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Super Bold: Coca Cola’s Response to ‘America is Beautiful’ Vitriol

The Super Bowl this year was less of a game and more like one big spectacle. While the Seahawks effectively shamed the Broncos in an anti-climactic, 3 hour beat down- off the field was, arguably, much more interesting.

The halftime show was not above scrutiny. While Bruno Mars tried his best to channel the lost spirit of Michael Jackson (and failed), the Red Hot Chili Peppers proved they were not rocking enough to actually play instruments. Instead, deciding to pretend to play their famous song, ‘Give It Away’. I’m sure Flea is just as good at air-bass as he is playing the real one.

What sparked the most controversy were the Superbowl ads. While many we’re the expected, big budget, 30 second bits of hilarity, others tried to elicit a deeper response. The most controversial comes from Coca Cola’s commercial. Their ad attempts to pull your heart strings, with pictures of people from various ethnicities, ages, and orientations singing -in multiple languages- the song ‘America the Beautiful’.

The aim of this was to inspire American audiences with the notion that our country has a wide range of different people from all walks of life and this diversity makes us beautiful. The internet took it in a different direction. Despite the ideals of America; ‘your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.’ Many still have hang-ups with the notion that we are in a melting pot, or (more recently characterized as) a salad bowl.

To some, it came as an insult. Thinking the ad suggested that America belongs to ‘them’. Who are they? Anyone really…anyone who doesn’t speak English, that is. What happened next was a Twitter frenzy. With thousands of people tweeting, retweeting, and favoriting posts stating that anything other than English is not American.

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The number of people endorsing these tweets is staggering.

So what was Coke to do? They had already committed about $3.5 million dollars just to showcase this ad to the largest audience possible. They also have already dedicated themselves to a large social marketing campaign around this ideal, accompanied by the hashtag #americaisbeautiful. Do they pull the plug on this controversial multi-million dollar campaign or stay the course in defiance of criticism? Coke had unfortunately fit themselves between a rock and a hard place.

As ridiculous as this story seems, it isn’t the first time a patriotic gesture has gone awry. Just a few month ago, Spaghetti O’s got into some deep trouble for posting a picture of their mascot holding the American flag in remembrance of Pearl Harbor. This low-level pandering, riding on the coattails of national pride and patriotism, is disgusting when done poorly. For Spaghetti O’s, they accepted their defeat and quickly apologized to their followers.

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For Coke, it’s a bit different. Although striking the same vein of emotional nationalism, their spin doesn’t take the low-road of exploiting veterans and a national tragedy. As such, their response was much different. Not only are they continuing forward with their #Americaisbeautiful campaign, but they aren’t even acknowledging those angry at their commercial.

Just looking across Coke’s social media presences, you can see that they do not care about the haters. They are charging full steam ahead with their social marketing effort. Also, rather than respond to negative comments, they are actually deleting them from their social presences. Here’s a list of replys on Coke’s Twitter post.

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This decision to delete all of the negative posts may be controversial- as it is silencing a part your audience which can sometimes alienate them. But really, blocking out people who dislike your ad campaign because it’s in a different language is grounds for the ban-hammer. For Coke, their motto seems to be ‘don’t feed the trolls’, in fact, don’t even let the trolls come out.

So what can we learn here? For one, you should fully believe that any media you put online to be viewed by the masses is good, quality content that you will stand behind. If your audience has a legitimate problem, address it and change accordingly. But, if the comments are obviously coming from a place of prejudice, then unconventional steps can be taken. For crisis management, sometimes the best option is to stop listening.

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