Just before the Star-Spangled Banner ceremonially started Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, a minute long commercial with a message of “unity and positivity” kicked off one of the most commercialized events on the planet. No, the NFL did not welcome back Colin Kaepernick. And PETA did not join forces with Tom Brady to promote veganism (is Tom Brady even vegan?). Rather, Atlanta hometown sweetheart Coca-Cola was promoting diversity and inclusion in their Warhol inspired advert “A Coke is A Coke.” The company is purported to be rolling out the red carpet for everyone, including rival Pepsi. As other companies like Nike and Gillette join the social justice crusade with their own campaigns, is this the dawn of the ethical corporation? But, is this really about changing minds and perceptions to create unity?
Selling Diversity, Unity & Social Justice Part I:
Social Justice For Sale
In the 1970’s, advertising company McCann-Erickson found a way for Coca-Cola to bottle inclusivity and diversity. The message was simple: drink Coke and people from all over the world will live together in harmony. They appropriated a message of peace and love, commodifying an entire 1970’s movement. A bottle of Coke now symbolized the casting off of difference and the coming together of youth all across the world. Coca-Cola created authentic connections – It’s the Real Thing. Still seen today as one of the most iconic advertising campaigns of all time, the commercial is Don Draper’s crowning achievement in the series finale of Madmen.
(The full story on Coca-Cola’s own website)
Almost 50 years later, Coca-Cola continues to promote diversity and inclusivity in their commercials. Their newest advert’s message: “we all have different hearts and hands, heads holding different views. Don’t you see? Different is beautiful, and together is beautiful too.” The purpose of the commercial according to Stuart Kronauge, vice president of marketing for Coca-Cola North America: Coca-Cola has “a long history of using the country’s biggest advertising stage to share a message of unity and positivity, especially at times when our nation feels divided… This year, we decided to place our ad just before the national anthem as Americans come together in their living rooms to remind everyone that ‘together is beautiful.”
Coke certainly isn’t the only corporation promoting their products with messages of social responsibility. Nike recently embraced Colin Kaepernick as the face of one of their newest campaign. It’s said to be one of the most talked-about and successful ads in recent years. Kaepernick is believed by many to be blackballed from playing in the NFL due to his protests against racism, social inequality, and police brutality that were carried out by kneeling during the national anthem. Nike decided to put Kaepernick and his social justice protest center-stage. The Just Do It adverts promotes a simple message spoken by Kaepernick: “Believe in something even if it means sacrificing everything.”
Gillette’s recent stand against toxic masculinity has gone viral. The advert directly borrows from the ongoing #metoo and anti-bullying movements asking if continued bullying, sexual harassment, and the promotion of a macho stereotypes is “The Best a Man Can Get.” The commercial shows men standing up for women, breaking up fights and acting as better fathers — a challenge to the motto “boys will be boys.”
Sure, let’s pat these corporations on the back for promoting diversity, social justice, and inclusivity. Certainly, they seem like they are on the right side of history. But whose interests do they really have in mind? Who is really included in these global notions of “unity?” Whose “social justice” matters? Do these commercials actually challenge our society or hold the status quo?
Part II: The Hidden Costs of Super Commercials of Unity & Social Justice