Coca Cola Issues Apology For ‘Indigenous People Ad’ – While The Message Was Good, The Casting Was Offensive, Say Activists

Coca-Cola issued an apology for the “Indigenous People Ad,” which depicts youngsters, most of them notably white, traveling to a remote Mexican town to set up a Christmas tree and hand out bottles of Coke to the locals. While the ad was meant to promote the message “Open Your Heart,” the choice of actors bringing Coke products to the Mexican town was interpreted as “insensitive and racially offensive.”

In an attempt to promote its products in Mexico, Coca-Cola released an advertisement which was meant to send a message of unity to the country’s indigenous population, reported Business Insider. However, after the short video was released, many activists strongly objected to the same, saying the ad clearly discriminated against and attacked the dignity, culture, and health of the Mexican people by suggesting it was the more affluent white population that was bringing the gifts to the poor indigenous population of the country.


The ad campaign, which was primarily meant for social media marketing, was accompanied with a well-intentioned hashtag #AbreTuCorazon or “Open Your Heart.” The core statement that the advertisement put forth was an overwhelming majority of “indigenous people” have felt rejected, solely because of the language they speak. According to the ad:

“81.6% of indigenous people have felt rejected for speaking another language.”

The ad then urges the Mexicans to “overcome that prejudice” and embrace everyone, irrespective of the differences in the culture or language. Interestingly, the ad even goes on to say the following.

“This Christmas a group of young people decided to give something very special to the indigenous community of Totontepec de Morelos in Oaxaca. You, too, open your heart.”

For those unfamiliar with the region, Oaxaca is a town that is majorly governed by the system of ‘Usos y costumbres’ or customs and traditions. It is essentially a form of local governance. Owing to the region’s rugged terrain, it has remained largely isolated from the developed world and hence one can safely say it is inhabited by indigenous people.

While the intentions of the ad might have been good, the choice of casting seemingly obliterates any and all intended goodwill. This is because the ones bearing the “gift of Coca-Cola” are undeniably fair skinned. As always, attractive, young, but most notably Caucasian, people can be seen getting ready to pay a visit to an indigenous town of Oaxaca.

The ad begins with a fact claiming that 81.6 percent of Mexico’s indigenous people feel rejected for speaking a language other than Spanish. Thereafter a group of long-haired blond women and bespectacled young men, who can collectively be termed as “hipsters” are seen joyously sawing wood, welding and painting before they playfully head off in an El Camino pickup to the eastern mountains of Oaxaca where Totontepec is located, reported Fox News. Once there, the group proceeds to build a tree with Coca-Cola lights and distribute Coke bottles to the indigenous population, who appear grateful. The tree, lights up with the message “We will stay united” in the local language. At the end Coca-Cola tells viewers to #AbreTuCorazon.

The visual that has been dubbed as the “Indigenous People Ad” was pulled on 1st December, after “the country’s Alliance for Food Health lodged an official complaint with the National Council to Prevent Discrimination (Conapred),” reported Mashable. Shortly after, Coca-Cola officially apologized for the ad, reported The Guardian.

To counteract Coca-Cola’s “insensitive and racially offensive” message, the Alliance for Food Health (AFH) created its own video, including Mixe people speaking about the soda industry’s influence on their community, reported Yahoo.

Besides being blamed as the primary cause for rising obesity, Coca-Cola instantly drew flak from health advocacy and anti-discrimination groups across the country with the ad.

[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]