Photo: Coca-Cola / YouTube
The latest controversy regarding a potentially racist Super Bowl ad seems to be fizzling ahead of Sunday’s big game. (See the video below.)Soft drink giant Coca-Cola came under some fire from Arab-Americans for its Coke Chase spot, which briefly features an actor wearing desert garb trying to coax a stubborn camel. The character is featured among a cast of cowboys, Vegas-style showgirls and Mad Max-ish tough guys who race against each other for a thirst-quenching Coke.
Viewers of the 60-second spot, launched Jan. 22 on YouTube, are asked to vote for a winner of the chase, but the Arab is not among those on Coca-Cola’s online ballot.
That exclusion — plus the Lawrence of Arabia-style dress — drew charges of racism from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and Muslim Institute for Interfaith Studies. But Thursday, key critics backed off their complaints after Coca-Cola explained the back story of the ad and plans to develop the character on TV and the Internet.
Coca-Cola spokeswoman Lauren Thompson says the Arab character portrays a movie star filming his latest blockbuster as the race for Coke begins. The company didn’t want to tip viewers off about his expanded role in the ads until game time.
“They explained themselves pretty well, and I would say we feel better now that we have a better understanding of the campaign and the intent,” says Abed Ayoub, legal director for the committee. “The Arab-American community has been experiencing demonization in television and the media. The fact that this is occurring in one of the largest TV events of the year aroused concerns.”
The Coke ad, which will air during the first half of Sunday’s game, is the latest pricey Super Bowl spot to draw heat for potential political incorrectness. A Volkswagen spot featuring a guy using a Jamaican accent has drawn heat. VW isn’t pulling the ad.
But after a Twitter tirade and complaint from the centre for Science in the Public Interest, Taco Bell pulled its planned Super Bowl spot that promoted tacos over vegetables.
Coca-Cola had no plans to pull or edit Coke Chase, which has been viewed nearly 1 million times on YouTube with virtually no consumer backlash.
“We are very concerned by these allegations and in no way is our ad meant to be derogatory to any group,” the company said in a statement. “Coca-Cola is committed to delivering upon its core values from refreshment to happiness across all of its marketing communications. For this year’s big game campaign, we took a very cinematic approach, and all of the characters created are nods to great movies past.”
Still, some marketers say, with this ad, things don’t go better with Coke.
“The problem with the ad is that it relies on stereotypical characters to tell their story,” says Chris Lehtonen, president of Asterix Group, a San Francisco-based LGBT and multicultural marketing firm. (LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered.) “While it may not be blatantly racist, the fact that it pits these groups against each other in the ad is insensitive. It is trying to sell their product at the expense of these groups. There are much better ways to tell the story.”
Says David Rudd, a vice president at ad agency Axis: “Just as each ad should be viewed on its merits, every group has a right to be sensitive to the manner in which it is portrayed in mass media. … Memorable advertising can be accomplished without insulting anyone.”
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