February 8, 2014
Categories: Culture

Coca-Cola Super Bowl Commercial

Dear Coca-Cola Company,

I’m writing you today regarding the commercial you recently aired during the Super Bowl and again last night during the Olympics opening ceremony. Your feel-good, multilingual “America the Beautiful” rendition sure has stirred controversy among the American public, hasn’t it?

A handful of folks were flustered by your portrayal of the US as a cultural melting pot. Don’t mind them. ALL efforts toward a more tolerant, integrated and loving society ought to be commended.

Thanks for that.

What so many seem to have missed, though, is that any time a multi-billion dollar corporation makes a multi-million dollar move, it does so strategically. And when a giant conglomerate paints itself as a lover of all races, it automatically wins favor among minorities and non-racist majorities alike.

And that’s good for business.

In other words, if most everyone in the U.S. loves you and thinks you love them back, they will continue to support and fund you. The more well-loved and well-funded you are, the more empowered and equipped to carry out your latest mission:

Rapid and thorough invasion of the global market. 

This mission is blindingly evident from my current vantage point.

You see, the U.S. is my homeland, but I currently live in southern Mexico, where your products are ridiculously popular. In fact, your popularity as a soda manufacturer is paralleled only by your growing popularity as water distributor.

Here’s where your front of interracial love dissolves into a heap of diversions and dishonesty:

  • By privatizing, monopolizing and contaminating public water supplies (as you have in many areas of the world), you create need for your products within already-disadvantaged and dependent communities.
  • By charging more for your bottled water than your sodas and sugary “juice” drinks, you encourage addiction, further dependency and deeper embed yourself within local cultures.
  • By plastering your brand on village shacks, giving handouts to build your brand as benevolent and pushing excessive sugar consumption in areas with little to no access to health education, you’ve helped solidify Mexico’s obesity and diabetes rates as some of the highest in the world.

The last time I rode a bus through the mountain villages of Chiapas (the most impoverished state in this country), I snapped a few photos through the glass-paned window. In an hour’s time, I saw not a handful, but hundreds of advertisements that show your true heart for the citizens of this planet.

To be fair, I’ll not be exclusive. Your main competitor is giving you a run for your money:

Chiapas Coca-Cola 1

Chiapas Coca-Cola 2

Chiapas Coca-Cola 6

Chiapas Coca-Cola 3

Chiapas Coca-Cola 4

Chiapas Coca-Cola 7

Chiapas Coca-Cola 9

Chiapas Coca-Cola 11

Chiapas Coca-Cola 12

Chiapas Coca-Cola 8

Chiapas Coca-Cola 14

Chiapas Coca-Cola 10

Chiapas Coca-Cola 16

Chiapas Coca-Cola 15

Interesting.

It’s almost as if you are trying to convince minority groups in Mexico of your loyalty to their beautiful country.

Chiapas Coca-Cola

Photo Credit: {link:http://futurechallenges.org/local/coca-cola-globalization-inside-contemporary-mayan-world/}Future Challenges{/link}

Coca-Cola Chiapas 1

Photo credit: {link:http://mexicoretold.com/2013/05/01/chamula-chanting-and-coca-cola/}Mexico Retold{/link}

coke_doing_damage_mexico

Photo credit: {link:http://killercoke.org/nl110916.php}Unthinkable Undrinkable{/link}

Every day, I observe young children running errands for their mothers. The number who return home wobbling beneath the weight of a three liter bottle is staggering.

Every day, I see another one of your distribution trucks restocking dirt-floored mom and pop shops with your brilliantly marketed recipe for poor health and disease.

Every day, I breathe through my frustration and try my hardest to correct toward compassion, having witnessed yet another manifestation of your trusted influence.

My beef with your recent commercial boils down to this: 

  • Claiming to be in support of cultural diversity, then compromising water supplies in the world’s poorest regions is inconsistent.
  • Painting yourselves as supporters of ethnic minorities, then painting indigenous communities with propaganda for profit is dishonest.
  • Winning the hearts and trust of the American public, then marketing your products (using the resulting profits) to the developing world with power disproportionate to your level of social responsibility is unethical.

So, while I commend you for bringing awareness to the need for total cultural acceptance, let’s be honest with the diverse and beautiful American people about the singular motivation behind your message:

Money.

Coca-Cola Mexico

Because if you really cared about all ethnicities, you’d put warning labels instead of promises on every bottle.

If you really cared about immigrant minorities, you’d stop pushing poison on their far-away families.

If you really cared about racial diversity, you’d take your billboard off Lupita’s roadside shack and replace it with health info graphics or diabetes symptoms or a fresh coat of white paint.

And if you really cared about the people living in the US from all over the planet, you’d find more mindful ways to spend your money than putting up a false front during a football game.

But then, none of that would be good for business, and without an ice cold Coca-Cola in our hands, how would we remember that our country is beautiful?

Concerned U.S. (and global) citizen,

Beth Berry

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63 Comments

  1. Thank you.

    Brilliant as always!

    Reply

  2. Destapa la felicidad???!!!! Hahahahah right, . Amazing Beth, thanks!

    Reply

  3. Siobhan Moffitt

    Wow. This. This is how I felt at the end of that commercial when I realized it was a commercial for Coke. But I never could have verbalized it like you did. Thank you. Sharing.

    Reply

  4. Thank you for bringing all this to our attention. I would have never thought of any of that. Thank you so much, Beth.

    Reply

  5. I live in Uganda and I am frustrated with the same things – recently there was a Coke marketing campaign “A Billion reasons to believe in Africa.” and there have been many similar “African pride” kind of advertisements. It drives me crazy…

    Reply

    • Their reach is truly amazing. I have actually heard that humanitarian aid organizations are studying Coca-Cola’s infiltration tactics in order to improve their own effectiveness! Thanks for adding your perspective.

      Reply

  6. Thank you for this thoughtful post. We don’t have a tv or watch football, but after hearing about the ad I found myself feeling so unsettled and you have put the unsettled feeling into words.

    Reply

    • Thank you, Brenna. I don’t watch TV either but saw the ad all over the place online last week. “Unsettled” is exactly how I felt and the reason I wrote it. Feeling a little better now. ;)

      Reply

  7. Well BEth, I have mixed emotions about your post. I have known the man whose family started Coca-Cola all his life. His was a life of philanthropy as well as the other company he started Delta. Of course all companies have to make a profit to survive as mine did and if you have one, yours does.

    I have never read anything about Coca-Cola compromising water supplies. I would like to read those articles as this is news to me and something I find hard to believe.

    Each person that has a sign on their homes, stores, buildings is paid for that ad on an annual basis, year after year after year. I do not know how much.

    Everyone has a choice NOT to buy something. I never drink Coca-Cola or any other soft drink. Neither did my children as children nor now as adults. Nor do my grandchildren. They see all this advertising in the USA and also, since some live in Mexico, they see it in Mexico but make the choice.

    I think your post, sadly is one sided as though people who are minorities don’t have minds to make a choice.

    Love your blog always, even if I don’t agree and do have you on my BlogRoll.

    Reply

  8. Amazing comments, in addition the bottling factory is San Cristóbal is located in one of the most precious sites of water resources, a cloud forest in the Huitepec. Sometimes local habitants don’t have water but the operation in the factory is always running. No ethics!

    And one more comment America is the whole continent something it goes amiss in ongoing basis in the USA… What about Mayans for example? Ancestors pd this continent!!

    Reply

  9. Columbians and Guatemalans would match you your incredulity and raise a dash of bitter, bitter irony. This must particularly rankle for them, given the events of the 70s-early 2000s.
    http://killercoke.org/crimes_colombia.php

    This is brilliant. Thank you for giving such a cogent (and demonstrable) argument to the discomfort many felt first watching this ad, and then deciding how to best express our distaste. Huge fan of your brain!

    Reply

    • Thank you so much, Kate. I so appreciate you adding your kind voice. It is truly amazing how many people can stories from their neck of these great, global woods, isn’t it?

      Reply

  10. Advertising by big corporations is so deceptive. This reminds me of dr Seuss’ The Lorax, where they cut down all the trees, then sell bottled air. You should send this to coca-cola :)

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  11. Yes, yes, yes! I lived outside of San Cristobal

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  12. On the road to Chamula. I would walk through the cinder block homes that housed my neighbors and see the Coke signs and wonder how the world had come to this place. Then, I would find the trail that led to Chamula and walk into another world. Women walking with kindling strapped to their backs, washing their colorful huipils in the creek. Always smiling and generous to me (and my 15 month old daughter strapped to my back). I would breathe deeply and feel like maybe it was all OK. Then, I would turn along the trail and reach the spot that broke my heart. The ravine of plastic Coke bottles. There is no such thing as recycling in these indigenous areas. Before we (Americans and our multinational corps) came, all garbage was organic, compostable, of the earth. Garbage went into the ravine and turned into earth. But now… The garbage still goes into the ravine, but it will never turn to earth. Another layer of the problems of our consumer culture.

    Thank you for sharing this. I share your thoughts and concerns.

    Reply

    • Thanks for adding another cog to the complexity. The lack of recycling is a whole other issue here. My experience with the Mayan women of Chamula and other villages sounds similar. Always smiling, welcoming, colorful and carrying babies!

      Reply

  13. this observation is SO true! I lived with the rancheros in the mountains of Baja California Sur for many years since the early 90″s and the Change is horrifying. These soft drink billboards are everywhere, BIG glaring. they even have “completion wars”, for awhile we’d see Coca cola and then suddenly, almost overnight there’d be pepsi, just as BIG and that switched back and forth with coca cola more more frequent. this was at the time NAFTA came into being and the soft drinks plastic garbage now everywhere while people were getting obese1 In a hard working ranchero life…………….?!?!?!?

    Reply

    • The irony is thick, isn’t it? Thanks for adding your voice.

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    • I know a lot of white people who ate fast food and drink a lot of Soda, but the rate of Diabetes is lower than among Mexicans with similar diets.
      A doctor told me that the Genetics of white people make them less sensitive to diseases resulting from excessive intake of Sugar. On the other side Mexicans and people of African descent are the most sensitive.

      Reply

  14. Dena Woodall

    Thank you Beth!! Well said. I’ve been so frustrated and focused on all the comments from ignorant people complaining about the song being sung in a multitude of languages that when I read your blog it made me realize what I should actually be concerned about and what are actually non-issues that should be ignored.

    Reply

  15. ‘Power disproportionate to your level of social responsibility.’
    Just about sums it up.

    Brilliant. Sharing.

    Reply

  16. Well said. Does anybody fall for their thin veil of decency? Alas, I think the answer is most definitely “yes”. Personally, I never drink sodas – I loathe them. But I am concerned with the vast majority that has fallen for their sweet talk and even sweeter, acidic poison we know as “Coke”.

    Reply

  17. Minx McCloud

    Dear Beth, I understand what you are saying; I really do. Your article was well written and well-intentioned.
    BUT, I think it is a bit naive.

    I am 64 years old, and though it was easy in the ’70s to promise Cesar Chavez we would not eat grapes or lettuce in support of migrant workers, I am quite sure that nobody will be giving up Coca-Cola because of its duplicitous ads.

    And honestly, don’t most companies manipulate our feelings to sell products? Why is Budweiser with its beautiful clydesdales and cuddly puppies “cute,” and Coca-Cola is now the new anti-Christ?

    This sort of stuff has been going on ever since the 1900s when you were asked to “fly the friendly skies of United.” You think those skies were really friendly? Even back then, they were going to confuse you so much as to fares, departures and arrivals that you might NEVER recover.

    Think of every ad campaign you’ve ever seen. EVERY major corporation has its own itinerary, and vilefying a company for making money is a useless and frustrating effort.

    If you google the terms “coca cola, charitable contributions,” you will see that Coke supports many, many community projects throughout the world and has supported the special olympics for 35 years.

    I maintain that every major corporation has been double-dealing and supporting sleazy business practices at one time or another. They are capitalistic at best and bullies at their worst. But one company should not be held more accountable than another.

    Besides, if just one person watches this ad and says, “You know, I’m going to start living my life with love in my heart,” then I will be very pleased, even if the effort is not completely altruistic.

    Reply

    • Hi Minx. I hear what you are saying, too. You are right, MOST companies use manipulation to sell their products. The point of the post was not to paint Coke or anyone else as the anti-Christ, but simply to raise awareness by offering my perspective. I didn’t even see the commercial on TV but was shocked by how many people shared it and seemed to be celebrating its wonderful message. Just as you would be pleased if even one person saw the ad and said, “You know, I’m going to start living my life with love in my heart,” I will be pleased if just one person begins to examine mistruths being sold to them and looks deeper into what true support of diversity and unity looks like (with love in their hearts, of course!) Perhaps the distinction in the way we think could be boiled down to the Margaret Mead in me. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has,” is something I wholeheartedly believe. Thank you for taking the time to reach out. Your comment was well articulated and made me think.

      Reply

  18. We live in Bolivia and we just returned from the US a few days ago…. exact same thing with the Coke billboards. They put this young, thin Hispanic women laughing and she is always drinking a coke… really?? So sad….

    Reply

    • Bolivia, too, huh? I’m curious as to whether there are any countries who have not allowed them in. Thanks, Heather!

      Reply

  19. I love this blog post so much that I shared it on my Facebook page. Everyone needs to read this! Thanks for writing it!

    Reply

  20. I saw this same exploitation in Nairobi Kenya when I traveled there. One year, lots of small mom-n-pop kiosks with fresh fruit to sell. Not 12 months later, no kiosks at all unless they were Coca Cola. You have given a voice to those who don’t have this platform. –or don’t know they do. THANK YOU BETH.

    Reply

    • Jenelle, thank YOU for adding your voice. it’s so true about how quickly the change is happening.

      Reply

  21. Hi.
    I too have witnessed the exploitation of poor people all across the Third World! It is a travesty! Thank you so much for taking a stand.
    I am delighted to discover and explore your blog via the Sustainable Surburbia Linkup!
    I am enjoying reading your wonderful sustainable living blog posts.
    I blog about healthy, green and natural living at http://www.UrbanNaturale.com
    We have a lot of interests in common. Let’s stay in touch.
    All the best, Deb

    Reply

  22. A wonderful and tactful post pointing out that “marketing” is based on deception and lies for the purpose of making profits. When a multi-national corporation is making profits at the expense of nature, communities, and the health of its customers they shouldn’t be allowed to lie in its advertisements or feel good short movies.

    Reply

    • Thank you, Kelly! I agree wholeheartedly. The fact that it’s done every day does not make it excusable.

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  23. I love your blog Beth (when prompted by Kelly to read them!), but I’m with Minx on this one. This is an incredibly complex issue and foisting the responsibility solely on Coca Cola is at best overly simplistic and at worst a little trite. There are numerous actors complicit in Coca Cola’s success starting right at home in Mexico, an upper-middle income country with a GPD of over USD1 trillion. I’m not advocating for Coca Cola’s innocence, but the creation of a such a vast global, soda empire was far from single-handed.

    Reply

    • Hey Crystal! I appreciate and respect your perspective. You are right about the complexity of this issue. I was simply blown away by how many people seemed fooled by Coca-Cola’s smokescreen and felt they might want to know a little more of the story before buying into their image as a company who loves minorities and supports equality.

      Reply

      • Indeed! And ultimately, if you can single-handedly raise awareness amongst 50+ readers (heck any readers!), then it’s a start towards addressing the tremendous imbalance. Still, a few years of working alongside the governments who purportedly represent these minorities has really caused me to shift my thinking. Keep up your good work, a little good always goes a long way!

        Reply

    • Vicente Fox was President of Mexico and President of Coca-Cola Latin America.

      Reply

  24. Michele Sierra

    I spent a long time in Chiapas, loved it, the people, the ambiente, everything about it. My father-in-law drank 10-15 cokes a day, and died in his early fifties. Mexico leads the world in obesity and is close to the top of the list for diabetics. I hear you, and I totally agree.

    Reply

    • Thanks, Michele. It is truly hard to imagine consuming that much coke, but people here do it every day. The obesity and diabetes rates are staggering.

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  25. Well said, Beth! The plastic, red coca-cola table and chairs are rampant in Mexico unfortunately. Always amazes me how they make their way to the most middle-of-nowhere places :(

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  26. A most interesting article, but you should include more discussion and evidence about the water supply activities of Coca Cola. When you talked about their monopolization of drinking water, were you only talking about the supply of bottled water or do they also own the mains water distribution systems, and if so, is there any evidence that they deliberately neglect that side of the business.

    Reply

  27. the power of your words will continue to reach those that need to see it…keep it up! yes, every time i see coca-cola, i think of battery acid cleaner. not a pleasant thought.

    Reply

  28. YES!, you tell it Beth! Having just come home from our wonderful trip to Tulum I am reminded of all the American sodas, candy and plain JUNK in the food stores there. Cultural differences aside, no wonder garbage cans are over flowing when so much comes over wrapped, canned and bottled (from America!). I found only one Mexican chocolate bar (brand), clearly priced so only tourists could purchase, and it made me sad that American companies have replaced even that which was INVENTED in Mexico.
    I love the people and wished I could exclaim from roof tops to not be swindled into this American falacy.
    Thank you!

    Reply

  29. SO well written. Thank you so much for authentically and thoughtfully articulating exactly what I felt while watching that commercial as my Beloved Hawks marched to victory.

    All I could sputter out while watching it was: “Well, THAT takes a special kind of hubris!”

    Your post is much more on point!

    I just found your blog and will be back. :-)

    Reply

  30. Excellent! I love what you said and how you said it!
    Keep up the insightful and intelligent posts….I love them! You are wonderful!

    Reply

  31. I’m not sure if I’m more excited for you following your dreams and making your book a reality or that I will get to read it?!! And on top of that you get to move to WNC! I’ve had my eye on moving up there to a smallish mountain town for awhile now, I feel it in my bones. Just have to figure out how to get that feeling in my husbands bones too, pretty sure another hot dry Texas summer will do the trick :) I look forward to hearing about y’all’s journey, especially interested in hearing your take on the schools up there; something I will have to start considering much more in the next few years. Good luck to you all!’

    Reply

  32. Not sure how I did that, but obviously my response was meant for your post on your new book/ moving. I’m a real technology genius…

    Reply

  33. I just found your blog and you just hit the nail on the head with this post. Thank you kindly for your profound thoughts. You struck a cord with me.

    Reply

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