Last night during the Super Bowl, Coca-Cola debuted its “It’s Beautiful” commercial, which included a rendition of “America the Beautiful” in various languages.
One of the most controversial Super Bowl ads this year did not rely on the usual tactics, such as humor, shock, a catchy tune, or clever turns of phrase. Instead, the much-talked-about advertisement from Coca-Cola simply presented the song, “America, the Beautiful” in seven different languages. Outrage swiftly ensued, as evidenced by a newly created hashtag on Twitter: #speakamerican. Some even began calling for a boycott of Coca-Cola products.
Why all the fuss? Many Americans feel that the only language that should be used is English, not just on Super Bowl Sunday, but every day of the year.
Many people will be critical of Coca-Cola’s decision to showcase non-English languages in the context of such a patriotic song, because they feel it threatens their idea of what it means to be American, even if that conception is out of touch with America’s multilingual history and current reality.
If Coca-Cola had wanted to avoid negative publicity, it could have simply elected to use Native American languages like Navajo, Dakota, and Cherokee. Instead, it chose to use foreign languages, which are commonly spoken nowadays within U.S. borders, but which are definitely more controversial.
The creators of the Coca-Cola ad surely knew they would push buttons for a lot of Super Bowl viewers and that the ensuing controversy would put the company in the headlines. While the ad surely makes a statement about the multilingual nature of America, the end goal is, of course, publicity. Even if some of what’s being said is negative, the company still achieved their objective. The whole purpose of the ad was to get people talking about Coca-Cola — in any language.