WASHINGTON, February 6, 2014—Coca-Cola’s Super Bowl commercial featuring multicultural participants enjoying themselves against the backdrop of “America the Beautiful” sung in English, Spanish, Hindi, Senegalese-French, Hebrew, and Mandarin has struck a raw nerve with some Americans.
Twitter lit up with critics arguing that the commercial was disrespectful. Others countered that it was racist to complain. Either way, the response was very vocal and reignited the age-old debate on what it means to be an American.
Coca-Cola wasn’t thumbing its nose at Americans by having an iconic song featuring America’s dreams sung by Americans of different ethnicities. It was saying that if you are looking to be American, drink Coca-Cola. “It’s the real thing.” Which can also be understood as an attempt to define Coke as a uniquely American symbol – the “real America.”
Many Americans are experiencing financial difficulties and have seen their own futures threatened because of the poor economy. The harsh reaction to the commercial may be because they see immigrants who are experiencing the freedom that America offers as an even greater threat.
For many Americans, assimilation means the “blandization” of what makes us, as a country unique. For instance, my grandfather came to this country from Brazil, in hopes of finding a better life. He left most of his native culture behind, despite never learning to speak English. Although, I have little connection to the country that he left, I still celebrate my background of African-American, Native American and Brazilian cultures as uniquely American.
“America! America! God shed his grace on thee.”
In the advertisement world, there is no such thing as bad press, if is sells your product or makes you more popular – just ask Justin Beeber or Miley Cyrus. Obviously Coca-Cola was willing to risk aliening customers in hopes of picking up millions more with its controversial Super Bowl commercial.
Why not? Coca-Cola’s brand is secure as an American icon. And if we recognize that America is a melting pot of different cultures and languages, then it would stand to reason that celebrating differences is truly American.
Dr. Millicent Carvalho-Grevious, is the founder and principal of Pennsylvania Conflict Resolution and Mediation Services, Inc. She has mediated conflicts for over 30 years, providing services in a variety of venues for private and public entities, including the United States Postal Service, the Office of Dispute Resolution of the Department of Education, and the office of Employer Support for the National Guard and Reserve. She was one of 14 conflict resolution experts from 11 nations invited to Chongqing, China in 2009 to participate in a forum titled, “Responding to the Challenges of Financial Crisis and Building Social Harmony.” Her background also includes former university faculty member and department chair. She earned a Doctor of Philosophy, Master of Social Work and Master of Law and Social Policy degrees at Bryn Mawr College and Master of Education (Counselor Education) at Boston University and Bachelor of Arts at LaSalle University.