The Positive Effect of Negativity: The Coca-Cola Super Bowl Ad

"America Is Beautiful" Coca-Cola ad

One could argue that any PR is good PR, however we don’t think we were the only ones thinking that Coca-Cola did NOT see it coming on February 3rd – the day after the Super Bowl. We kept thinking that the brand is damaged, that sales would be affected negatively, and that some heads would probably roll within The Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta.  A simple piece of pre-advertising research could have told Coke that some people in the USA are so patriotic, to the point where it can turn into jingoism or even racism, and that they would feel offended by the ad Coke was preparing to air. The most common issue among negative social media posts was that people of other ethnicities were singing “America the Beautiful” in their own language, and not in English. Needless to say, all hell broke loose on social media immediately after the ad was aired, and continued for several days and weeks.


According to our findings, during the 8 days prior to the Super Bowl 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%.

What we discovered had actually happened was almost unbelievable, at least for it to have occurred organically. Apparently, the initial negative reaction from some consumers had the opposite effect than what they were trying to achieve. Instead of influencing others in preventing them from buying Coca-Cola products and encouraging them to go against the company, they managed to “wake up” many passive consumers to come to Coke’s defense. 


Reading through a large number of posts, we saw that although many posts were assigned a negative sentiment by the algorithm behind listening247s high sentiment accuracy, they were not negative towards Coca-Cola or the ad, but rather towards the posts attacking the ad and, by extension, attacking the brand. These people not only defended the message behind the brand’s multilingual ad celebrating diversity, they went as far as directly attacking the negative and often racist comments and the people behind them. Through this process of manually going through posts, we identified a new sentiment: the double negative, or indirectly positive.

You see, just as in mathematics, the double negative can be considered a positive.  Once we identified the posts that were directly positive about the campaign, as well as the posts that were negative towards the negative comments (i.e., the comments attacking the racists and thus defending Coca-Cola), the results were totally different. The “neg-neg” plus the positive accounted for the largest percentage of posts in total.

Coca-Cola was right. America is beautiful.

Michalis Michael is the founder and CEO of London and Nicosia headquartered DigitalMR Ltd, the first holistic Digital Market Research Specialist. His particular expertise entails social media research and customer advocacy. For more, you can download his free e-book, The Positive Effect of Negativity.


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