The camera fixes on a single face, a young woman who begins to sing. The wind is ruffling her hair. The perspective broadens and we see a line of young people on a sunny hillside. People of diverse colours and creeds. Their faces are in a sort of rapture of joy as they gaze into the distance. They are all singing now, an al fresco choir of togetherness and peace …’I’d like to buy the world a Coke, and furnish it with love,grow apple trees and honey bees and snow-white turtle doves…’
The famous Coke advert came out in 1971*, before the word globalization was invented. In 1971 more than a quarter of the human race was living in extreme poverty. Rapid economic development in Asia had yet to take off. Eastern Europe was deep in the grip of Stalinist regimes….and here was Coca Cola having the nerve to suggest that a fizzy consumer product could actually help bring people together.
1971 seems like a more innocent time (could our contemporary cynicism stomach such an advert now?), but here’s the thing - the advert is visionary, and its vision has been validated. Coke, and of course other consumer products such as cosmetics, are now both almost universally available and intensely popular. This is an important discovery about human nature. No matter our race or creed or where we live, we all pretty much like the same stuff. Some take this line of thinking further – the Golden Arches theory of conflict says that no two countries with a MacDonald’s have ever gone to war**. Rising prosperity and growing consumerism help bring peace. Bring on the turtle doves!!
This is all bad news for the new nationalists who now dominate so much of our political discourse. Nationalists (and I distinguish nationalists from patriots) have to think some groups are fundamentally different from others, otherwise what is the point? But nail varnish and toothpaste and hair dye and other products that people love know no frontiers and don’t limit themselves to groups. Cosmetics are applied to the surface of the body, but tell us more about the people within than any number of nationalist myths of superiority.
Which brings us to the International Association Collaboration (IAC) in cosmetics. The fact that many tastes and needs are universal, means companies in our sector are active everywhere where there are people. Trade associations like Cosmetics Europe spring up all over the globe, as the dynamic of consumerism/regulation/representation kicks in. Many industries now organise into global associations, because unsurprisingly, common issues arise in many different markets. Cosmetics is no different.
IAC meets twice a year to exchange information and ideas, and to work on projects of common interest (of which there are many - a recent example is product preservation), and includes associations from every inhabited continent. It is an inspiring thing to see how much can be achieved by collaboration among nations sitting together on an equal basis. To take one example, here in Florida where I am writing this blog post, and where the IAC is meeting, the head of the Chinese cosmetics association can happily compare notes with his US counterpart, free of the dismal baggage of geopolitical squabbling going on elsewhere.
IAC and other global collaborations are, in their own small way, keeping the spirit of an open, collaborative and mutually respectful world going, even as some nationalist politicians persist, with apparently growing determination, in their project of offering us nothing and leading us to nowhere.
John Chave, Director General, Cosmetics Europe
* Fans of the US TV series Mad Men will note that the series suggests that the dissolute anti-hero Don Draper invents the ad following a personal breakdown and the discovery of meditation.
** there are some exceptions, but not many, and you get the point