Even the best marketing organisations can step in it from time to time, and Coca-Cola did so with a vengeance last week in Mexico thanks to the astonishingly tone deaf ad above.
The ad (thankfully preserved before Coca-Cola tried to throw it down the memory hole) shows a group of well-scrubbed, affluent, mostly white people carrying lumber and tools into a town populated by an indigenous ethnic group. There, these perpetually smiling, laughing young messengers from the dominant culture proceed to build...affordable housing? No. Needed infrastructure? No. Incredibly, they build a wooden Christmas tree—all the while sharing soft drinks, patronising looks, and paternalistic pats on the shoulder with the grateful, newly enlightened locals.
As reported by Mashable and many others, the ad rightly touched off a criticism storm that shows no signs of abating, leading to press conferences, official complaints to a government anti-discrimination body and apologies from the brand.
Activist groups complained about the historical echos of the imposition of Christianity by missionaries, as well as the modern-day imposition of an unwanted consumer culture including sugary drinks that are not a good choice for, well, anyone, but especially not for a population that struggles with diabetes and obesity.
How did this not set off alarm bells for anyone at the brand or agency?
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