An Ad Too Far?

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I’ve had gripes with advertisers in this paper before and I’ve always got a bone to pick with them in real life too. Maybe I just watch too much Bill Hicks stand up, maybe its because the latest series of Mad Men is a bit of a let down so far, but whatever the reason the tactics of advertisers in this day and age consistently make me want to vom.

The latest saccharine effort came from Coca Cola. Coca Cola are obviously a massive worldwide brand and their advertising these days seems to focus less on selling units, because people are always going to love that fizzy brown stuff, but on convincing people with emerging consciences that they aren’t the bad guys just because they make loads of money and rot baby’s teeth.

In the past I’ve condemned Internet Explorer for their lame use of predictable 90’s nostalgia, I had first hand experience of that one and it felt a little patronising and exploitative. Coca Cola have now turned to fixing relations between India and Pakistan, and that’s something I can’t say I have much first hand experience of. As an outsider then I’m bound to be more susceptible to the advertiser’s do-gooder intentions.

The advert shows residents in both countries using some kind of vending machine from the future which allows them to come face to face with one another, do a dance, shake hands, and have a coke of course, all in safe virtual reality. My first concern is that the divide between the two countries is understandably a sensitive topic, the result of a long and bloody history of religious and political tension – it’s not something that is usually addressed in a marketing campaign.

More appropriate in my view was a previous approach from the company which used a viral video of heartwarming footage from CCTV from across the world which achieved the same aim, to dispel prejudice and see the good in our fellow man without being overly explicit. Finding out it was a piece of advertising at the very end however always brings about an unimpressed sigh.

The scenes of shared happiness between those interacting with one another in the latest advert are undeniably emotive, but it is still impossible with advertising to forget the real reason behind doing this. Does Coca Cola believe this campaign will make any real difference in the world? Probably not. It is nice, however, to be reminded of the sweet moments in life, even if they are engineered with an ulterior motive in mind.

This is even more pertinent considering the amount of cultural and racial intolerance we are recently becoming privy to. A similar idea was implemented by a group of guys in New York which has been doing the rounds on Facebook, with no advertising rubric. The group merely stood in a busy area of the city holding the placard ‘Meet a Muslim’. Obviously pointing fun at prejudice the idea was to highlight the ridiculousness of the ignorant scaremongering against an entire group of people. Most people, however, just awkwardly took photos without a smile, probably going on later to profess to their friends about how inspiring the whole thing was.

Reading comments on the Youtube video of the Coca Cola advert itself is a good way to gain public opinion. There seemed to be in this case more positive comments about the efforts of the company than negative ones – turning a popular criticism on its head someone pointed out that if this is what can be achieved in a commercial there is potential for politicians to do even more, and one viewer Ronnie Babay put it simply, ‘Luv coke so much’, which says it all.

It’s hard to be a sour puss about this one, the people we see here are real and their enjoyment is too. However, it’s also hard to ignore the commercial aspect of the venture and as many commenters have pointed out, and I have taken their word for it, the company may be making up for something considering their destruction of the land to make way for factories and to cultivate water supplies in India. The people in the video, however, are not vehicles for particular political or financial gain in the immediate instance, they are just part of an enjoyable moment and it’s great that we get to see that.

One of my favourite poems is called ‘Having a Coke With You’ by Frank O’Hara. Although the destruction of land and corporate domination are not two of my favourite things, it doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the poem, or in fact the product. I’ve had some good times with a can of the sweet stuff in my hand, I even have one now! So for once I find it easy to put all this aside and enjoy the footage for what it is. Anyway it’s not really about Coke, if it was an advert for one of those magic vending machines they would be selling by the millions.

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