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Coca-Cola's Cut of Gay Marriage Scene: Ad Localization or PR Blunder?

  |  January 3, 2014   |  Comments

Coca-Cola is under fire on social media over their editing of an ad campaign that removed a gay union scene from their Irish version: is it localization or a costly PR mistake?

The first marketing lesson of 2014 comes courtesy of Coca-Cola: localization is no vain word in advertising, but use it carefully.

The Twitterverse went ablaze recently after Irish LGBT publication brought to light that the local version of Coca-Cola's “Be Inspired” ad had been edited to remove a same-sex union between two men, though they were part of the brand's other version of the ad running in other European countries, including the neighboring U.K. and Norway.


Coca-Cola's response was clear: it's not to be interpreted as anything other than an ad localization. “The reason that this was changed for Ireland is that while civil partnership for gay people is legal, gay marriage currently is not,” its spokesperson told

Beyond the obvious controversy, both the choice and the explanation for it, from a branding perspective, are worth slowing down and looking at closely.

Throughout 2013, the word “localization” has been flying all over and used -- indeed, over-used. While it is true that adapting the content of your campaigns to the local market increases brand affinity and campaign efficiency, what you choose to specifically adapt within your content is even more important crucial.

First, take a look at the uncut version of the ad, as it runs in Norway:

Branding Call

2013 has seen the victory of same-sex marriages and unions across the globe and it is understandable that Coca-Cola's creatives would choose to rely on the joy brought on by such changes to convey the feelings they are after in their “Be Inspired” campaign.

Choosing to remove that specific part of the ad from their Irish campaign is a daring call. It's “a tough campaign for a brand to execute without shooting itself in the foot,” commented Shelly Kramer, brand strategist and CEO of V3 Integrated Marketing. “It makes me wonder how much conversation took place about these nuances before the campaign was developed... And how does this play out globally, where there are even more nuances in other countries?,” she added.

Here is the edited version of the ad for Ireland:

Shooting itself in the foot, indeed, is what Coca-Cola proceeded to do with the response to the outpour on social media about the edited ad. Why?

The uncut version of the ad runs in the U.K. (including Scotland and Northern Ireland), where gay marriage is just as illegal as in Ireland. Adding grist to the mill, reveals that the footage of the gay union in the uncut version of the ad is from a ceremony in Australia, where same-sex marriage is not legal. Meaning: the scene was perfectly tailored for Ireland as well – if same-sex marriage was the argument of reference.

Silence Isn't Golden

The brand has been less than responsive on Twitter, where the outpour still is ongoing: @CocaCola has not been interacting, responding or even acknowledging the controversy, but simply broadcasting other campaigns around a New Year's theme on Open happiness.


Its Facebook page is the same: oblivious to the controversy. Coca-Cola's Google+ profile... guess... mentions nothing about the ad campaign or the hoopla around it.

“From a creative standpoint, it seems like a bit of a nightmare. From a brand standpoint, and a PR standpoint, it seems like they're just inviting criticism -- not to mention action -- on the part of the LGBT communities everywhere. For me, I wonder whether it's worth it and if perhaps a different creative route might have produced less controversial reviews and more brand affinity,” Kramer commented.

3 Take-aways from this Controversy

Let's not totally call it debacle, from a marketing perspective. You'll see why:

  • localization is no vain word;
  • social media is for engagement, not broadcasting;
  • spinning a story is an art, make sure your PR can do it properly.

Another Marketing Stunt? (Really?) 

Finally, let's go back to Kramer's comment about “inviting criticism.”

Do you remember Coca-Cola's cause marketing stunt in the Philippines during typhoon Haiyan? What if, just what if, this was indeed a stunt for visibility, inviting criticism in order to introduce a now much-needed and awaited sequel to the current ad?

We're not fans of conspiracy theories or public bashing; what we're saying is: what if this were another smart way for Coca-Cola to get attention and boost brand recall in preparation for the ad that would explain it all?

Ok, maybe not. But then again... Hey Coca-Cola, let us know what you really have in store.


Liva Judic

Liva Judic joined Search Engine Watch and ClickZ in May 2010 as a news blogger. She has lived and worked across the globe in Madagascar, Switzerland, London, NYC, Asia and is now based in between New York and Berlin.

Her background is in government relations and financial media where she started out as a journalist at Bloomberg and became senior editor at AFX news (now part of ThomsonReuters). Prior to forming her own consultancy Judic was head of international PR for a head of state.

Judic focuses on facilitating brand and marketing transitioning for European startups moving to the US. She has been named one of the Top 50 Industry Influencers of 2014 by AGBeat 

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