Coca-Cola stirs up 'race' storm with Super Bowl ad

Last updated 11:15 05/02/2014
Fairfax Media

AMERICA'S UGLY RESPONSE TO COKE AD Coca Cola's Super Bowl ad, featuring "America, the Beautiful" sung in different languages, sparks controversy, with some genuinely upset it wasn't in English.

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Sometimes when you're a billion dollar multi-national company, you just can't win.

Coca-Cola has only just skidded through a week of taking heat for sponsoring the Sochi Winter Olympics but not doing enough for gay rights in Russia.

Now, in the wake of a Super Bowl advertisement that featured the song America The Beautiful in seven languages, the American soft drink giant appears to have sparked a race war.

Conservative commentator Glenn Beck said the ad was intentionally divisive.

"It's in your face, and if you don't like it, if you're offended by it, you're a racist. If you do like it, you're for immigration. You're for progress. That's all this is: to divide people," he said.

The ad was also attacked by conservative critics because it features a gay couple hugging their daughter. In an ironic footnote, it has been speculated that the author of America The Beautiful was in a lesbian relationship for more than two decades.

First to vent their fury were the Twitterati, with the hashtag #BoycottCoke outpacing #AmericaTheBeautiful before the final whistle had been blown on the Super Bowl.

"America The Beautiful in a language other than English is just wrong," said one furious Tweeter. "Couldn't make out that song they were singing. I only speak English," said another.

Others displayed stunning ignorance, lambasting Coke for "desecrating" the US national anthem. America The Beautiful is a patriotic song written by Katherine Lee Bates in 1895. The US national anthem is The Star Spangled Banner.

"If we cannot be proud enough as a country to sing America the Beautiful in English in a commercial during the Super Bowl, by a company as American as they come, doggone we are on the road to perdition," one Republican politician-turned-pundit, Allen West, said.

But another Republican, Senator Lisa Murkowski, voiced her support for the ad. "My favorite commercial so far? Coca Cola's America the Beautiful ad. Gave me goosebumps, and I don't even drink," Murkowski wrote on Twitter.

The ad opens with spectacular aerial images of America's landscape "from the West to the Pacific shore to the desert Southwest, interspersed with everyday American neighborhoods".

"For 127 years, Coca-Cola has been proud to be a part of bringing friends and families together while memories are made," Coca-Cola executive Katie Bayne said in a statement. "We are simply showing that America is beautiful, and Coke is for everyone."

The diverse faces featured in the ad, representing different ethnicities and sexualities, "make up the fabric of American life: brothers enjoying a movie; friends dancing; families dining out and roller-skating; siblings camping and many others," Bayne said.

Coca-Coca is, after all, the brand that gave us I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (in Perfect Harmony) back in 1971. That advertisement was so successful its verse was later re-recorded by The New Seekers and turned into a pop hit.

The gay rights group GLAAD spoke out in support of the ad.

"Including a gay family ... is not only a step forward for the advertising industry, but a reflection of the growing majority of Americans from all walks of life who proudly support their LGBT friends, family and neighbours as integral parts of America the Beautiful," GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said.

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To Coke's credit, the company's Facebook is open to anyone to make a comment. The net result is that it is now peppered with reaction to the ad, much of it criticising the company's stance of cultural inclusiveness.

"I have had enough of companies like yours playing up to people who will not conform to our country and it's [sic] ways of life," said one comment. "Shame on you, Coke," said another.

But overall, positive reaction seemed to narrowly outweigh negative reaction on the Facebook site.

"Thanks for reminding us that this a very diverse nation and it should be celebrated," said one comment. "Beautiful commercial. Thank you for showing the diversity in this country," said another.

A 90-second version of the ad will be broadcast in the US during the opening ceremony of the 2014 winter games.

- Stuff


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