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Bangladeshi Coke sales fizzle after Israel ad controversy

A new ad during peak viewership tries to distance the beverage from Israel. Social media was abuzz, with some dubbing it "a mockery."

A man enjoys Coca-Cola in Bangkok, Feb. 2, 2020. Credit: 15Studio/Shutterstock.
A man enjoys Coca-Cola in Bangkok, Feb. 2, 2020. Credit: 15Studio/Shutterstock.

Coca-Cola has found itself embroiled in a controversy in Bangladesh after airing an advertisement that aimed to distance the brand from Israel.

The 60-second video, which aired on Bangladeshi TV and YouTube on June 9, depicted a shopkeeper convincing a reluctant buyer to purchase Coca-Cola by stating that the beverage “is not at all from that place,” referring to Israel, and that the company “also has a factory in Palestine.”

While the advertisement did not explicitly mention Israel, it became evident that the reference was directed towards the country.

Social-media accounts of Coca-Cola Bangladesh were soon inundated with comments from Bangladeshis criticizing the claims made in the ad. According to Arab News, Sohel Rahman, a businessman from Dhaka, described the advertisement as “an attempt to fool the audience” by distorting the facts.

“Coca-Cola Co. has maintained close ties with Israel since the 1960s and was honored by the Israeli government in 1997 for ‘refusing to abide by the Arab League economic boycott of Israel,'” he claimed.

Sadia Ahmed, an executive from Dhaka’s Gulshan area, viewed the campaign as a “mockery” and misinformation. “The campaign hid this information deliberately to play with the sentiments of the Bangladeshi people. The advertisers thought it would help boost its sales. But the result was the opposite,” she told Arab News. “Now, our boycotting campaign is even stronger, as Coke directly supports Israeli aggression on Palestine.”

While Coca-Cola removed the advertisement from its social media channels on Wednesday and ceased airing it on local TV, the video continued to circulate on social media, drawing comments such as “This feels desperate,” “This advertisement is trying to fool innocent people” and “Boycott the actors too.”

Saraf Ahmed Zibon, the actor portraying the main character in the ad, took to Facebook earlier this week to clarify that he “had never been in favor of Israel” and had presented information and data provided by Coca-Cola.

The Palestinian issue is highly sensitive in Bangladesh, where many people empathize with the struggle against Israel, and advocacy for “Palestine” is part of the country’s foreign policy.

According to Rasheda Rawnak Khan, an associate professor at the Department of Anthropology of Dhaka University, “It’s very much clear that this new Coke advertisement is political propaganda. This propaganda can’t be accepted in any case. It hurts the sentiment.”

Coca-Cola’s attempt to win back Bangladeshis appears to have backfired.

“Coke failed to internalize the sentiment of 180 million people of Bangladesh … and made this socially and culturally [insensitive] advertisement to re-brand in the local market,” professor A.S.M. Amanullah, a sociologist from Dhaka University, told Arab News. “The attempt has backfired. … I believe, in a couple of weeks, Coke’s sales could be reduced to 50%.”

A drop in demand for Coca-Cola has already been observed since October and has plunged further since the beginning of this week, with local soft drink brands gaining prominence.

“Last week, the demand was four times higher. … A significant part of Coke’s annual sales used to happen during the Eid Al-Adha festival. But this year, it seems that the total sales of Coke will fall drastically,” said Arifur Rahman, a grocery-store owner at Dhanmondi, Dhaka, as reported by Arab News.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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