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Tue, Jul 22, 2003 - Page 12 News List

Political tensions with Washington boost Turkish cola

SUCCESS STORY Cola Turka's launch coincided with a spurt of nationalist sentiment following the arrest by US forces of 11 Turkish soldiers in Iraq


Everyone is drinking it, everyone is speaking of it -- the new "Cola Turka" launched in the midst of Turkey's sizzling summer has been an overnight success with some suggesting that a diplomatic spat between Ankara and Wash-ington has helped the new cola take on its better-known US rivals.

"We didn't chose to take advantage of the political situation," says Eda Gokkan, in charge of the new soda's advertising campaign at Young and Rubicam.

"We're just trying to sell the Turkish life-style," she said.

But the cola's launch two weeks ago coincided with an outbreak of nationalist sentiment in the wake of the arrest by US forces of 11 Turkish soldiers in northern Iraq, according to the sales manager of a supermarket in the center of Istanbul who gave her name as Didem.

"Because of the war in Iraq, 90 percent of Turks have turned against the United States and many chose to buy local rather than US products," she said.

The cola's successful launch "is the result of an la turca reaction'" to the arrest of the Turkish soldiers in northern Iraq on July 4th, the mass daily newspaper Milliyet proclaimed.

The soldiers were released 60 hours later, but the whole episode was viewed as a national humiliation and it sparked a diplomatic row with Washington.

No reason was officially given for the arrests, but US forces said the Turkish soldiers were acting "suspiciously," adding that explosives were found at their Sulaymaniyah headquarters.

Some papers have since high-lighted instances of shopkeepers who are refusing to sell US products, including the more famous US colas.

Hurriyet newspaper, quoting a survey by the Roper ASW institute, said the sales of US products had dropped by 13 percent in Turkey in the past few months.

A tongue-in-cheek TV ad has also helped "Cola Turka," a product sold by the Turkish Ulker food group, gain national attention.

Starring US comedian Chevy Chase, the TV spot shows Americans adopting Turkish customs as they drink the new cola, from throwing water after a departing car to ensure its smooth journey to growing big moustaches.

"This isn't Turkish propaganda, but rather positive nationalism," says Serdar Erener, one of those responsible for advertising the new product.

Early sales reports suggest Cola Turka has gained a 25 percent market share in a country which consumes 1 billion liters of colas a year, with Coca Cola holding the lion's share.

With the cola war now in full swing, the Vatan daily wondered about the implications for domestic politics, since the son of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a local distributor for the new Cola Turka, while the son of former prime minister Mesut Yilmaz, a political rival, is a distributor for Coca Cola.

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