Varnish Remover

Doing Coke at the Office

Office, produced by the Leo Burnett Co. Inc. of Chicago for the Coca-Cola Co.

Office opens in a very proper, high-ceilinged office space. Its rows of well-ordered desks–far from the power and privilege of a private office–evoke the worst fears about the dehumanizing places where corporate careers begin.

Then we hear the whoosh of a cap turning on a bottle of Diet Coke. The guy opening the soda (dressed in a white shirt and tie–at least you can take your jacket off at your desk) has broken not only the silence but also the rules.

Heads turn at other desks as big-band music strikes up and the Diet Coke drinker spins away in his desk chair. Suddenly decked out in a snazzy blue suit, he starts dancing acrobatically, Astaire-style, and singing the soda’s theme, Sinatra-style (“just for the feel of it” updates the long-running “just for the taste of it” theme of previous Diet Coke campaigns). The lighting changes, too, making the office space look like the inside of a nightclub.

Diet Coke takes you off the beaten career track, the spot suggests. It liberates the young rebel who’s doing what he has to do to get ahead, but who still doesn’t take it all too seriously.

We’ve seen these visuals before. It’s Steve Martin in Pennies From Heaven. Our guy is being transported to a different astral plane. And the vehicle is Diet Coke. He dances off the walls and over to the desks of two women, who smile up at him–they’ve caught the mood. This is the kind of guy who gets the girls. We know that for sure as he turns toward one of them, strokes her chin, and hands her the bottle. The narrator tells us that “everyone is singing to the sound of Diet Coke,” and invites us to win CDs and trips to the Grammies by checking the bottom of the bottle cap. (The fine print about a “one-in-nine” chance acknowledges regulations about truth in advertising: Even a rebel has to conform to some rules.)

After the bottle cap flips off, revealing “YOU WIN,” we cut to the latest in audio gear–and to one of the office women dressed up for a night on the town. She dances and dips with our guy as he sings, “My place or yours.” On his knees, he offers a rose to yet another woman–and the spot cuts back to normal. The lighting is fluorescent-bright as the bald boss looks out of his private-office door. (This is who our guy wants to become but is desperately afraid of becoming.) The boss has heard something, but the office looks as bland as usual. Was it just the whoosh of the cap turning that disturbed the silence of this cathedral of commerce? Or was it all a dream?

As the boss closes his door, the on-screen chyron reads: “Diet Coke. Uncapped. Just for the sound of it.” “Uncapped” is a direct reference to MTV’s popular “Unplugged” series, in which electrified rockers strip down to acoustic to reach the essence of their music. Getting uncapped with Diet Coke presumably allows office workers a similar shot at authenticity. And the chance of winning a trip to the Grammies is more than a prize. It signifies that Diet Coke is a with-it product that evokes the inner music of youth, of being yourself wherever you are. Lest anyone miss this point, when the bald boss shuts his door, our guy (off-screen) sings: “One more time!”

Diet Coke may be a low-calorie drink, but its makers have never marketed it as a beverage for the overweight. You’re supposed to drink Diet Coke because you like it, not because you have to drink it. You’re a rebel who refuses to leave your youth behind. You drank Diet Coke before you got to the office, and while the bald guy can order you around, he can’t take your soda away from you.

–Robert Shrum