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The Amazing Paradox of Negative PR for Coca-Cola

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On February 2nd 2014 (the day of the Superbowl in the US) Coca-Cola aired an ad where people of various ethnicities were singing ‘America the Beautiful’ in their own language. Immidiately after the airing of the ad all hell broke loose on Twitter and other social media platforms. This continued for the following days and weeks.

A simple piece of pre-advertising research could have told them that some people in the US are so patriotic, or perhaps we can even use the word racist, that they felt offended by the fact that people of other ethnicities were singing ‘America the Beautiful’ in their own language as opposed to English.


As this was not a paying project, we had initially harvested the posts with the intention of analysing it to showcasing listening247's (formerly known as eListen) sentiment accuracy of over 80%. We wanted to explain the importance of high sentiment accuracy in social analytics and tell all the brands out there that they need to be constantly “listening” to online chatter about themselves and their competitors in order to be able to handle situations as they arise.

An angry and negative reaction to an ad (like the 2014 Coca-Cola Superbowl ad) is negative PR and could lead to loss of brand equity, something potentially catastrophic in real business terms. We had to understand what it is that offended and angered people to this extend; why they were attacking the ad and the brand behind it. An initial comparison of the sentiment before and after the ad showed something we did not expect... So we decided to dig deeper.


During the 8 days prior to the Superbowl, there were 139,997 posts about Coca-Cola in the English language; 22% Negative, 7% Positive and 71% Neutral. During the 8 days following the airing of the ad, the number increased by 169% to 376,382 posts. The interesting fact here is that although the number of posts increased by 169% after the campaign airing, the amount of negative posts still accounted for 22% of the total while positive posts jumped to 51%. The number of neutral comments is the same before and after at ~100,000 - the only difference is its share has dropped to 1/3 of what it was; from 71% to 27%.

It seems that surprisingly the negative reaction to the ad woke up passive readers of social media posts, and prompted them to express their disagreement with the racist comments, which indirectly was positive support for Coca-Cola. 

On Facebook, Blogs and Boards the negative reaction to the negative comments about Coca-Cola was by far bigger than the negative comments themselves. At a closer look it was as if Coca-Cola received more positive sentiment and not negative, the negative comments about the ad criticism are considered indirectly positive about Coca-Cola, so in this case negative PR caused a positive reaction.

For more details and charts, please download the full case study from the Supporting Documents section below.

Supporting Documents

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