Coca-Cola is in the spotlight again, however; this time it is for a controversial advertisement used in its Open Your Heart campaign aimed at their Mexican and Latin American audience. The advertisement has been criticized not only by the Hispanic populations for its white savior-like undertone, but also by the Mexican government itself. The Mexican government fears the advertisement will thwart its attempts at tackling the rash of obesity that has gripped the Mexican population over the past few years. Although the advertisement was not meant to cause quite a stir, the Coca-Cola ad has now sparked some heavy controversy and faces health and consumer rights groups that have asked for the ad to be banned.
Obesity Risks for the Indigenous
The advertisement featured indigenous people from all around the world, most of them being the same group of people that have become vulnerable to Coca-Cola products over the past few years. Amongst the many people featured in the advertisement were peoples from the American Samoa, an area hit heavily by obesity. The problem was brought to the attention of the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), when in 2007 they released a report which stated that nearly three-quarters of the population was obese. The report was made even more shocking when the CIA determined the median age of the population in the Samoa to be only 28.8 years old. Roughly 75% of the American Samoans had become obese before the age of 30.
The CIA then turned their attention to another group that was featured in the Coca-Cold advertisement. The people were from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, located in near the southern border along the Pacific Coast. The CIA had found that nearly one million of the approximately 3.9 million living in the state were obese (this equates to roughly 28%). Coca-Cola was featuring people in their advertisements that are vulnerable to obesity, an issue which has not only attracted the attention of the CIA, but also with the Organization for Economic Co-operation Development (OECD).
The OECD conducted their own survey, independent of the CIA’s, and found that Mexico boasts a population in which 32% of the adult population is obese, and 70% of the population is overweight. This is compounded with the OCED finding that nearly one out of every three Mexican children are obese. But how can a country, such as Mexico, which has long been viewed as impoverished by many, be so overweight?
Mexico: The Soda Capital (Almost)
It was found that almost half of all soda product consumption in the world occurs in Mexico, according to Al-Jazeera America, which is over twice the amount that the Americans alone consume. When combined with the results of the results of two independent reports concerning Mexican obesity, and the where soda consumption occurs, it becomes clear that Coca-Cola has vested quite a bit of time in advertising in Mexico. But whether or not Coca-Cola is solely responsible for the epidemic of obesity rampant across Mexico is a topic of honest debate. But others do not view that Coca-Cola is acting alone on its advertising in Mexico.
The the Coca-Cola ad, the Mixe, an indigenous ethnic group in Totontepec, Oaxaca, are happy to have their new tree. This tree, albeit, is no ordinary tree: it is a red Coca-Cola branded tree made of wooden boards, with lights flashing through bottle caps, and the Mixe equivalent for 'We Will Stay United' written across the sculpture, now a central feature in the town square. Many not only view this advertisement as racially subjective, but also as a form of colonial branding.
Totontepec lawyer Elvira Pablo sees the advertisement as a comment on the Mixe's way of life, and an attempt to promote consumerism. The campaign comes only days after the Halloween: Culture Not a Costume campaign was brought back into the spotlight due to a surge of racially insensitive Halloween costumes were put on sale by Target, Amazon, Walmart and other retailers. You would think it being 2015 that big brand marketing teams would have some basic knowledge on racial sensitivity, but no. Not quite yet at least!
The Coca-Cola ad has since then been removed, and the company issued an official apology after the public backlash. The Alliance for Food Health then released its own version, with comments from Mixe people related to obesity within the community. The video strives to reinforce traditional Mixe values, and to remind the locals of the beneficial effects of drinking tejate, tea and pure water.
Though Coca-Cola's advertisement featured the local community in a positive light, many still do not believe the advertisement was correct. To make sure your brand doesn't end up making a similar mistake to Coca-Cola, check out our guide on avoiding negative stereotypes in marketing to make sure you take the appropriate measures to not screw up your multicultural marketing campaign.