Coca Cola: America the (Mostly) Beautiful

If you have been paying attention to social media at all this week, you will have seen Coca Cola coming under fire for its Super Bowl commercial; a multilingual version of “America the Beautiful.” The commercial has been said to be “un-American” by some of the Super Bowl audience, and has had many questioning why a predominately English-speaking country should change the language of a patriotic song in order to “advertise” and “pander” to “foreigners.”

Yes. Really.

In what can only be described as “doing a Sarah Palin,” former Republican Representative Allen West first started the uproar by posting to his blog in a bid to stay relevant. His gratuitous contribution to the blogosphere detailed the words of President Teddy Roosevelt on immigration, but not before outlining his own harrowing experience of “America the Beautiful” actually embracing what it means to be American:

“… Then the words went from English to languages I didn’t recognize… If we cannot be proud enough as a country to sing “American the Beautiful” in English in a commercial during the Super Bowl, by a company as American as they come – doggone we are on the road to perdition. This was truly a disturbing commercial for me…”

Todd Starnes, a Fox News host, followed closely with Twitter comments denouncing Coke as “… the official soft drink of illegals crossing the border,” hijacking Coca-Cola’s official, promotional hashtag ‘#AmericaIsBeautiful,’ and prompting viewers to create ‘#SpeakAmerican.’

Ignoring the fact that nothing in the commercial says the singers can’t speak English, and the fact that America has no official language, owing its strength to its multi-racial, immigrant roots and population, Coca Cola’s response has been incredibly understated. Thus far, its rebuttal to the negativity has been near non-existent. Apart from releasing a behind-the-scenes video, the brand seems to be standing its ground and weathering the storm – which may be all it has to do.

In a testament to the strength of its inclusive, global brand message and its past public relations efforts, many third-party social media users are coming forward to defend the brand’s choice of advertisement. The heated online debate and the surrounding controversy has ensured the extensive coverage of both Coca Cola and the story in the media, resulting in over 10 million views on the YouTube commercial alone. Nearly every news station has condemned the negativity toward the 60-second video; the most shared of which being commentary by Brenda Wood for 11Alive in which she calls the outrage “outrageous,” and a post on a Tumblr blog.

Recently, Coca Cola has been responding to almost every individual who has sent them a message of encouragement with personalized tweets. The tweets, authored and initialed by a rotation of social media personnel, have been used to do three things: promote, and make viral, its behind-the-scenes video, drive traffic to its Spotify page in which you can listen to its versions of “America the Beautiful,” and cement its human, multicultural brand image by replying in the language it has been contacted in.

For the time being, Coca Cola has kept this response to Twitter instead of any of its other social media outlets, leaving its Facebook fans without any response – perhaps a questionable decision, taking into account the number of the Facebook populace who don’t partake in Twitter; Facebook has 1.2 billion users, where Twitter has 500 million users total (250 million of which are active).

Not surprisingly, Coca Cola’s response to this negativity has been widely triumphant; while some are offended, the overwhelming majority are lauding Coke’s commercial. Although the brand knew exactly what it was doing by releasing that commercial (and, most likely, already had a plan in place to deal with the backlash), the fact it had enough trust in its customers and its image to sit back and wait is impressive – not that it had many other options.

After all, releasing any kind of apologetic statement or news release would work against its brand image, and would work in contrary to its activities as a celebrator of diversity. As any public relations professional can tell you, every kind of communication needs to be paired with action to make it credible and effective.

If it apologized, Coke would put itself in a lose-lose situation; its loyalty to its audience would be at odds with its core values. Coca Cola would actually have to BE sorry – and take steps to show it. To apologize for showing diversity, the brand would need to begin to undo the multicultural brand image it has spent years, not to mention billions of dollars, creating for itself.

Like that’s going to happen.