Archives for January 2016

A painful Holiday commercial

In the Hippocratic Oath, doctors promise to first “do no harm.” Advertisers should give their brands and consumers the same care.

In last season’s holiday commercial, Coca-Cola insensitively and inadvertently harmed their brand.  Opening with a bucolic view of the indigenous community of Totontepec in Oaxaca, Mexico; the Spanish text proclaimed that 81.6% of Mexico’s indigenous people feel marginalized because Spanish is not their primary language, accompanied by closeups of their desolate faces. The commercial, distributed by Coca-Cola Mexico, attempted to doctor the situation and cheer up the community with a group of hip, young Caucasions cutting 2 x 4’s, painting them in Coke’s classic red and building a giant, lighted Christmas tree of wood and red plastic bottle caps. Ending with the group of urban youths passing out bottles of Coca-Cola, a final text appears encouraging viewers to  “break down prejudice and share” using the hashtag handle #AbreTuCorazon, or #”Open Your Heart.”

The backlash was immediate.

The TeleSUR website described it as “a painful metaphor of ongoing colonialism in the country as white kids storm the Mixe indigenous community, as if a crusade, distributing bottles of Coke and constructing a giant Coca-Cola Christmas tree for all to idolize.” A lawyer for the indigenous and indigent, Elvira Pablo, describes this type of advertising “as an act of discrimination and racism by imposing a consumer culture alien to this community.”

After the commercial was banned in Mexico and a request made for the government to sanction the soft drink giant, Coca-Cola took it off the air and apologized for offending. But to quote Benjamin Franklin, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” YouTube users continue to post the video with sarcastic titles such as “The White Savior Ad.”

When branding, it is crucial to be considerate and careful of the message within the message and diagnose how the target audience will be affected. In this case, Coca-Cola’s message hindered unity and reinforced prejudice.

Bottomline, don’t wound your audience in an effort to heal them.