The advertisement, "America the beautiful" (above), ignited something of a debate between liberals and conservatives in the United States on the question of national identity because it shows people of different races and ethnic backgrounds singing a popular patriotic song, "America the Beautiful"—not just in English but in myriad other languages.
Some conservatives criticised the ad. "The last thing any of us should want to see is a balkanised America," wrote former Republican House member Allen West in a blog post. "Speak English or go home," wrote a critic on Coca-Cola's Facebook page.
Online chatter, however, by and large favoured the ad. Americans have for most part praised Coca-Cola for recognising minorities that make up the multi-ethnic fabric of their society. Based on a social media sampling, according to Los Angeles Times, "the outrage at those who were outraged appears to be much greater".
The debate gained notice in Asia as well. Major news dailies here reported it and the ad was shared on Facebook and other social media. GMA network reported the use of Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines in the ad. "Nice. Didn't expect to hear Tagalog in the Super Bowl. Coke really is an amazing brand," tweeted a Filipino. The Times of India noted the similarity to "the racist outburst that followed Indian-American Nina Davuluri winning the Miss America beauty crown."
Observers here see the whole sequence of events as something of a PR windfall for Coca-Cola.
"An average 30-second spot on the Super Bowl costs US$4 million," Beijing-based communications strategist Brent Cohen told Campaign Asia-Pacific. "Most are quickly forgotten. The fact that people are still talking about it means that Coca-Cola has won."
Mohit Gopaldas, director of brand consultancy Identity Counsel said the ad will have an impact well beyond the country where it aired. "I think this commercial will resonate with consumers in countries where diversity is seen as something worth embracing," Gopaldas said. "Indians, for example, share this idea of inclusiveness. If anything this ad makes Coca-Cola a brand of the world."
This could be fortuitous for the firm. Coca-Cola is increasingly relying on emerging markets for growth as soda consumption in the US declines. Certainly, no marketers believe the controversy will have a negative impact on 'brand Coke'.
"It is a great opportunity for Coca-Cola to say what it believes in," said brand and advertising commentator Josh Sklar. Thus far the company's response has been subtle. "We hope the ad gets people talking and thinking about what it means to be proud to be American," Katie Bayne, president of Coca-Cola North America, said in a press release."
The company is expected to debut a 90-second version of the ad during the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia on 7 Feb.