(cross-post from House of Naked - I am a lazy piece of crap, I'm sorry.)
I was reading Alive this weekend (the story of those rugby players who crashed in the Andes in 1972). Obviously, they consciously fantasized about food a lot while they were trapped, but a recurring hallucination of one of the guys who was suffering most - Rafael Echavarren - was of going to the store to get a Coca-Cola.
The night before Rafael died, he kept telling the other survivors he was walking to the store to get a Coca-Cola, and asking if anyone wanted to come with him. Makes sense that his mind would subconsciously go there during his last hours - Coca-Cola is certainly a comforting drink for a lot of people, and that feeling is probably magnified about 10 million times when you're freezing in the fuselage of a plane crashed in the mountains.
The thing that I thought was really interesting was that he wasn't simply asking for a Coca-Cola. The experience of the trip to the store to get the Coca-Cola was included in his hallucination, and it got me thinking about a conversation I recently had with a friend, about the rituals around certain products. (We talk about this a lot here at Naked, especially regarding Coca-Cola - ask Pak if you want to know more).
When we think about product rituals, especially around beverages, most of that ritual is literally centered around the product itself, and the situation it's consumed in. For Coke, these things include the temperature, the bottle shape, and all that imagery you see in their ads - fishing around in a red cooler for a cold Coke, smiles, and the "aaaahhh" after the first sip.
You can speculate a little on what the ritual around desire for that product is (like, working up a thirst, obviously), but some things in a product ritual are beyond our grasp as marketers, or purveyors of goods. There are contexts and meanings we can't possible engineer with branded materials or ads, and it's these meanings that make a brand part of someone's life.
The fact that these organic points of connection are out there just proves that the most important thing a brand can do is listen to it's customers and fans. That's where the amazing stories are, and it's the only way for brands to truly know how the things they make affect people's lives in real ways. It seems so simple, but there are marketers out there that don't even have a Google Alert set for their brand name.
I realize this is sort of a trite observation in light of all the other things to be take away from such an inspiring story, and I hope I haven't offended anyone with it. I guess it was just amazing to me that in his last moments of life, a time when you'd assume people thought of their parents, or their homes - certainly not a soft drink brand - Rafael's mind took him to the comfortable and happy ritual of walking to the store to get a Coca-Cola with his friends.
If you haven't read Alive, I definitely recommend it. I also read a lot of other mountain disaster/climbing type books, if you're looking for recommendations.