Coca-Cola has released part of their commercial that is to be aired during the Super Bowl online and has since been receiving backlash from Arab-Americans who believe the ad is racist, according to an article by The Huffington Post. The commercial depicts an Arab man walking through the desert with a camel when he sees “cowboys, Las Vegas showgirls and a motley crew fashioned after the marauders of the apocalyptic “Mad Max” film race by him to reach a gigantic bottle of Coke.” Coca-Cola was using a “cinematic approach” in the ad, with the characters representing movies of the past. The company released the clip on YouTube, asking viewers to vote online what characters should win the race to the Coke. However, the online voting site does not allow viewers to vote for the Arab Character.
Imam Ali Siddiqui, president of the Muslim Institute for Interfaith Studies, was quoted saying “The commercial is racist, portraying Arabs as backward and foolish Camel Jockeys, and they have no chance to win in the world.” President of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), Warren David, asked “Why is it that Arabs are always shown as either oil-rich sheiks, terrorists, or belly dancers?” and the Director of Legal and Policy Affairs at ADC said “By not including the Arab in the race, it is clear that the Arab is held to a different standard when compared to the other characters in the commercial.”
The commercial brings many to question Coca-Colas intentions. As Ronald Goodstein, professor at Georgetown University, points out: “If Coke’s vision is to be an arm’s distance away from every customer, why would they want to offend the Arab world?” Could it be that the man and his camel simply set the scene for the viewer before hand, along with the image of hot desert hills, beads of sweat on his forehead, and “mirage” in the distance? Is declaring the commercial says Arabs “have no chance to win in the world” going a little too far? Plus, don’t all the characters look “foolish”? The Vegas girls were shooting confetti onto the cowboys and the Mad Max guy ended up on the windshield of the the pink bus! That’s why it’s funny!
However, intentionally or not – the company has offended the Arab community and this may impact their business in the US and Arab World, considering “Coca-Cola has a large market share in the Middle East and North Africa, and many convenience stores in the US that offer Coke are owned by Arab-Americans.”
Social Media, and in this case YouTube, is not just an outlet but a tool – for marketing and advertising worldwide. However, while media gives opportunity to share ideas and information, it also presents risks and criticisms.
It will be interesting to see who wins the race and whether the man and his camel will be included in the airing on Sunday.