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Critics of the commercial at today's press conference. Critics of the commercial at today's press conference. sin embargo/luis barrón

Coca-Cola pulls ad after critics’ outcry

Christmas commercial described as racist and offensive to indigenous people

A Coca-Cola commercial whose message was intended to encourage people to break down stereotypes and stop prejudice has been pulled after it produced outrage and accusations of racism.

The commercial was part of the company’s Christmas marketing campaign, called “Abre tu corazón,” or “Open your heart.”

Today, representatives of indigenous and health organizations and the Mixe community of Oaxaca called for an investigation and sanctions against the soft drink maker, charging that the commercial, rather than breaking down stereotypes, encourages them.

The controversial video opens with quiet and subdued scenes in the Oaxaca village of Totontepec, an indigenous community in the Sierra Mixe district of the state, offering the information that 81.6% of Mexico’s indigenous people have felt rejected for speaking a language other than Spanish.

Residents, too, are depicted as somewhat subdued, in contrast to the next part of the commercial, in which a group of young people are seen happily and enthusiastically sawing and painting wooden planks. “This Christmas,” the viewer is told, “a group of young people wanted to give a very special message.”

They’re soon riding in an El Camino pickup to the Oaxaca village, where they take the red-painted boards — along with a cooler full of Coke — and erect a Christmas tree in the town square.

The tree is finished, night falls and the lights are lit, to the joy and wonder of the locals, mostly young people. There is a sense of camaraderie between them and their tree-bearing visitors as they share Cokes all around and marvel at the tree and its message in lights: “We will stay united,” written in the Mixe language.

The video ends with its own message: “You too can break down prejudices and share by using the hashtag #AbreTuCorazón [open your heart].” Every time the hashtag is used, a light is lit on a Christmas tree on the Coca-Cola website.

Instead of breaking down stereotypes, critics of the commercial say it reinforces them, imposes the culture of consumerism, portrays indigenous people as inferior and violates international treaties. It was described as insulting and offensive to Mexico’s indigenous population.

A human rights group charged that Coca-Cola was encouraging stereotypes that lead to violations against the right to live without discrimination, while another group said it was an attack on the dignity of indigenous people.

A health advocacy organization declared that soft drinks represent the threat of “catastrophic damage” to the health of the indigenous population. Abelardo Avila, a researcher at a health institute, said such communities don’t need a Christmas tree, which “goes against their culture,” nor do they need sugared drinks.

They live with high levels of marginalization, he said, and their needs are “enormous.”

Attempts by various media outlets to obtain a response from Coca-Cola México have been unsuccessful. Since the outcry began, the company has pulled the video from YouTube.

Source: Sin Embargo (sp)

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