You can’t have your Coke and drink it too

It’s one of the pillars of successful marketing, target your audience. Individualizing ads to particulars groups or regions of consumers ensure that messages have the most impact. But what happens when a company features a controversial scene in a spot, then removes it for some audiences and not others? Good marketing move or failure to take a stance?

In its newest global campaign, “Reasons to Believe” Coca-Cola set out to inspire consumers that no matter what happens in life, it’s those small happy moments that make life worth living.

Check out the commercial below.

In most European countries the ad contains a scene of two gay men holding hands in front of their wedding party. However, in the Irish version (the video below) the scene has been replaced to feature a bride and groom.

The Irish LGBT publication, EILE Magazine, brought attention to the issue, calling the removal an “inexplicable move”. In response to the criticism, Coca-Cola said that the advertisement had been tailored to individual markets so that the ad resonates with the people in each country where it is shown. The company defends the decisions saying that grooms were excluded from the Irish version because gay marriage is not legal in the country. EILE Magazine claims the Coca-Cola reasoning moot. The footage of the two grooms is known to be a video clip from a same-sex union ceremony in Australia – equivalent to a civil partnership in Ireland. Yet gay marriage is also illegal in Australia, but shown there. EILE claims the spot should have been suitable for Ireland as well.

Coca-Cola has unequivocally made public their supporting stance on same sex marriage. Since 2006, the Human Rights Campaign continues to award Coca-Cola with a 100 percent ranking of their company polices and practices regarding LGBT. The Coca-Cola Company notes on their website, “To achieve a perfect score, companies must have fully inclusive equal employment opportunity policies, provide equal employment benefits, demonstrate their commitment to equality publicly and exercise responsible citizenship”

Many are saying that Coca-Cola’s recent actions were hypocritical. Coca-Cola claims to support gay marriage, but their choice to remove a gay marriage scene from a commercial in Ireland, in which law does not prohibit such imagery, is misleading of the company’s values. Similarly, another beverage icon, Starbucks, has also gained attention for their hypocritical actions.

Bryant Simon discusses the company Starbucks in his book Everything But the Coffee. Through his research he comes to discover that Starbucks isn’t delivering what they are promising in their brand – good coffee with little environmental impact. Claiming to buy fair-trade coffee from Rwanda and Nicaragua farmers, Starbucks was actually buying from bigger farmers and only buying 5-6 percent of fair-trade out of all the total coffee purchases.

Much like Starbucks claiming to be environmentally friendly yet not taking the necessary steps in order to be green, Coca-Cola’s actions were just as misleading; claiming to support gay marriage yet removing a scene from one version of a commercial for the sole purpose of trying to please everyone.

As future and current brand ambassadors we have to remember that every decision we make, including company policy decisions, become an integral part of brand, and when decisions are made that contradicts that it hurts the brand.

On the other side of things, as consumers (and as Simon states in his book) we have to remember pursuing “solutions to highly complex social problems through buying and buying alone” doesn’t fix the problem or change the ideology. We have to stop relying and believing that buying certain brands is going to change a social issue.

So, does Coke’s decision to take out the gay marriage scene hurt its brand identity? Should companies take stances on social issues? What practices do you follow to make sure this brand conflict doesn’t occur in your company or with your clients?

Savannah Valade, Caroline Robinson, Elizabeth Harrington