Monday, February 10, 2014

What no one is saying about Coke's Super Bowl Ad
It's all about money and changing markets...
( also: Plenty of Mad Men references ahead! )

Written in: Calgary, Alberta, CANADA
Composition: I wrote this very quickly on Facebook. I thought I'd finally share it here.
Previous Post: The Useless kids of the Filipino Middle to Upper Class

When Coca Cola came out with its Multilingual and Multicultural rendition of "America the Beautiful" for the Super Bowl, the Twitterverse practically exploded in comments - mostly negative - while blogs, forums, news sources, and other commentators later chimed in with well composed great analyses either praising or condemning the ad.

In case you haven't seen it, this is Coke's ad for the Superbowl:

These then were the reactions:
"Coca Cola's Multicultural Super Bowl ad sparks boycott, angry backlash"

While this is how Jon Stewart criticized the backlash:
Canadian Audiences, click here.
U.S. Audiences, click here.
Rest of World... well, neither of those links may work for you, but you can at least read this to get the picture.

That said, there is ONE thing often overlooked in these criticisms, as well as the criticism of said criticisms of the ad: The economic aspects of WHY appealing to broader audiences is the new "in" thing - and why you should expect more of it in the coming decades. Both sides have so far fallen short on analyzing this beyond racial politics. Though, to be fair, Jon Stewart did comment on how sappy it came across.

Seriously! I have yet to see anyone commenting on that topic. The critics of the ad have been labeled many things, from racists, xenophobes, to even neo-nazis, or some other equally

...some other equally unflattering label denoting closed mindedness and being a general dumbass. Sure, I kind of agree, I guess. But in my mind, no one is interrogating Coke's motivations enough.

So I will. Right here in this post.

But first, allow me to rewind to almost two years ago, when I came across this article:
"Minority Babies outnumber White babies in the US" - Livescience
(Actually, I heard it first on CBC's Q with Jian Ghomeshi - I then later looked for articles confirming this stated fact.)
"For the first time in U.S. history, more than half of all babies born in 2011 were nonwhite, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. This furthers a long-standing trend in the racial makeup of the population, and hints that the next generations of Americans will be far more diverse than today."
Given this trend, it's only a matter of a few generations before people who self identify as "white" will be the minority in the U.S.

Of course, with Canada's immigration levels as well as the number of interracial dating and marriage here, I feel that it's inevitable that we here in The Great White North will follow this American demographic trend not long after - heck, it's already the case if you go to the West Coast and other places in ON and MB.

So, what then does this spell for Canadian (and American) society?

In my mind, the first thing I thought of was relating it with my own experiences of witnessing how much Calgary has changed since I came here, fresh off the plane, in 1997. (Also, I must confess, this is how I can make this post relevant to this blog!)

Back then, Safeway and Superstore did not have as extensive of an "Oriental/Asian" section for sauces and spices - I had to go to specialty stores for that. I certainly couldn't get "Filipino Take Out Food" anywhere. Back then, liquor store imports had Kirin, Asahi, Singha, and maybe Tsingtao for the Asian section of the Imported Beer aisle. But no San Miguel. In fact, when I was new, I don't think there really were many Filipino themed businesses, restaurants, stores, import-export shipping companies here in Calgary - be they Filipino owned  or otherwise. I mean, there's pretty much the standard Indian food, Mexican, Chinese, and Japanese - but every city in North America has these.

Real diversity needs a truly diverse population to take hold. 

Fast Forward to today, and now Calgary has "Filipino Take Out" courtesy of Aleng Lolits. Cesar Montano, a  Filipino Actor - super famous in the Philippines, though virtually unknown here - is in a poster Ad at a bus stop endorsing a way to send money overseas (For Western Union I think?! I also think it's worth pointing out that I live in Southwest Calgary, as opposed to the N.E.). Wolfgang, the Filipino heavy metal band I've been headbanging to since 1994, just had a concert in the provincial capital of Edmonton. And now we even have San Miguel beer here!  I've even found Red Horse!

There are many other examples, but these stand out as a testament to how much has changed in Calgary, as well as Alberta. It had to, I guess, what with there nowadays about 20,000 to 25,000 of us who self identify as Filipinos/Filipino-Canadian in this city alone.

In my mind, all of these just come with being an economic presence, by being an economic "force". That these touches of "home" (for me... for us Filipinos) in this place - more than anything else - should be credited to money, the forces of economics, and the politics of spending power, more so than the politics of race and ethnicity. "We" are now a market, so it is inevitable that such Filipino oriented commerce will grow. In my mind, I feel that no amount of equal opportunity programs, quotas to hire People Of Colour* (P.O.C.), and other anti-racist programs could achieve as much as by simply just being a large group of people with money to spend.

There is no other way around it: Power and influence could only really truly come via becoming a powerful and influential group.

This, I learned from Don Vito.

Similarly, because of the growing non-white/mixed race population in the US, it is VERY little wonder to me why Coke would start advertising to them (or "us" I guess... I did hear sa ibabaw ng mga prutas in that Coke ad, which I'm sure my family in California, New York, Hawaii, and Florida picked up on).

So, for all the people who pull the affirmative action card, saying how immigrants and People Of Colour* (P.O.C.) are getting all the breaks and/or are being pandered to, and for all the people who are then in turn criticizing these critics, saying how nice it is of Coke to make a racially inclusive commercial and that America is all about inclusion,  no one has really stopped to ask whether it is more than simply just a culture war. That maybe, just maybe, there are ulterior motives at play in Coke's part, other than the simple explanation of racial inclusion - or affirmative action, as the racists have been crying about.

Because like Jon Stewart, I actually found this commercial sappy and a little overly sentimental. Don't get me wrong! It's Brilliant!  And I wish I could have come up with it (as though I were Don Draper and I accepted Jim Hobart's offer). It's just that...      Let's not pretend that Coke, or any other large corporation, really cares about the social advancement of immigrants or anything. They care about the bottomline. And if they can grow their bottomline by appealing to the burgeoning market of P.O.C.*... then hey! Why not?

This is a case of Pete Campbell wanting to cash in on Admiral Television's popularity with a minority group, rather than changing the whole cultural landscape just like what Abraham Lincoln did to slavery, or LBJ (via JFK) did for Civil Rights.

And maybe that's not such a bad thing, since it does present a deeper problem for the racists and xenophobes who hate Coke's Ad.

Not only is it acknowledging the emergence of non-whites as both a force for and source of social change, perhaps for the first time in recent memory, this market recognition given towards minorities and other P.O.C.* is a form of respect and power which certain members of  the white majority do not feel as though they consented to, let alone granted. Rather, it is something minorities and P.O.C.* themselves literally "earned", via the accumulation of wealth and spending power.

This, I think, is what both sides of the camp - both lovers and haters of this ad - truly fail to see. Most of the reactions I've heard are emotional - be it positive or negative - which means neither get past the facade of its message in order to really analyze the intentions behind it all. That by viewing all the commotion as mere culture war, even those who love the ad aren't doing P.O.C.* any favours. If anything, by restricting themselves to the rhetoric of "be nice to the minorities", they are propagating the idea that peaceful coexistence can only exist with a caveat - that it could only come about when the white majority, consents to it. As though only when those currently with power restrain themselves - when they make concessions and "give away" some power - only then can the P.O.C.* get ahead.

This is unflattering to both groups, as you can see: It assumes the white majority is actually actively keeping minorities down, and that everything minorities have ever earned, were simply just granted.

Because in my mind, Coke's ad had nothing to do with changing American values (at least nothing that isn't directly related with marketing to another culture and/or ethnicity), nothing to do with the politics of race and ethnicity, and certainly has zero relationship to true patriotism and nationality. This is about money, power, and the power of money amidst a changing market demographic, nothing more. White people are "losing"**, and will probably ultimately "lose", the game of who holds the most market influence. While non-whites and various other P.O.C.* will probably achieve this "victory" via sheer numbers alone - as opposed to being top one percenters - it's all moot in the end. If capitalism were a game, the P.O.C. are "winning" and will ultimately "win". 

In the future, it is no stretch that the P.O.C*. in the U.S. (and by extension, Canada) will be a bigger market than white people. Ads, will be directed towards them the same way this Coke ad was. Hollywood will have to rethink its strategy for blockbusters (also see #1 in this article). And P.O.C.* will be seen as the default that sitcoms will finally be made about them as normal, average people, rather than as a novelty act - to be seen as either weird, unique, funny, admirable in their foreigness. etc.. etc. 

Whether you see that as a positive or negative is up to you. 

I personally neither see this in anticipation nor dread - que sera sera.

In the end, I can't help but quote Paul Kinsey in Season 2, Episode 10 of Mad Men, "The Inheritance".
"Advertising, if anything, helps bring on change. The market - and I'm talking in a purely Marxist sense - dictates that we must include everyone. Consumer has no Color!"
Who consumes the most, WINS!

If anything, perhaps we should all start looking at that Coke ad differently. That instead of it heralding a new America of cultural openness and diversity, we should see it as a new era of exploitation.

So don't cry, Betty Draper. In fact, be glad that you're not the face of Coke anymore - it's someone else's turn to be exploited.

* People of Colour, P.O.C., Coloured People = Used ironically more than anything.... I for one happen to think of this as an outdated and antiquated term; it actually does make me feel so racist myself just using the term...  Same with "White People"...  Both are often used by those with an ulterior motive to create/propagate a dichotomy between those of European Descent, and "everyone else", as though anyone who's "non-white" will get along with each other and gang up against the "whites" who are "keeping them down".

* "Win", Lose", "Winning", "Losing", "Winners" and "Losers" = Put in Quotations because it's absurd to think there are winners and losers in all this.

Next Post: Not Seeing Eye To Eye: Navigating the socioeconomic divide in the Philippines

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Blogger StrayDog said...


I would also like to point out that Coke's sales outside of the U.S. already outnumber its sales within.

3:37 PM  
Blogger StrayDog said...


So, if anything, the Coke brand is America's greatest ambassador for projecting power overseas.

Come to think of it. Holy crap! Maybe that "America the Beautiful" multilingual commercial wasn't set in the U.S., but rather outside its borders! What if it's actually a not-so-subtle ode to American neo-colonialism, by way of its corporations?!?! Hah! Think about that.

3:47 PM  
Blogger StrayDog said...

Alright, I've slept on this article after having tweaked and edited it many times over. Though the sentiment never changed (ie. It was and always will be, a treatise from a Marxist perspective), I did tweak the wording a bit to downplay any possible misconceptions.

That said, I'd like to squeeze this final thought in before I leave this article alone, forever...

Like any advertisement, Coke's ad is a Rorschach Test - you see what you want to see, and you interpret what you want to interpret out of it.

3:22 AM  

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