Kempner: Coke softly crosses the ‘them’ gender line in Super Bowl ad


Coke, the like-to-teach-the-world-to-sing beverage giant, has a new Super Bowl 2018 commercial in which one of the people is highlighted as a “them.”

That’s a pronoun sometimes preferred by some people who don’t identify with traditional gender definitions.

Except that the company doesn’t say all that.

Coca-Cola is intentionally not-overt on that point, even as it produced the ad for the nation’s biggest stage for overt commercialism.

The “them” reference doesn’t come across as a breakthrough, as much as a soft, welcoming next step as companies push to deepen connections with young adult consumers who are probably more primed to value and expect broader inclusivity from whomever they choose to do business with. At the end of the day, though, it’s good to remember this is still about a company trying to build brand, win friends and sell drinks.

The Super Bowl is where companies go to get noticed on a massive scale. Coke usually chooses the warm and fuzzy approach. It tends to highlight a rich diversity of people.

(Well, at least a rich diversity of mostly young people. Wrinkles and gray hair, not so much.)

The latest spot, one of two commercials Coke plans to air during the game, may be the first time Coke knowingly referred to a person in a major commercial with that pronoun. A spokeswoman didn’t immediately know of another, but she’s checking.

The 60-second spot starts with quick snippets of a variety of people, as different voices say “There’s a Coke for he … and she … and her … and me … and them.”

On “them,” the camera shows a slight, short-haired young person with a bit of a smile, wispy clothes and what looks like a rainbow-colored ribbon.

The visual lasted a single second. I timed it. Just a tiny moment meant, I’m sure, as a subtle nod to people attuned to notice it. The reference is otherwise easy to miss.

Coke spokeswoman Kate Hartman said the company wasn’t seeking to overtly highlight any particular group. “People who are viewing it will take each scene and interpret it in a way that is unique to them.”

“It is supposed to be one positive message of inclusivity,” she told me.

VIDEO: More about Coca-Cola

The commercial, which is scheduled to air during the Super Bowl’s fourth quarter, includes people of different races, someone in a wheelchair, a woman in a hijab and an interracial couple.

It also has images of Coke, Coke Life and Coke Zero Sugar. Hey, they’ve got a business to run and the Super Bowl is the filet mignon of ad time: $5 million for 30 seconds of air time, reportedly.

“We’ve always had a very inclusive eye when we are casting” for commercials, Hartman said.

The cast member referred to in the spot as “them” had self identified as non-binary.

Non-binary refers to people “who transcend commonly held concepts of gender through their own expressions and identities,” according to the Human Rights Campaign, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer civil rights organization. “Other terms for non-binary might include gender expansive, gender creative, or genderqueer.”

Yikes, this is a lot to remember.

(The Human Rights Campaign tweeted about the ad, describing it as “beautiful and inclusive.”)

To me, the commercial didn’t come off as preachy or diversity exploitative. Nor was it particularly powerful. That’s the price of tiptoeing.

I imagine it was just meant to reflect life around us. Well, that and to make us like Coke (sugar, artificial sweeteners and all) and maybe even buy a case or two.

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AJC Unofficial Business columnist Matt Kempner offers you a unique look at the business scene in metro Atlanta and beyond. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these columns:

 

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