What Coca-Cola gained from angering millions of Americans during the Super Bowl

Those red caps push just the right buttons for some people.
Those red caps push just the right buttons for some people.
Image: Reuters/Christian Hartmann
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Coca-Cola may not win back consumers with the ingredient list for its namesake soft drink, but it still knows how to sway them with advertising. The question for Coca-Cola North America president Sandy Douglas is whether clever new marketing tactics and feel-good commercials (well, feel-good if you’re ok with things like immigration) can work well enough to reverse nearly a decade of declining soda sales in the US.

Americans are becoming coconut water-guzzling health nuts—and consequently, Coke is finding itself “on the wrong side of just about every consumer lifestyle trend,” according to Bloomberg Businessweek. The magazine interviewed Douglas about the company’s struggle to combat its unhealthy image and concluded that Coke’s saving grace is its knack for heartwarming ad campaigns. Here’s the argument, from the story’s final paragraph:

During this year’s Super Bowl, Coca-Cola aired a one-minute commercial in which children of all different ethnicities sang America the Beautiful in their native languages. The ad sparked a xenophobic backlash on Twitter that within days had evolved into a large-scale defense of both America and Coke. “America the Beautiful” turned out to be the company’s most successful campaign in years. Young people ages 19 to 24 bought Coca-Cola products 20 percent more often than they did the month before.

In other words, the controversial ”It’s Beautiful” campaign worked just the way Coca-Cola executives hoped it would. It sparked conversation, and it spiked sales exactly as intended—among young Americans, in a generation that is more multicultural than any the country’s ever seen. Those young consumers also happen to be more at risk of obesity and lifestyle diseases than any other generation in history. But as Douglas noted, in the wake of the Super Bowl ad, “[online] mentions about obesity got almost quiet for a month.”