A FEW days ago in this space,...


A FEW days ago in this space, we discussed brand recognition among American consumers. Campbell Soup ranked first, with 98 percent of respondents to a survey saying they were familiar with the name. Hallmark Cards, Hershey's, McDonald's, Sears and Coca-Cola were recognized by more than 95 percent of Americans.

But what, we wondered, about international brand recognition? Although no survey has been taken worldwide, World Watch, a bimonthly publication of the Worldwatch Institute, discusses international advertising in its May/June issue, and it's a bit scary.

"For better or worse," says World Watch, "almost all of humanity's 5.5 billion individuals, divided among 6,000 distinct cultures, are now soaking in the same gentle bath of advertising." If you doubt that, consider that Coca-Cola, no doubt the world's (if not America's) best-known product, in January broadcast history's first global commercial. Coke's message, the magazine noted, was not "love thy neighbor" or "thou shalt not kill." It was, of course, "Drink Coca-Cola."

Coke's influence, in fact, is so pervasive that Adweek, a trade publication, two years ago published a two-page spread depicting Hitler, Lenin, Napoleon and a Coke bottle. "Only one," read the caption, "launched a campaign that conquered the world." (And that was months before Coke's worldwide ad.)

What bothers World Watch is not the advertisements themselves but what the advertisers have to create: the craving for sexual virility, eternal youth, social belonging, individual freedom, existential fulfillment. The medium that makes it all possible is, of course, television. India has gone from 3 million TV sets in 1983 to 14 million today, and Latin America has built or imported 60 million sets, almost one per family, since the early 1950s.

Global advertising expenditures, according to World Watch, multiplied nearly sevenfold from 1950 to 1990.

The very thought of it -- of couch potatoes in Bogota and Bombay, Sitka and Singapore, before The Box, which glows with commercials for McDonald's, Reebok and Coke -- well, it's enough to give us an Excedrin headache.

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