'Coca-Cola is not from Israel' ad sparks severe backlash


Published: 2024-06-13 17:17

Last Updated: 2024-07-14 07:10

The Bangladeshi actor from the "ad" drinking coke.
The Bangladeshi actor from the "ad" drinking coke.

In Dhaka, Bangladesh, a recent Coca-Cola advertisement has sparked widespread backlash, with the beverage giant facing criticism for attempting to distance itself from the Israeli Occupation amid the ongoing war in Gaza.

The 60-second commercial, which aired during a highly anticipated cricket match, has been accused of insensitivity and misinformation, leading to calls for a boycott.

Since October 7, when “Israel” launched an assault on the Gaza Strip, consumer sentiment in Muslim-majority and Arab countries has shifted dramatically. Many companies, including Coca-Cola, have seen sales plummet as consumers call for boycotts of firms perceived to have links with the "Israeli" government or military. Local media reports indicate that Coca-Cola's sales in Bangladesh have declined by approximately 23 percent since the war began.

In a bid to counter the negative publicity and falling sales, Coca-Cola released an advertisement aimed at dispelling the notion that it is an Israeli Occupation product. The commercial, set in a bustling market on a hot day, features a conversation between a young man named Sohail and a shopkeeper named Bablu. The young man initially refuses to buy a Coca-Cola, implying that it is associated with “Israel.”

The shopkeeper then attempts to correct this perception by explaining that Coca-Cola is enjoyed in 190 countries, including Turkey, Spain, and even Palestine.

The ad emphasized that Coca-Cola has been a global brand for 138 years and seeks to reassure consumers that it is not linked to any specific country or political agenda. However, this message has not been well received by the public.

The advertisement quickly drew ire both online and offline. Critics have labeled it as insensitive and misleading. One of the most contentious claims in the commercial is that "even Palestine has a Coke factory." This statement has been particularly criticized because the Coca-Cola factory in question is located in Atarot, an “Israeli” settlement in the occupied West Bank, which is considered illegal under international law.

Nadia Tabassum Khan, a market researcher from Dhaka, described the statement as "an insult to the millions of Palestinians who have lost their lands due to "Israel's" forceful occupation." Many others echoed this sentiment, arguing that the advertisement's attempt to detach the brand from the Israeli Occupation was both disingenuous and disrespectful.

The backlash against Coca-Cola is part of a broader trend where Western brands are facing boycotts due to perceived ties with “Israel." According to Zahed Ur Rahman, a political analyst based in Dhaka, Coca-Cola is seen as a quintessential American brand and is targeted in the belief that economic pressure might influence US policy towards “Israel”.

In February, Coca-Cola sold its Bangladeshi bottling operations to Coca-Cola Icecek, a Turkish associate. The company denied that this move was related to declining sales. However, Rahman suggests that the involvement of a company from a Muslim-majority country might be a strategic attempt to regain market share in Bangladesh.

As Coca-Cola grapples with these challenges, the controversy has led to a surge in the popularity of local brands like Mojo, a cola brand that had previously struggled to compete with international giants.

In response to the backlash, Coca-Cola temporarily removed the advertisement from its YouTube and Facebook pages. The company also disabled comments on these platforms due to an influx of angry messages. Despite this, the commercials continue to air on television.

Coca-Cola's attempt to navigate the sensitive political landscape has also drawn criticism from marketing professionals. Omar Nasif Abdullah, a lecturer of marketing at North-South University in Dhaka, stated that the company "failed to read the pulse of the people" and that the PR campaign was "laden with the wrong message and wrong approach."

The actors involved in the commercial have also faced public backlash. Sharaf Ahmed Jibon, who directed and starred in the advertisement, took to Facebook to clarify that his role was purely professional and that he did not support "Israel." Despite these clarifications, many remain unconvinced, arguing that actors should ensure the factual accuracy of their scripts before participating in such projects.

In the meantime, the controversy serves as a stark reminder that everyone should boycott companies that support genocide, and showcases the powerful role that consumers can play in shaping corporate behavior.