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The Bigotry Brought Out by Coca-Cola’s Super Bowl Ad

Seeing that Coke ad featuring Muslim Americans singing America the Beautiful led many conservatives to suddenly prefer Pepsi.

By Tom Jacobs


An image from the 2014 Coca-Cola advertisement. (Photo: YouTube)

OK, let’s take a break from talking about politics and prejudice and focus on a more benign topic: our preference for particular soft drinks.

Just kidding! A recently published study provides evidence that the two topics are, in fact, intertwined.

The new research reports that, after watching a Coca-Cola advertisement featuring Americans of many ethnicities — including “Middle-Eastern looking men and women in hijabs” — a majority of politically conservative Coke drinkers suddenly developed a thirst for Pepsi products.

“In this case, the activation of one’s political orientations trumped brand loyalty,” write Jennifer Hoewe of the University of Alabama–Tuscaloosa, and Peter Hatemi of Pennsylvania State University. “The result most likely illustrates more conservative individuals’ resistance to change within American culture.”

The study, published in the journal Media Psychology, featured 146 college or university students ranging in age from 18 to 26. All began by completing a pre-test, in which they provided basic demographic information and noted their political party. They also noted their preference for either Coca-Cola or Pepsi products.

“The activation of one’s political orientations trumped brand loyalty.”

Then, at one of 10 screenings, they viewed two short videos demonstrating “different communication styles” — which, they were told, was the focus of the study. In between, they saw ads for both Coke and Pepsi.

“The Coca-Cola advertisement used aired during the 2014 Super Bowl, and displayed images of Americana with America the Beautiful sung in the background in many different languages,” including Arabic. It featured Americans of many races, ethnicities, and religions, including “Middle-Eastern looking men and women in hijabs.”

Approximately half of the participants saw the original ad, while the others viewed an edited version in which the “Middle-Eastern looking individuals,” and as well as the Arabic translation of the patriotic song, were removed.

The Pepsi ad, which was not tampered with, “displayed an equally multiethnic and religious America, but did not contain any Middle Eastern, Arab, or Muslim-looking individuals,” the researchers write.

Immediately after the video ended, pizza was delivered into the screening room, and participants were urged to help themselves to the food and soft drinks as they filled out a questionnaire. The researchers carefully noted the drinks chosen by each participant.

“Nearly 54 percent of Republicans who saw Muslim and Arab individuals in the Coca-Cola advertisement changed from their initial preference for Coca-Cola products to select Pepsi products,” they report. In contrast, “None of the Republicans who saw the advertisement without Muslim and Arab individuals changed their drink selection from their initial preference.”

Democrats reacted differently, with 73 percent of those who saw the ad featuring women in hijabs sticking to their original drink preference. In addition, “an equal number of Democrats in both conditions changed from Coca-Cola to Pepsi and vice-versa,” suggesting the imagery was not a factor in their drink choice.

So why did so many young Republicans switch brands, at least temporarily? Hoewe and Hatemi noted that “individuals align themselves with brands they think positively add to their sense of self and group membership,” and loyalty to such brands “are often a reflection of individuals’ own identities and values.”

“By creating and airing an advertisement focused on diversity, inclusiveness, and multiculturalism in the United States,” they add, “Coca-Cola put forth a message about its products’ alignment with these ideals.” Whether it was conscious or not, it appears the immediate impulse of more than half of Republicans — at least in this group — was to reject this vision.

It will be interesting to see if there is a similarly negative response among liberals to Budweiser’s decision to temporarily re-brand its beer as “America.” Whether or not that proves true, this study provides more evidence of anti-Muslim prejudice among those on the political right.

It also suggests that, should Donald lose the election, there is definitely a market for Trump Cola.