Coca-Cola has found itself embroiled in controversy again: The beverage giant is coming under fire for a Christmas ad that many have decried as deeply offensive and insensitive toward the indigenous Mexican population, reports The Guardian.
While Coca-Cola has scrubbed the video from its YouTube channel, it can still be found elsewhere on the site (albeit in a considerably lower-quality version). The commercial depicts a group of young white people traveling into an indigenous Mexican village to build its citizens a giant Christmas tree and hand out bottles of Coke in some sort of pseudo-philanthropic effort:
Per the Washington Post, "The Alliance for Food Health, a coalition of consumer rights and health groups, wants the Mexican government to block the ad, saying it is an attack on the dignity of indigenous people." Meanwhile, many have taken to social media to express their distaste for the ad:
This white-savior mentality is RACIST!! Coke exploiting Mexicans is not fighting discrimination. It's fueling it. https://t.co/YVXyxmEYuq— Rex (@CarelessRex) December 2, 2015
Questions of racism aside, Coca-Cola's decision to show Mexicans being given the gift of soda is awfully tone-deaf. The drink enjoys wild popularity in the country, where the per capita consumption of soda outweighs even America; on average, Mexicans consume 43 gallons of soda per year, with Coca-Cola controlling a vast majority of the market share. But the country's fanaticism for the sugary soft drink has helped fuel its obesity epidemic, which is even worse than America's: 70 percent of Mexican adults are overweight or obese. In an attempt to combat that, Mexico introduced a soda tax in 2014 that increased the price of soft drinks by about 10 percent (that year, Coca-Cola's sales in Mexico fell by 4.6 percent).
The timing of the controversy is especially unfortunate for the company given recent events: Earlier this week a shady "anti-obesity group" funded by Coca-Cola suddenly shut down. The goal of the Global Energy Balance Network had seemingly been to shift blame for obesity away from dietary issues — such as heavy soda consumption — and onto exercise habits. Coca-Cola has in fact spent more than $100 million in attempts to prove that soda isn't so unhealthy after all; in a sketchy campaign launched earlier this year, the company partnered with so-called "fitness and nutrition experts" to suggest that soda can be a "healthy treat."
UPDATE 12/2 2:13 p.m.: Reached for comment by Eater, a spokesperson for Coca-Cola sent the following statement:
As part of Coca-Cola México's Christmas campaign for this year the video "Mixe Community Totontepec" was launched on digital channels, seeking to convey a message of unity and joy. Our intention was never to be insensitive to or underestimate any indigenous group. We have now removed the video and apologize to anyone who may have been offended. In nearly 90 years in the country, Coca-Cola Mexico has worked to share messages of unity and friendship to contribute to build a society free of prejudices.