What is happening to Coca Cola right now would be a nightmare for any PR company to handle. It is three times too much for Coca Cola. The power of social media has shown that people across the world can be united for a cause that they believe in, and more than that they can act on it too. A lot of manufacturers and retailers are learning this with Coca-Cola being the latest victim of a social media frenzy.
A few days ago AmericaBlog.com uncovered a South African website that invited users to “Share a Virtual Coke” by putting their names on their cans but responded to submissions of pro-gay words with an error message reading, “Oops. Let’s pretend you didn’t just type that. Please try another name.” The Coca-cola company was immediately called out and the website put under attack on Social media.
Coca-cola is an official sponsor of the 2014 Winter Olympics taking place in two weeks in Sochi, Russia (gay rights in Russia face legal and social challenges as well as discrimination). Coca Cola has been under a lot of pressure from the gay community especially because they are pouring in a lot of money to sponsor and support the 2014 Olympics happening in a deeply anti-gay environment. Coca Cola was implicated in an arrest of a Russian gay activist who was branding a rainbow flag and accosted by Olympic security officials who had on clothing with the Coca-Cola logo. It is known that no one sports the Coca-Cola logo, or any other logo of an Olympic sponsor, without Coke’s explicit permission.
John Aravosis of AmericBlog.com also made another discovery. He asked Coke’s virtual agent on the company’s website the following: “Gay rights are being oppressed in Russia, what is Coke doing to speak out?” The answer he got was “That’s not very classy. Let’s have a polite conversation.” He did this a few times too, then went on to try words like “gay” and “lesbian” to see if they are triggers. Still the company’s virtual agent responded the same offensive way.
It is not just Coca-cola that has been under pressure to take a stand against Russia’s law criminalising gay propaganda, McDonalds and Visa who are also sponsors have seen the wrath of the gay community, but it seems Coca-cola has just had one too many scenarios or “mistakes”.
After each of these three scenarios Coca Cola has tendered apologies and, in the case of the share a coke can, removed the program from their website. But it may be too little and too late for Coca-cola. The social media frenzy has been crazy in the past days and Coca cola has been branded by some as an anti-gay company.
In an apology the company stated ‘As one of the world’s most inclusive brands, we value and celebrate diversity. We have long been a strong supporter of the LGBT community and have advocated for inclusion, equality and diversity through both our policies and practices. Again we apologise for any offense this has caused.’
Apart from the social media attack, it seems Coca Cola is taking a hit elsewhere. Coca-Cola has been dropped from the ‘Brand of the Year’ shortlist at a gay magazine’s award ceremony because of its sponsorship of the Sochi Winter Olympics. The company had been listed alongside the likes of YouTube, Google and British Airways for the Out in the City and G3 award, which is given for promoting diversity and equality.
The question is should brands like Coke be making a stand against or for gay people? A company as large as that, in every part of the world, may be unable to take a stand for such a sensitive cause. The company has also been accused of downplaying its sponsorship of the Sochi Winter Olympics in the West, to avoid upsetting gay rights activists. It seems no matter what companies like Coca cola do they just can’t win in sensitive issue like this…but that’s just our opinion. They are the world’s largest beverage company, can they really accommodate every complaint and dissatisfaction from their actions?
What do you think can be the way out for Coca cola? Should they take a public stand and drop out of the 2014 Winter Olympics?