PATRIOTISM ™

February 11, 2014

Rachael Ward

If there’s one sure way to get people talking about a seemingly insignificant product that’s been around since the thirties, it’s to politicise its advertising so the controversy becomes a news story.

Which is exactly what happened when the halftime Super Bowl advertising for that brand of cola beverage featured people from many ethnic backgrounds singing ‘America The Beautiful’ in several different languages. Like many of that brand’s previous ads, it depicts groups of smiling people having a good time whilst enjoying their drink at various tourist spots in the United States.

But according to many on social media, only heterosexual Caucasians are entitled to buy into American patriotism and that cola drink, as much of the homophobic and racist backlash appears to be aimed at any one else’s supposed illegitimacy to claim the title of ‘American’. As if that were linked with a certain brand of carbonated beverage.

Conservative commentator Glenn Beck criticised the ad’s ‘divisive’ nature and its marketing, stating “it’s in your face, and if you don’t like it, if you’re offended by it, you’re a racist. If you do like it, you’re for immigration. You’re for progress. That’s all this is: to divide people.”

It may anger and dissuade some Americans from purchasing that cola drink in the short term, but according to the company’s asset reports, on a per capita basis residents of Mexico, Panama and Chile consume more of it than Americans. In 2011 health experts expressed concern that around 3% of all beverages consumed globally were products of that brand, as 1.7 billion servings are consumed every day.

With that in mind, I wonder whether this so called ‘offence’ to American patriotism™  is actually a publicity stunt designed to promote an inclusive and humanised image of the multi-billion dollar corporation to its non-American consumers in the 200 countries which sell the product, or at least those with internet access.

Many American media outlets have interpreted the ad as a message to Congress and a public stand on immigration, and centred their articles around the political undertones of the ad. In Australia, coverage has focused on the offensive social media backlash, right-wing Politicians’ and commentators’ take on the ad, as well as the boycott movement that trended on Twitter.

Those stories have been shared thousands of times on social media and presumably talked about even more, because most sensible people can appreciate the ad for what it is – inoffensive and designed to relieve us of $3.50.

Scrolling through my social media news feeds and spying on comments, the Australian take on this particular story seems to be underscored with a disdainful tone somewhere along the lines of ‘those stupid Americans’.

This seems a bit rich in the weeks following Australia day, when discussions regarding our country’s own identity seems to be flooded with racism, disregard and ignorance. To not consider the impact on Aboriginal people of celebrating British landing and settling on their land seems as ridiculous as the conservative Americans take on the cola ad.

Usually there’s little intelligent discussion between people with contrasting viewpoints, and that’s not getting us anywhere. Neither is throwaway criticism of the minority of the American Right, stereotyping the broader group and ignoring the specific political message behind the ad.

What would be helpful is if young Australians continue to be mindful of our own immigration issues, and how we treat others not from the dominant culture. Australian is a country made up of people from many backgrounds, some who’ve been here far longer than others, but we’re all Australian: we’ve no right to criticise what’s happening in America, if we ignore racial concerns in Australia.

And how come a super bowl ad can spark so much controversy, when so much else goes unnoticed and ignored?

– Rachael Ward

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