Remember Fanta? The carbonated fruit drink (orange is the most famous flavor) never actually went away, remaining popular with teen-agers and others around the world, but it hasn't been generally available in the United States for years. That's changing, however, as Fanta's owner, Coca-Cola, has lately started a fresh push to get Americans interested again. At the center of this effort is a made-up girl group called Fantanas. You can see them in their commercialized glory at Fanta.com by clicking on "Wanta See?" The Fantanas ads are fun in an odd way—doubly odd if you know how Fanta got its start.
The ads: The Fantanas are a sort of multiethnic Spice Girls, dressed in sexy little outfits, each a different Fanta-related color, of a style that makes sense in a Miami Beach kind of way. Each ad starts with a horn flourish and a vertically split screen showing each group member under the type "The Fantanas!"—the look and feel being sort of a updated Rat Pack/cocktail nation aesthetic. Then, in each spot, the group's song ("Wanta Fanta?") kicks in: It's a clubby dance number built mostly around the insistent repetition of the lyrics "Wanta Fanta? Don't you wanta?" over and over. Then, basically, the Fantanas pop up to sing (or pretend to sing), dance, and offer a Fanta to various young men in sweaty situations. Driving on a hot day, for example, or mowing the lawn, or just sitting in a stuffy apartment. The young men are invariably pleased to accept a Fanta from the dancing girls, acknowledging their desire (for a Fanta, I mean) with a muted "Mmm-hmm."
Cosmopolitan branding (Part 1): Coca-Cola is particularly interested in capturing the attention of teens with these ads (since they drink a lot of soda), and it's pretty much received wisdom in the ad world that today's teens are more "global" than ever, partly as a function of shifting racial demographics and partly because in a media-shrunken world it's easier than ever to sample other cultures. According to the New York Times, Fanta is sold in about 70 variations in 188 countries, so it's a genuinely transcultural brand. Coke says Fanta is a big seller in, among other places, Brazil, Germany, Japan, and Italy (and come to think of it, the last time I thought about Fanta was several years ago when I saw an empty bottle floating in a canal in Venice). Coke's Web site also says the drink has been "a favorite in Europe since the 1940s" and that it was subsequently "acquired by" Coke.
Cosmopolitan branding (Part 2): A more complete version of Fanta's story is told in the book For God, Country, and Coca-Cola, by Mark Pendergrast. The Fanta brand's roots are actually in Germany. Coca-Cola has been bottled in that country since 1929. In the late '30s, the realities of war and the unpopularity of foreign-owned firms in Nazi Germany made it difficult for Coca-Cola's German affiliate, Coca-Cola GmbH (in which Coke held majority ownership), to get ingredients, maintain bottling plants, or even communicate with the parent company. So the head of Coca-Cola GmbH decided to launch a new soft drink, "relying on available ingredients—often the leavings from other food industries," Pendergrast writes. A salesman suggested a name based on the German word fantasie—Fanta. It was advertised as "a product of Coca-Cola GmbH," and Pendergrast says the firm "continued bottling Fanta … even at the height of the bombing." When the war ended, a telegraph was received at Coke's Atlanta headquarters: "Coca-Cola GmbH still functioning. Send auditors." There wasn't much need for Fanta once Coke bottling got back into full swing after the war, but the trademark was later resurrected, and Fanta Orange reborn, in 1955 in Italy.
Mixed drink: Needless to say, the flavor of the Fanta ads is more about borderless fun than the gritty details of the global commerce machine. But in a funny way it was the ads themselves that reminded me, indirectly, of Fanta's origins: The commercials are basically a clever repackaging of almost every youth-marketing trope in recent memory—their leavings, if you will—with plenty of pop culture scraps besides. In the jargon of a pitch meeting, it's a post-ethnic, multinational, transracial, global village, lip-syncing girl band meets prefab boy band, retro-swinger, Austin Powers/Ocean's 11 semi-camp, quasi-kitsch, virtual nostalgia, club remix, neo-urban, alterna-brand, anti-Cola … vibe. Oh, and any of these ingredients may contain some irony—but it's the all-natural kind.
The strange thing is that the resulting concoction is actually not so bad. The jingle (an original piece of music, by the way, which is an increasingly rare thing in ads these days) is silly but catchy. The visual presentation is nice. The message goes down easy. See what you can do with leftovers?