Coke's Viral Super Bowl Ad Goes Viral for Being 'Racist'

Esther Zuckerman
January 31, 2013

In the year of the "go viral or go home" Super Bowl commercial, Coca-Cola is now embroiled in the latest advertising controversy for going too far on-air and online with an offensive spot in the desert. The soda giant's cowboys vs. showgirls vs. badlanders "choose your own adventure" style ad is being condemned by Arab-American groups for what they call a "racist" depiction of Arabs, Sue Zeidler of Reuters reports. The spot, which you can watch for yourself below, begins with an image of camels being ridden through a desert: 

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The ad then shows this actor leading one of the camels while looking out into the distance at a giant Coca-Cola bottle:

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According to the Reuters report a number of leaders in the Arab-American community have issued complaints. President of the Muslim Institute for Interfaith studies Imam Ali Siddiqui said: "The Coke commercial for the Super Ball is racist, portraying Arabs as backward and foolish Camel Jockeys, and they have no chance to win in the world."

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But the controversy isn't limited to the one-minute spot. As teasers and hashtags and online campaigns become must-have additions in a crowded advertising world this Super Sunday, Coke's "You Decide the Ending" vote has come under intense scrutiny as well. Though Coca-Cola is asking viewers to vote for which team "wins the Coke" at the end of the ad, the group with the camels doesn't even participate in the competition — and online voting options only exist for the other three groups featured in the spot. 

The director of legal and policy affairs at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee Abed Ayoub asked, according to Reuters: "What message is Coke sending with this?" He added: "By not including the Arab in the race, it is clear that the Arab is held to a different standard when compared to the other characters in the commercial." Ayoub said his organization intends to communicate with both CBS and Coke and he wants to see "how can we fix this if possible before Sunday." 

So what does Coke have to say for itself? Spokeswoman Laura Thompson told Zeidler that the ad's characters represent archetypes from old movies, using a "cinematic" approach. The other groups, which you can vote for, are "showgirls," "badlanders," and "cowboys." 

Unlike the controversy over the Jamaican accents in the Volkswagen ad, which sprung up right after it debuted, the complaints over Coke's ad have taken a while to generate, proving that a lead-up campaign can be just as dangerous as it is enticing... and we're not just talking about Kate Upton. The Coca-Cola ad was published to YouTube last Tuesday. Here it is — whether it still makes it to air or not: