A feel-good European ad campaign for Coca-Cola has left many feeling bad in Ireland, where the spot's image of a joyous same-sex wedding has been swapped with a straight one.
"Reasons to Believe," a minute-long ad airing in the Netherlands, Norway, and the United Kingdom (above), shows a string of negative moments—a guy tripping in front of a crowd, a heated argument—being offset by uplifting ones, such as a mom icing a cake, a group of young folks dancing, a newborn getting a kiss on the cheek, and two men celebrating their nuptials. But Ireland's version (below) has cut the male newlyweds out, instead showing a man and woman walking down the aisle.
"Not cool Coca-Cola Ireland!" tweeted Dublin Pride 2013. Other Twitter users wrote, "Bad form," "Coca-Cola degrades love with excuse for cutting gay wedding segment from new Ireland ad," "Don't bow to bigotry, Coca-Cola!" and "It sickens me that Coca Cola Ireland removed the gay marriage scene from the ad. In this day and age we should all be proud of diversity."
The discussion continued on the Facebook page of Eile Magazine, which first reported the omitted scene on December 29. "Somebody in the marketing department is projecting their own homophobia onto the Irish public," writes Irish gay activist Max Krzyzanowski. "They've either not seen, or discounted the polling data which consistently show support for equal marriage north of 70%. Fail!"
"The reason that this was changed for Ireland is that while civil partnership for gay people is legal, gay marriage currently is not," a Coca-Cola spokesperson told the Irish Journal on Sunday. "This will be the subject of a referendum (2015). We wanted each ad to be relevant and valid for its own market."
But according to Eile, the footage of the happy male couple was taken from a short documentary, "Clinton & Callum." Shot by Soda Films, the video depicts the civil partnership ceremony of the men, in Australia, where same-sex marriage also is not legal. "Australia does not have 'Gay marriage,' as the spokesperson calls it, and therefore the scene in question would have been suitable for Ireland," writes Eile's Scott De Buitléir.
In response to a question regarding that point, Coca-Cola spokesperson Jenny Heaphy tells Yahoo Shine in an email:
"As we have stated already, our Reasons to Believe ads have been tailored for each market where it is shown and have been informed by consumer research in each individual market. The core objective is that the vignettes in the ad resonate with people in each country and that they are representative of cultural issues that they are familiar with. The couple vignettes in both the Irish and UK ads represent love and happiness. We chose for Ireland an image we believe resonates with local consumers, reflecting the growing diversity in Irish society."
According to Harsha Gangadharbatla, associate professor of advertising at the University of Colorado Boulder, "For most companies, the bottom line is revenue and profits. In this particular case, there is a rapidly growing LGBT market that simply cannot be ignored. However, this appeal to LGBT community cannot come at the cost of 'general' marketing." That said, he adds, "Brands also have a tremendous influence on our culture, so I feel responsible brands will and should attempt to put that power to good use—to affect change in our society and make the world a better place."
The situation is reminiscent of another recent marketing kerfuffle, in which Ikea removed women from photos in the version of its catalog sent to Saudi Arabia last year. That move sparked criticism in Sweden and prompted an apology from the company. More recently, the Gap inspired praise when it stood up to racism-based critiques of its "Make Love" campaign, which featured a Sikh model in one of its posters. Some of the images were defaced in New York, scrawled with messages such as "Please stop driving taxis." The Gap responded by doubling down and changing its Twitter banner photo to that of the controversial ad, prompting a flood of supportive comments.
Coca-Cola's decision, meanwhile, appears to fly in the face of a recently stated goal by Coca-Cola North America, which is to highlight the brand's values of "inclusivity and diversity" as a way to offset its controversial sponsorship of Sochi 2014, according to a recent story in Marketing Week. Coca-Cola has been under pressure from gay rights activists for not speaking out against Russia's antigay law, which bans the promotion of "nontraditional" relationships to minors. A recent protest at its Atlanta headquarters included billboards demanding, "Coca-Cola don't stay bottled up, speak out against Russia's anti-gay laws."