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

3 thoughts on “You can’t have your Coke and drink it too

  1. In COM we like to say “everything is an argument” and this case is a great illustration of what we mean. To choose to present a gay union as legitimate in an ad is an argument for its legitimacy. If a company wants to take that stand then they have to take it. The mistake Coke makes is in seeming to “change it’s mind” or be fickle in the public sphere. That’s not really an option for an issue like this. That’s why it’s so important to talk honestly–brutally honestly–about the brand and the narrative and the company and the core values. Are we a company that wants to explicitly align ourselves with gay rights? If so, then you make take that stand in all markets because you are the same company in all markets. This is not a “different sense of humor in different markets” issue. Companies can take stands on social issues but they have to understand that those stands are not market specific.

  2. One of the key things I have learned thus far in my journey as a COM major is that a culture’s (or in this case, a company’s) values shape its communication practices and vice versa. After viewing the two commercials, it seems to me that Coke’s professed values, which are in support of the LGBT community, are not in line with its communication practices of airing commercials. By making the claim of value that Coke supports the LGBT community, all of Coke’s mass communication in order to market their product should be consistent with that claim. Therefore, if Coke supports the LGBT community and is willing to depict a gay couple and broadcast it in their commercial, they should not be hesitant to broadcast said commercial in ANY country, despite the specific country’s stance on gay marriage. Deleting the scene with the gay couple and replacing it with a heterosexual couple is essentially altering Coke’s brand narrative. While on that same topic, I feel that Coke may even be trying to overcompensate for their action by replacing the gay couple with an interracial couple. Replacing this scene could harm Coke’s brand identity because they are eliminating the transparency between themselves and the consumers of Coke. They are saying one thing, yet doing another. If a company makes the decision to take a stance on a particular social issue, they need to be willing to first consider the effects that a particular stance may have on the marketing of their brand. If the company is unwilling to support their stance in any given situation, they should ultimately refrain from taking it in the first place.

  3. One of the key things I have learned thus far in my journey as a COM major is that a culture’s (or in this case, a company’s) values shape its communication practices and vice versa. After viewing the two commercials, it seems to me that Coke’s professed values, which are in support of the LGBT community, are not in line with its communication practices of airing commercials. By making the claim of value that Coke supports the LGBT community, all of Coke’s mass communication in order to market their product should be consistent with that claim. Therefore, if Coke supports the LGBT community and is willing to depict a gay couple and broadcast it in their commercial, they should not be hesitant to broadcast said commercial in ANY country, despite the specific country’s stance on gay marriage. Deleting the scene with the gay couple and replacing it with a heterosexual couple is essentially altering Coke’s brand narrative. While on that same topic, I feel that Coke may even be trying to overcompensate for their action by replacing the gay couple with an interracial couple. Replacing this scene could harm Coke’s brand identity because they are eliminating the transparency between themselves and the consumers of Coke. They are saying one thing, yet doing another. If a company makes the decision to take a stance on a particular social issue, they need to be willing to first consider the effects that a particular stance may have on the marketing of their brand. If the company is unwilling to support their stance in any given situation, they should ultimately refrain from taking it in the first place. –mnl3643@uncw.edu

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