Coca-Cola says did not intend Super Bowl ad to be derogatory

LOS ANGELES Thu Jan 31, 2013 5:24pm EST

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Coca-Cola Co held what it called a "productive conversation" with an Arab-American group that labeled the firm's Super Bowl ad racist, but will not change the commercial featuring an Arab walking through a desert with a camel.

"We did express regret that the ad had been misunderstood," Coca-Cola spokeswoman Lauren Thompson said in an email. "We are very concerned by these allegations and in no way is our ad meant to be derogatory to any group."

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, which sharply criticized the commercial, said on Thursday it was pleased with the company's apology and explanation, and believed the issue had been resolved.

On Wednesday, the group had said it would ask Coca-Cola to change the spot before CBS airs the game this coming Sunday in front of an expected audience of more than 100 million U.S. viewers.

Thompson said Coca Cola had not changed the ad, which was released online last week. It shows an Arab walking through a desert pulling a camel, as cowboys, Las Vegas show girls and a motley crew fashioned after the marauders of the apocalyptic "Mad Max" film, race by him to reach a gigantic bottle of Coke.

The ad asks viewers to vote online on which characters should win the race. The online website does not allow a vote for the Arab character.

The ADC and other groups cried foul over the image, and also the fact that it was not possible to vote for the Arab character.

Warren David, president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said Coca-Cola had been "very apologetic."

"They ... said their intention was not to sustain the Arab stereotype," he said. "We believe the issue is resolved and are now comfortable that Coke was in no way trying to demonize the Arab culture or race."

Abed Ayoub, director of legal and policy affairs for the group, said it now had a better understanding of Coca-Cola's campaign, although he expected the ad would still rankle some.

"I feel once the entire campaign comes through, then people will understand our position," said Ayoub.

Coca-Cola said the vote would run as planned.

Imam Ali Siddiqui, president of the Muslim Institute for Interfaith Studies, said the ad was racist, "portraying Arabs as backward and foolish Camel Jockeys, and they have no chance to win in the world."

The Coca-Cola spokeswoman said Coke had taken a "cinematic" approach, employing the characters as a nod to movies of the past. "Coca-Cola is an inclusive brand enjoyed by all demographics," she said.

The 60-second video was the first commercial of Coca-Cola's two-part Super Bowl advertising campaign. The spot will air during the game, followed by a different one in the post-Game telecast. Content for the campaign will also air online across Tumblr, Twitter and many other platforms.

Coke will air two other unrelated Super Bowl commercials on Sunday, including one during the game and another during the pre-game portion of the telecast.

The ADC garnered attention back in 1992 when it complained that lyrics in the Walt Disney animated film "Aladdin" were racist.

(Reporting By Susan Zeidler; Editing by Alden Bentley and David Brunnstrom)

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