A Tale of Coca-Cola, Racism, Twitter and the Media

Edward Boches Professor of Advertising, Boston University

Posted on February 7th 2014

A Tale of Coca-Cola, Racism, Twitter and the Media

Fact. The number of people who rant and get pissed off on the Internet is not a reflection of how many people actually care in real life - despite how much the press sometimes magnifies and exaggerates the reaction.

This week I was asked by Variety to weigh in on the backlash against Coca-Cola’s Super Bowl commercial. The all American soft drink maker ran a spot with people singing God Bless America in the wrong languages. And, according to USA Today, Buzzfeed, and dozens of other blogs, news dailies and so-called institutions of journalism, this was big news. We got headlines (America the Ugly), headlines declaring online meltdowns, and, of course, lots of references to the offended tweeters whose racist posts suggested they confused Twitter with the YouTube comment stream.

Now, I am not a researcher. Or a journalist. But I do know that if someone who has 43 followers tweets a racist comment it’s likely no one sees it. If someone sees it and is following the moron they probably already share the sentiment. And even though you or I can search for it and find it, given the permanence of web content, chances are if we left well enough alone, it would disappear into oblivion.

This was a story because the press made it a story. Sure, there were big name racists like Fox’s Todd Starnes suggesting that Coke was the official soft drink of illegals crossing the border. But even that tweet topped off at a mere 168 RTs.

The problem is that with tools like Storify, which lets any reporter instantly grab real time content from the web it’s too easy to make a few dozen, or even thousand tweets, appear to be the next front page story.

A quick check on Buzzfeed’s piece showed that the tweeters referenced had 43, 12 and 700 followers. If a tweeter tweets in the woods…..

USA Today managed to find someone with 4000 followers, but only one.

The Daily Mail was guilty enough not to enable live links to its references. Just screen shots.

OK, I expect this kind of stuff to be fodder for Colbert or Stewart. But I’m not sure it’s really news. Surprise! Prejudice in America migrates from YouTube comment stream to Twitter!

Here were my responses to Variety, in case they don’t get used.

“Part of this backlash has been magnified and exaggerated by the press, some of whom is a little bit lazy. Take a look at some of the Twitter accounts referenced. These are people with 10, 20, 200 followers. They have little or no influence or followers and they are talking primarily to themselves. A very small club. But the press, using Twitter as a search engine, can easily grab the content and distribute it to many more readers.”

“Twitter is simply the new YouTube comment stream. We all know how nasty comments on YouTube have become. But for some reason the press picks up on that far less often. Since Twitter is a free soapbox for anyone with an opinion, you can find anything there.”

“I call your attention to the attached New Yorker cartoon. Or my interpretation. “The number of people being pissed off on the Internet has no actual relationship to the number of people pissed off in the real world.”

“This is not a new story. When Oreo made a “gay” cookie, the rainbow cookie, to celebrate Gay Pride, the Internet also went crazy. For Coke or anyone to suggest they didn’t expect this isn’t paying attention.”

“Long term this is the best thing that can happen to a brand. The excessive outrage on the Internet calls more attention to the message and the purpose, points out the virtues of brands with corporate social responsibility, and increases appeal to those who favor progressive brand thinking.”

My attitude was totally different. Wow, Coke believes in Equal Opportunity Obesity. They’ll sell sugar laden soft drinks to anyone.

What do you think? A real story, or a manufactured one?


Edward Boches

Professor of Advertising, Boston University

I’m Edward Boches, Professor of the Practice of Advertising at Boston University’s College of Communications where I teach advertising creativity with an emphasis on emerging and digital media. I am also the part-time Chief Innovation Officer (formerly Chief Creative Officer and Chief Social Media Officer) at Mullen, an Ad Age A-List agency I’ve helped build and lead for nearly 30  years.

I consider it my job to constantly hack the system in an effort to inspire change and get people to embrace the new technologies, platforms and consumer behaviors necessary to create cool and relevant ideas for clients and users.

Oh yeah, I'm also a copywriter, dad, husband, road cyclist and a board member at Boulder Digital Works and also at Spring Partners, the people who invented the cool Springpad app.

See Full Profile >


Posted on February 7th 2014 at 1:43PM

After Obama's reelection, the website Jezebel published racist Tweets from teenagers alongside contact information for their schools. That at least had some moral complexity to it. This is just: "Some isolated idiots are openly racist! News at 11."


How much research does it take to find bigotry on the internet?