From Coca Cola South Africa

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Comment by Michael B. Moore on December 18, 2013 at 1:26pm

Whenever someone in the public eye dies, companies must be particularly careful to be tasteful in addressing the issue. There is a very fine line between reverently expressing condolences and being perceived to be inappropriately opportunistic. Coca Cola’s approach to the death of Nelson Mandela misses the mark badly in this regard.    


To be fair, in a different context, I would actually love this spot. I frequently critique companies for rendering their brand as a mere product placement in their own work. At the end of the day, however creatively or subtly produced, the objective of advertising has got to be for the consumer to come away with a clear and indelible impression of who the ad is from and what the message is. To that point, the visuals in this spot are beautiful and there is no question about its origins. The ad gorgeously romances the Coca Cola brand and its iconic Coke bottle from start to finish. 


But herein lies the profound problem.  In a tribute to a recently deceased Nelson Mandela, one of the most revered people in history, this ad is fatally, and over the top . . . about Coca Cola.  The weight of the visuals just overpowers the more subtle narrative and music behind it.  With respect, the spot effectively pimps Mandela in death in a way that would never ever have happened in life.  Although the idea to use Coke imagery as a metaphor for racial progress in South Africa may have sounded like a good idea, the reality of this execution is that it comes across being far too Coke-centric.  This perception is complicated by the fact that Coca Cola never fully embraced the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980’s.  Those who remember that history are hit over the head by the irony that while Mandela languished in prison, Coca Cola was profiting off the very system that he dedicated his life to ending.  


The ad opens, “Long live the spirit of change. The spirit that believes that everyone - small, big, black, white - shall live in harmony”. Those are wonderful words. Too bad Coke didn’t seem to believe them until it was convenient to do so. There's no question that businesses are put in very difficult circumstances when they find themselves in the middle of social movements, but had Coca Cola been a champion for freedom and justice in South Africa, and for Nelson Mandela, then they would have greater standing to infer a connection to the man now.  


This ad would have been immeasurably stronger if it kept the same (near perfect) voiceover and music, but instead showed images of Mandela, or of ‘the struggle’ for freedom in South Africa, or something much more closely connected to the man. Instead of an homage to Coca Cola with a Mandela payoff, it should have been the exact opposite - a reverential tribute to Mandela without any Coca Cola branding until the very last frame.  And even then, it should be an uber subtle logo or bottle silhouette; that’s all.  


Anyone unsure about this ad, ask yourself how this approach would work  if instead of a South African president, it was for a fallen US president.  I can't see how any ad so heavily laden with branded iconography could work in this context.  My advice: pull the ad, repurpose the video into a brand ad and win some wonderful awards with it.  It's great work, just applied in the wrong context.

Comment by Larry Taman on December 19, 2013 at 11:35am

Agree 1000% with you Michael in every way.  I would suggest that even if the company was with Mandela the entire time, it would still not be appropriate.  Any company who wants to pay homage to this magnificent man should do exactly what you suggest in the second to last paragraph and at most have the last frame say something like "brought to you by your friends at Coca-Cola...

Comment by Michael B. Moore on November 24, 2014 at 2:57pm

Not surprisingly, Coke pulled the ad from YouTube. Here are the first 30 seconds or so.


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