Analyzing the Marketing behind Coke’s 2014 Super Bowl ad

Published February 6, 2014 by Visakan Veerasamy+ in Awesome Brands / Marketing

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The Controversial Super Bowl Ad

Coca-Cola’s Super Bowl advertisement upset some people. From a marketing perspective, however, it was a calculated risk made by intelligent, analytical people who understand the changing market.

Upsetting people was clearly a part of the agenda. “I think they are loving this controversy because it extends the life of the ad,” said Bill McKendry of Hanon McKendry. “They are going to win because this generates debate and they are going to come out on the popular side.”

Breaking Taboos. Coca-Cola broke an unspoken rule when they featured non-English languages in an ad that was broadcast during one of the most widely watched events of the year. Without subtitles! 

This seems to be a first (at least at this scale), which makes Coca-Cola is a pioneer in the modern, multicultural representation of America.

The Progression of Multiculturalism in America

time-magazine-1993-cover

This was TIME magazine’s cover… way back in 1993!

Previously: Diversity through homogeneity. In the past, diversity was all about the “America the melting pot”,  where immigrants “become American” by adopting American mannerisms. The fact that immigrants usually hold on to some elements of their culture (food, religious practices, languages) was relatively left out.

Today: Validating alternatives. Today, diversity isn’t just about homogenizing immigrants, but about acknowledging their unique perspectives and identities as valid. It’s just becoming more visible today, much more rapidly, and much more territory is being ceded to “non-default” identities.

Just consider some of the following facts:

  • The President is a man named Barack Hussein Obama.
  • The new CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, was born in Hyderabad, India.
  • A Kenyan-Mexican lady by the name of Lupita Amondi Nyong’o won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
  • Last year’s Miss America was an Indian-American named of Nina Davuluri.

These individuals are just a few examples that hint at the shifting of the tectonic plates underneath America’s identity. They’ve adapted to America, but America has also had to adapt to them.

“Multiculturalism in Marketing: The Wave Of The Future”

This was a statement made by AdAge… 3 years ago! Why?

  • 80% of all population growth in the US came from minorities.
  • National media serving minorities had exploded.
  • A 2011 study by Cheskin revealed a greater degree of cultural openness among American adults.

Responding to market forces. While Coca-Cola might seem rather bold or brave for doing this, it’s not happening in a vacuum. Coke is simply leading a charge that has been building and bubbling under the surface for years. To make such a bold move requires a strong belief that it would pay off, and such a belief would have to be grounded in well-established facts.

Inevitable on hindsight. A decade from now, the controversial ad will probably look like an inevitable consequence of the broader social forces at play. Coke simply recognized the opportunity, identified it as consistent with their own brand, and made their move. By doing so, they cement themselves as pioneers and visionaries- precisely what you’d expect of a top-notch brand.

In Conclusion: Multicultural Marketing is here to stay

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Gap did this as a show of solidarity when one of their ads was vandalized. It was celebrated by many for being thoughtful and inclusive.

  • What used to be “taboo” is now the exciting new space where change is happening. Until recently there’s always been a tacit assumption that mainstream broadcasts in America should be in English. (This is best revealed by the #SpeakAmerican hashtag, used by unhappy Americans to protest the “violation”.) This space is still being contested, but Coke (and other thought leaders) are already betting on the outcome.
  • Multiculturalism in marketing is inevitable, and it’s here to stay. Diversity is the reality of the world we live in, and there’s no way to turn that back. This is clearly acknowledged in the hotbeds of science, technology, academia and politics, but the mainstream is still grappling with it. Coca-Cola is doing what all great brands do- envision the future, then pull the present forward to meet it.
  • To be effective, multicultural marketing has to be sincere. It’s important that a brand take the time and effort to truly understand itself and its role in its market. A brand can only thrive if consumers believe in it, and consumers will only believe in it if it seems genuine and meaningful to them. Coca-Cola is navigating the space masterfully, but it’s easy to imagine “me-too” marketing attempts from other brands that might go horribly wrong.

We truly live in a time of remarkable change and upheaval. For businesses, it is a time of great challenge and opportunity.

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Visa is a serious internet addict, with a passion for clear thinking and good writing. He hopes to enjoy a glass of whiskey onboard a commercial space flight someday. He's very proud of having been twice named a Top Writer on Quora.