Coca-Cola’s Super Bowl ad courts controversy

Are this year's Super Bowl ads pushing the limits of political correctness, or do people need to lighten up? A Volkswagen ad featuring a white office worker from Minnesota with a Jamaican accent had some crying racism. Now, a new ad from Coca-Cola is getting a similar reaction. Is the outrage justified?

The VW ad has been much discussed. And while some have called it offensive (New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow said the ad was like "blackface with voices), many in Jamaica are embracing the commercial. In fact, the island's government has endorsed the ad.

But what of the Coke commercial? The minute-long spot opens on a thirsty Arab man and his stubborn camel in the desert. He sees an enormous bottle of Coke in the distance and begins to walk toward it. Unfortunately for the man, he's not alone. A group of cowboys also want the Coke. Same with a bus full of glittery Vegas showgirls and a gang of motorcycle riders.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, or ADC, has called the Coke ad racist. "Why is it that Arabs are always shown as either oil-rich sheiks, terrorists, or belly dancers?" said Warren David, president of the ADC, to Reuters.

Imam Ali Siddiqui, president of the Muslim Institute for Interfaith Studies, said, "The Coke commercial for the Super Bowl is racist, portraying Arabs as backward and foolish Camel Jockeys, and they have no chance to win in the world."

He's got a point. At the end of the ad, viewers are invited to vote online for who they think should win the race to get the bottle of Coke. Oddly, the man with the camel isn't among the choices. He literally can't win.

Others who have viewed the Coke spot on YouTube and other social networks have chimed in. One user wrote, "Not racist but plays upon stereotypes very heavily." Another posted, "I don’t see this ad as being racist at all and certainly I do not believe Coke intended to slight Arab people. Women and cowboys could just as easily complain about this ad too, I only wish I could have voted for the men on the camels. I really think all the people complaining that this is racist should lighten up a bit."

We spoke with Ann-Christine Diaz, an editor from AdAge.com, about the controversy surrounding the spot. When asked if she thought some companies deliberately push the boundaries during the Super Bowl, she said, "Yes, I believe that some do, but that's not to say that VW and Coke were intentionally being controversial. ... That said, the point of the Super Bowl is to entertain and draw eyeballs, so it's kind of a wasted opportunity if you don't do something surprising, and controversy often goes hand in hand with that."

Diaz says a lot of companies test "the hell out of things to help them identify what audiences will approve of or get excited about. Yet I don't believe that necessarily pays off in the end."

So is all this coverage surprising? Not really, according to Diaz. When it comes to the Super Bowl, so many people have so many outlets to express their opinions. "That's a recipe for media coverage."

Watch the buzzy Super Bowl ads:
Supermodel Bar Rafaeli kisses super-nerd
Clydesdale, trainer in emotional reunion
Backlash over Calvin Klein ad

Latest Blog Posts