Philadelphia - Last Sunday, Coca-Cola debuted its “America the Beautiful” commercial during the Super Bowl, taking heavy criticism in some circles for perceived defamation of a patriotic American song.
Philadelphia – Last Sunday, Coca-Cola debuted its “America the Beautiful” commercial during the Super Bowl, taking heavy criticism in some circles for perceived defamation of a patriotic American song.
The ad features bilingual American women singing the quasi-national anthem in seven languages, including English, Spanish and Senegalese, and triggered outrage and heated debate across the country – exactly as Coke intended.
Some conservatives deemed the ad divisive and un-American, while most commentators took the opportunity to indulge in self-righteous grandstandingon the virtues of multiculturalism. The debate is as old as the United States, which has no official language, precisely because the country has been deeply diverse since its founding. Despite the revisionist efforts of xenophobic pundits, our history is rife with examples of linguistic pluralism, from the bilingual California state constitution to the numerous native U.S. dialects, including Louisiana Creole and Pennsylvania Dutch, and home to thousands of religious denominations (Islam, by the way, is the fourth most-practiced after Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism).
In this light, the passionate defenses of diversity put forth by most commentators do more to increase their own self-worth and give legitimacy to the ravings of misguided partisans than present a truly revolutionary take on the issue. Recently, marketing strategies by Coca-Cola and other well-established corporations have preyed upon this very tendency.
Cheerios presented a similarly “edgy” commercial in 2013, featuring an interracial family. The company ran a follow-up ad with the same family in response to critics, and a 30-second spot was featured in Super Bowl ads last Sunday as well. Recalling, too, JCPenney’s gay-friendly advertising, with controversy over a Father’s Day ad featuring gay parents, it is significant that older companies with broad customer bases are opting for a risky, progressive approach (not always with success – the CEO of JCPenney was fired after a 25% decrease in sales stemming from the ads).
The Millennial generation, currently aged roughly 13-29, is the most ethnically diverse and progressive generation in history, and advertisers are taking note. Companies with more traditional reputations are using daring political statements to present a fresh face to younger consumers, backed by the huge revenue required to risk negative sales results. Coca-Cola’s choice to reveal their commercial during the most-watched television event in U.S. history was a move calculated to maximize the reaction that executives knew would result from an ad featuring a classic patriotic anthem sung in Spanish and other languages by immigrants, including a woman in hijab, at the height of political debate on immigration reform.
Like other corporations before it, Coca-Cola has recognized the opportunity to wring more money from this controversy by expanding the original ad, running a 90-second version during the opening ceremonies of the Olympics on Friday. Americans (and commentators worldwide) should stop taking the bait. Attempts by Coke and other companies to capitalize on progressive trends belies their actual roles in decidedly anti-progressive activities, from Coca-Cola’s alleged involvement in union organizer assassinations in Colombia to its discrimination against African-American employees.
A Super Bowl ad for home soda maker Soda Stream was allegedly banned by the network for a derisive comment directed at Pepsi and Coke, both sponsors of the sporting event – a troubling sign of the totalitarian-esque power of two of the world’s largest beverage producers. Coincidentally, Soda Stream is implicated in damning enterprises as well, operating factories in the occupied West Bank in violation of international law.
Rather than get caught up in endless online debate with social conservatives on the merits of diversity, further enriching Coca-Cola’s advertising revenue, commentators would do well to focus on actual threats to democracy and multiculturalism worldwide. We are more concerned with pressing 1 for English than seeing beyond the polished presentations of multinational corporations, who wield actual power to influence global trends, either for human advancement or profit margins. Disingenuous advertising aside, their actions show that they will continue to choose profit until consumers demand otherwise.
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