Controversial Coca-Cola Super Bowl ad raises questions about diversity
Never have I watched the Super Bowl aside from the occasional halftime show, and this year was no different. But, like many of my fellow non-watchers, I do take the time to sift through and watch the million-dollar advertisements. Each year, I start out with the Budweiser ad, dependably successful and filled with Clydesdales, and then move on to the rest. This year, Budweiser honored our heroes, Chevy mastered the subtle humor of a ‘bachelor’ bull and others failed to create laughs with their crude or overdone humor. There was one ad that found itself simultaneously on the top of lists of both the best and worst 2014 Super Bowl commercials: the Coca-Cola ad titled “America the Beautiful.”
“America the Beautiful” features a one-minute collection of scenes featuring an array of Americans from children to adults, cowboys to pedestrians in Times Square, white to brown and gay to straight. All the while, the song “America the Beautiful” plays in the background with lyrics sung by voices in more than eight different languages. Without subtlety, Coca-Cola took it upon itself to demonstrate the true diversity that exists in the 2014 United States, yet there were those who found it to be a gross misinterpretation.
It was extremely interesting to look at what details negative reviews of the advertisement focused on. In regards to the physical appearance of the people in the ad, there were limited malicious comments—slightly surprising considering the ad featured the first gay couple in a Super Bowl advertisement. Maybe we have advanced by a very slight degree toward at least the image of diversity; it’s clearly around us, so we can accept that it exists. On the contrary, the real issue people took with Coca-Cola was the decision to have “America the Beautiful” sung in multiple languages as opposed to only English. Twitter exploded with the hashtag #SpeakAmerican and criticism that if people are going to be “American,” they should be speaking English. Yes, English is the language that unites us all and plays a significant role in our culture, but there is a clear difference between the legal national language and the languages of citizens. Coca-Cola challenged Americans to understand that if we are to be an integrated and united country, we must pair our outlook with the reality that we are people of diverse backgrounds contributing to the overall image of what it means to be American.
The question that remains is what the real motivations were behind Coca-Cola’s decision. There is no doubt Coca-Cola is one of the most acknowledged companies in the world, and to recognize diversity within its home nation is only appropriate. Good or bad, people are talking about Coca-Cola. It is the center of a highly charged evaluation of how American culture is defined in modern times. Unfortunately, Coca-Cola’s capacity to express this message of diversity is something few companies have; its household name is cemented in our society and such a controversy would not, regardless of opinion, be able to destroy the company. This being said, one can only hope this commercial becomes a signal for others to follow. Only when the general perspective and media portrayals match the statistical diversity of America on a fundamental basis will we be able to say America is indeed a united and beautiful country.