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The Controversial Coke Commercial
Was the outrage it sparked worth it?

 Unless you didn’t watch the Super Bowl and have been hiding under a rock ever since, you’re familiar with Coke’s 60-second “It's Beautiful” commercial that has caused so much controversy.

The commercial paints a picture of the diversity of America, celebrating the many kinds, colors, lifestyles and origins of Americans who, by definition, are one. One of our most patriotic songs, “America the Beautiful,” plays in the background. 

In nine languages.

And in just 60 seconds, America the Beautiful became America the Ugly.

The commercial sparked a barrage of outrage on social media, with comments ranging from “Speak English or go home” to “Coke, this is America. English please.” And those were the clean ones. 

Which raised two questions: First, is this outrage appropriate, and second, did the commercial benefit Coke?

I could talk for hours about how utterly shocking some of the comments were. An article written in last Sunday’s U.S. edition of the British paper The Guardian about the divisive nature of the commercial pretty much sums up my feelings. It began with: “[The commercial’s] multilingual script alarmed conservatives already losing their battle to preserve an America that never existed.” 

Precisely. We are a country of immigrants, have been since the beginning, and, like it or not, always will be. That’s the nature of who we are.

In a nation where four out of 10 people have a heritage outside of the continental U.S., I believe a commercial demonstrating cultural diversity perfectly represents a country where diversity is king. People come to America, as they will continue to do as long as we have the reputation of being the "land of opportunity," and become American. But they don’t immediately erase everything else that they are and stand for. 

Certainly there are plenty of people who disagree. And the airing of the commercial seemed to reinforce how great the chasm of political and social belief is in this country. And that in and of itself is a shame.

From a value standpoint, I think it might be a long time before Coke knows how this worked. At $4 million for 30 seconds, my advanced math tells me they spent close to $8 million for their Super Bowl minute. Need to sell a lot of Coke to pay for that.

And while that seems a ridiculous amount to pay for a commercial, consider that the Super Bowl audience continues to grow, this year more viewers, 111 million in all, watched the game -- more than any other show in television history. So if you can afford it, it’s a powerful way to sell. Even for close to $8 million. And don’t forget the 10 million-plus YouTube views “It's Beautiful” received. 

Advertising is designed to do a number of things, but its essence is to attract people to buy a product. But to do that, it has to have a positive influence on a customer in order to change their purchase habits.

So did this commercial have a positive influence? That’s debatable. Post-game feedback from the ad industry was mixed. USA Today, which has an ad meter that ranks the commercials, put “It's Beautiful” 17th out of the 50 commercials in the show, above average but clearly hurt by the controversy. Yahoo Sports wasn’t nearly as kind, giving it a D, saying “When all else fails, wrap yourself in the flag.” E however ranked it 7th overall, observing “It caused quite the uproar on Twitter, so it must have done something right. America is a melting pot, folks. Has been for a long time. Get used to it.”

And that’s what Coke was trying to do here, demonstrate that it is a brand for all races, that it knows nothing about prejudice but knows everything about people. So from that standpoint I think the whole thing worked pretty darn well for Coca Cola.

To be sure, the subliminal message wasn’t a rejection of English nor was it a celebration of the other languages around the globe. It was simply, “Buy Coke.” But in a commercial where the ultimate goal was to sell a product, it did a pretty good job of associating Coke with something bigger. Our people. And I just loved that.

On its YouTube page, Coke opined the following when they posted the commercial: “The only thing more beautiful than this country are the people who live here.”

Thank you Coke for reminding us that we are beautiful because of, and not in spite of, our linguistic and cultural diversity. We are indeed America the Beautiful. We shouldn’t forget that.


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