increasingly face obstacles in the business, they are being forced to lower their expectations. The announcement that the American Society of Newspaper Editors is moving back their target date for achieving racial parity from 2000 to 2025 underscores the retreat from vigorous activism and education in the industry. Far from being won, the campaign for equal opportunity in the media and communications industry is flailing. With rising difficulties to racial parity in the industry, participation of minorities plummets. Unless civil rights organizations assume a leadership role in policy debates on deregulation of the media industry, the cycle can only get worse.

Seeta Peña Gangadharan is a writer, media scholar and adviser to the Policy Center at MediaChannel.

Complicated Media Priorities at the World Social Forum

Millions of people are still in the dark about the World Social Forum. And why? As many media critics would have you believe, media are part of the problem, complicit with the forces of globalization. Lack of reporting press at the World Social Forum reflects the incestuous relationship between international corporate media, multinationals and global capital flow, and political power.

However, although the massive media entities in the United States regularly filter out stories that challenge status quo sensibilities, in this case it would be extremely unfair to say that US coverage of the World Social Forum was nonexistent. After searching the online versions of major news outlets, I discovered that the event was covered, by the wire services Reuters, Associated Press and Dow Jones, and then later reprinted in the Boston Globe, Business Week, Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, Forbes, Los Angeles Times, and Minneapolis Star Tribune. Original works that discussed or featured the World Social Forum could be found online-in CNN, Forbes, National Public Radio, Newsweek-or rather its daily web magazine "Daily Davos", Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.

That's not to say the coverage was impressive or in-depth.

Media's attention to the event was definitely low both in terms of how the issue was reported as well as how many times media outlets picked up or ran a story. By comparison to European media -- especially Swiss and British media, US major media barely scratched the surface. Rather, the Americans half-heartedly took the World Social Forum into account with little credit to the intent, accomplishments or context of the meeting. More often than not, these stories were schizoid or superficial. In some instances, reports of the number of people in attendance in Porto Alegre varied from 4000 to 10000. In others, the organizers credited with conceiving of the idea ranged from Bernard Cassen (Le Monde Diplomatique) and Workers Party (Porto Alegre) to the Public Media Center in Washington DC.

Possible explanations for the poor performance by the American press?

I looked at the larger context in which the World Social Forum had arisen -- a counter-event, against the World Economic Forum, global elitism, and closed-door proceedings on the globalization. What I found was not the usual global media blackout, but a set of factors that revealed both the faults of major media outlets and the fissures the anti-globalization movement itself.

Competition from protesters (or lack thereof) in Davos

Anti-globalization protesters made headlines in Davos, not Porto Alegre, because of the unprecedented security measures taken to preempt "another Seattle". So while democratic, inclusive, and at times chaotic discussions may have been ongoing at the World Social Forum, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, CNN and others were drawn to the potential public relations meltdown at the World Economic Forum. Journalists and their editors -- whether they admit to it or critics lambast them for it -- abide by "if it bleeds, it leads" mentality, and Davos was the perfect setting for a big standoff between the global elite and "neo-anarchists" as Newsweek/ called the protesters. The more police, barbed wire, fences, shields, water cannons, liquid manure cannons, et cetera, the better.

Given the protest action and subsequent high security operations in the Swiss Alps, US major media treated the World Social Forum as a sideshow, rather than a main event. So, while the American press waited for action in the streets, it also looked to Brazil to flesh out the drama happening in Davos. The World Social Forum was mentioned in the same breathe as the anti-globalization demonstrations and succinctly presented as the "counter" or "alternative Davos" with social aims versus neo-liberalist ones.

More often than not, reporters and editorialists remained loyal to the annual meeting in Davos, where they felt real decision-making take place and solutions to anti-globalization concerns would be met. " ... The protesters have failed to offer practical, pragmatic solutions to the issues they raise. The actual solving will be left to the Soreses and Annans, Foxes and Gateses of the world," wrote the Minneapolis Star Tribune in an editorial piece. A commentary found on the Wall Street Journal site, "The Davos Disorder" -- a piece that originally ran in the European version of the paper -- lashed out against anti-globalization protesters, saying "The antiglobalists clearly don't agree [on a way to alter the path of globalization] and the poverty of their ideas is only matched by the brutishness with which they try to inflict them on others."

Similarly -- although much less opinionated, Newsweek's "Daily Davos" web journal seemed to diminish the significance of the World Social Forum by suggesting that the two Forums were both striving for inclusion and diversity at their conferences (see The Anti-Davos).

Are the mainstream media guilty creating competition between protesters in Davos and Porto Alegre? Of conspiring with multi-nationals and police authorities to draw attention away from an important historical occurrence? I'll go out on a limb here and say yes AND no. Yes since media do not know how to deal with protesters ... either organizing a conference or taking to the streets. As Todd Gitlin once wrote of media and student activists during the anti-war protests, protesters' aims will rarely be scrutinized in the press. Quite the contrary: media would rather present them as irrational and disorganized than investigate the essence of their dissent.

No surprise, then, that the media were more attentive to the action in Davos. The Chicago Tribune, CNN, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Newsweek, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post, amongst others, became engrossed in the drama between "good cops" and "bad cops". Protesters, more often than not, were tagged as the "bad cops", more inclined to irrational displays of violence or, at best, "professional troublemakers" (see the New York Times, Davos Braced for Protests).

And if they simultaneously lent an ear to the protests in Porto Alegre, the media clung to the potential signs of disorder or contradiction of the World Social Forum. CNN (with help from Reuters) wrote in a piece called "Protesters invade 'anti-Davos'": "The 'anti-Davos' forum in southern Brazil got a taste of its own medecine Sunday when protesters stormed a press conference to demand greater participation for blacks."

Yet, while media are prone to dilute and distort the aims of protesters, they cannot be fully blamed. Is it unreasonable for people, media included, to associate the World Social Forum with anti-globalization protests in the street with NGOs trying to input in globalization processes and meetings such as the World Economic Forum? I would argue no. Painful as it may be to some of the hardcore anti-globalization proponents, the link is there and it helps explain why press coverage of the World Social Forum often took place under the umbrella of the anti-globalization protests at the World Economic Forum.

This underscores the second reason for the lack of coverage of the World Social Forum:

Competition from NGOs/Civil Society representatives in Davos

Non-governmental organization (NGO)/civil society representatives in Davos may have stolen the show from the conference participants/organizers in Porto Alegre. Although less in number than the protest stories, coverage of the NGO and civil society representatives attending the World Economic Forum could be found after trawling through many of the major media web sites.

Newsweek/Daily Davos and CNN both emphasized and celebrated the World Economic Forum's spirit of inclusion. The NGOs and civil society representatives came to Davos due to an effort by conference organizers to address social, humanist concerns that proponents of economic globalization largely ignore. Much of the American press in Davos eagerly included the fact that up to 40 NGOs and representatives of civil society-oftentimes counterposing this fact with the threat of protest and the high security measures.

With that said, however, the coverage was lacking. Very few NGOs were named outright. Excepting an article in Newsweek that quoted Lori Wallach from Public Citizen, a CNN piece that listed Amnesty International, and an article in Chicago Tribune that mentioned Thilo Bode (without mentioning Greenpeace) NGO coverage was pretty superficial. Obviously, people in Porto Alegre -- let alone around the world -- had no idea what NGOs were doing in Davos.

This gap in coverage between non-business advocates in Davos and conference participants in Porto Alegre came to a head during the videobridge organized by Madmundo, an independent French TV outfit. The event, as many of you may have read or perhaps witnessed, was designed to engage participants at Davos and Porto Alegre in a constructive dialogue about the globalization divide.

Rather than achieve what producer Patrice Barrat intended, the event was a vicious slanging match, and thoroughly a disaster. By the conclusion of a 90-minute haranguing session, World Social Forum participants basically discredited all of the NGOs in Davos. "We would not choose you [the NGOs in Davos] as our messengers," shouted one World Social Forum panelist to Anuradha Vittachi of, which just the day before had featured a statement by Walden Bello.

Following the heated tension between Porto Alegre and Davos, much of the press focused on more irrational portrayals of people in Brazil such as when Hebe de Bonafini called George Soros a "hypocrite and a monster" or when Walden Bello suggested that everyone from the WEF be shipped off into space (see CNN's Insults Fly). Not one journalist mentioned Tobin Tax or debt cancellation -- issues that Brazilian conference participants did manage to convey.

In a sense, coverage on the World Social Forum might have been bolstered by coordination, not competition between NGOs and civil society representatives in Davos and Porto Alegre. Rather than becoming estranged, the two groups could have collectively ensured that certain concerns to the table, either in the media or in Davos. Media exacerbated the divide by limiting its reportage on in Davos, but the two groups might have independently communicated with each other to better understand each other. But instead, the NGOs were alienated, World Social Forum participants angry, and the anti-globalization movement still perceived as illegitimate, or at best "problematic".

Media do not understand civil society

The competition from Davos NGO and civil society representatives -- or otherwise put, lack of coordination -- speaks to a larger problem for World Social Forum participants questioning the lack of coverage. US media still have a long way to go in understanding civil society as a whole. It's not just that protesters are typecast as professional troublemakers, but that unofficial voices of democracy struggle for airtime, column space or hyperlinks.

One of the most revealing pieces to be published during the World Social and World Economif Forums appeared in Newsweek/DailyDavos encapsulates this very point. Entitled "NGOs: the Good, the Bad and the Illegitimate" and written by Michael Elliot, Editor-in-Chief of eCountries, the article trudged through the reasons why the world -- global institutions and media megaliths in particular -- remain wary of civil society. Elliot raised two matters: first, it is difficult to separate the valid critiques of NGOs, the ostensible spokespersons of civil society, from the vitriol and violent threats of "neo-anarchists", and second, NGOs that engage in dialogue with global elite such as the World Economic Forum suffer credibility loss amongst their own constituents.

If Elliot feels troubled by the schizoid nature of the anti-globalization movement, he will have to get used to it (see Naomi Klein's World Social Forum: Actions Speaking Louder than Words). Civil society, whether the media and others like it or not, includes your ordinary protester as well as your articulate NGO representative. As I first critiqued in this article, he fails to mention the sensationalized reportage of protest activity. But he is right to discuss the two different types of anti-globalization protesters. I would go out on another limb and argue that one of the reasons that the World Social Forum got less coverage than it deserved stems from the fact that conference organizers did not address head-on the violent public image of anti-globalization protesters.

As for his second concern on NGOs and the "sell-out syndrome", he describes what seemed to be happening between Davos and Porto Alegre during the videobridge. But, while NGO and civil society representatives had their backs up against the wall, the "sell-out syndrome" could be seen as a false dichotomy of legitimate and illegitimate anti-globalization voices that the media use to polarize the movement. NGOs have been fighting and working in the thick of things even before a critical, popular mass emerged against the global elite. If the World Social Forum participants feel snubbed, part of the reason seems to stem from the horrible precedent set by media with NGOs and social causes.

The implications of all this?

Do something. For sure, the World Social Forum 2002 might take a proactive stance towards media coverage the next time around. Armed with the knowledge of why media hesitate to investigate anti-globalization with the same zeal as, say the World Economic Forum, conference organizers should be able to generate more public awareness through the media. This is not public relations campaign for which global elite pay millions of dollars but an effort to get the true story across. There is real and pressing need for paying attention to social and cultural impacts of the economic globalization. Media can be biased but they can also be confronted, called out and improved. To criticize them from within is not nearly enough to make a change. The public and members of the anti-globalization movement deserve better.

The Santa Coke Deal

Santa is all about a Coke deal. No joke. Fat and jolly Santa with the red suit and cap, thick black belt and sooty boots, rosy cheeks, luminous eyes and brighter-than-white teeth... is the genius of an advertising campaign by Coca-Cola back in the 1930's. Now, dear reader, before you go off in a huff and censor this article from Santa-believers, please keep in mind: it ain't no secret that the most revered Claus is corporate sponsored. Coca-Cola remains open and proud of their role in popularizing Santa. They've sponsored gallery exhibitions on "Advertising As Art" that explain this phenomenon -- the most famous being one held at the Carrousel du Louvre (a.k.a., Louvre Gallery in Paris) in 1996. I'm not guilty of spoiling anyone's imagination for passing on this interesting piece of consumer history. This is a real life tale of Santa that deserves to be heard. Back in the late nineteenth century, when Coca-Cola first started, the whole purpose of the beverage was medicinal. If you were feeling "low" or if you suffered from headaches, a Coke was the perfect remedy. The featured ingredient of cocaine, or coca bean extract, guaranteed a renewed self with greater agility and acuity.Many folks in quest of this medicinal beverage knew of Coke from the pharmacist. In fact, Coca-Cola paid pharmacists a commission for the sale of this medicinal beverage if drug stores allowed Coca-Cola to install a carbonation tap on the premises.By the 1930's, Coca-Cola needed to re-evaluate its business outlook and consider how it was going to keep things going in a Depression Era. The more controversial aspects of the beverage had long been dealt with (as early as 1903, coca extract was removed and caffeine took its place). Beverage sales were slowing down -- especially, in the wintery months, and Coca-Cola needed a new hook and sinker to attract the American market.So, in 1931, Coca-Cola changed its target audience from the adult who lacked pep to the whole family who required cheer and joy. Coca-Cola was a great taste to be enjoyed by everyone! And with that, they decided to launch an extensive advertising campaign to demonstrate its new appeal. Pioneering the use of well-known artists to design their ad campaigns, the company blitzed pharmacies and stores with promotional material that was suitable for the whole family. The illustrations by one artist in particular, the Swedish Haddon Sundblom, landed Coca-Cola the most success, and it is his image of a portly White man in a red suit bringing joy to family and friends simply with a bottle of Coke that we see in shopping malls, greeting cards, commercials, Salvation Army booths, and so on.Naturally, Coca-Cola cannot be fully credited for bringing Santa into the homes and hearts of Americans everywhere. The history of Santa Claus, the mystery gift-giver, goes back well before the time of the Coca-Cola company -- but in this previous life, Santa wears no red suit. St. Nicholas, loosely based on the fourth-century bishop of Asia Minor; a Scandanavian dwarf or a goat; the white-robed girl, Kolyada, of pre-revolutionary Russia who arrived atop a sleigh with accompanying carollers; and the many religious gift-bearers associated with the Magi explain the cultural roots of Santa Claus. In each one of these Old World depictions of Santa, the costume bears no stain of red... especially, in the case of the Scandanavian version.In the United States, the Dutch were primarily responsible for spreading the idea of Sante Klaas, based on one of their revered bishops. Sante Klaas gave form to the current myth of Santa and fleshed out his reputation as a gift-giver: eight flying reindeers, living near the North Pole, filling socks with presents, arriving through the chimney. However, the visual image was not honed until much later, with Coca-Cola.In 1822, an American professor, Dr. Clement Clarke Moore, wrote "The Visit of St Nicholas," which is known today as the "The Night Before Christmas." His description of Santa is suggestive of a fat man, but in the gnomish fashion of the earlier European versions. The poem reads: "His eyes how they twinkled! His dimples how merry! His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry; His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow, And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow... He had a broad face, a little round belly, That shook when he laughed, like a bowl of jelly. He was chubby and plump, a right jolly elf... "Nearly forty years later, political cartoonist Thomas Nast drew a version of St. Nicholas for Harper's Illustrated Weekly. He wears a woolly-furry suit and resembles a stout, bearded elf with whiskers and a beard. The quote, unquote trademark look is not apparent. Nast often created etchings in black and white that presage the Coke Santa (belted suit). However, in Nast's color renditions, Santa vaguely echoes the modern, commercial image. Most notably, the bright red color is missing.Why, dear reader, is this so? Well... here's where the genius of Coca-Cola comes in. A couple of explanations are due. First, Haddon Sundblom's image of Santa Claus hit the right buttons in terms of stirring the hearts and quenching the thirst of consumers everywhere. Modelled on a retired salesman named Lou Prentice, Sundblom's Santa had just the right combination of happy wrinkles, prompting Coca-Cola to hire Sundblom to continue making Coke ads with this model for the next 35 years. He was a comforting face that well-suited an enjoyable beverage.Second, compared to the limited audience of Harper's Illustrated Weekly, Coca-Cola aimed to saturate as many outlets as possible. They orchestrated a full-frontal attack on the market with Santa-Coke propaganda. Magazine advertisements were particularly effective, considering that during that era, print publications were like tv: able to communicate over and over and over again the same image and slogan to a mass audience. Point-of-purchase promotional items were extremely common. Collectibles, too, were another way that Coca-Cola could expand its presence -- a strategy that is standard today for any advertiser, from Nike to Joe Camel.Finally, Coca-Cola patented a formula for red -- that bright red used for Coke packaging and for Santa's suit. Any of the artists hired to work for Coca-Cola were required to use this color red, influencing consumers, no doubt, to make the constant association between red and Coke... and well, Santa. This is perhaps the biggest kicker, considering Nast's version, Moore's literary image, or early European portrayals show little consistency in this regard. ***These days, the sacredness of the Coke's Santa has expired itself. Santa is ubiquitous, Coke is ubiquitous, but no one really remembers that the two were at one time, closely entwined. It's a history that is mostly understood by PR advisers and college marketing students, and maybe the slew of French and tourists who saw the "Advertising as Art" exhibit at the Louvre. Occasionally, Coca-Cola revive Sundblom's Santa in a commemorative appeal to its loyal consumers, but the story is rarely told.As Mark Pendergrast, author of For God, Country and Coca-Cola, concluded: "Prior to the Sundblom illustrations, the Christmas saint had been variously illustrated wearing blue, yellow, green, or red.... After the soft drink ads, Santa would forever more be a huge, fat, relentlessly happy man with broad belt and black hip boots-and he would wear Coca-Cola red .... While Coca-Cola has had a subtle, pervasive influence on our culture, it has directly shaped the way we think of Santa."

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