Starting in June 2018, women in Saudi Arabia will be officially allowed to take the wheel for themselves and drive a car.
While the time has not yet arrived, a Coca-Cola campaign spot showing a Saudi father teaching his daughter how to drive has gone viral on social media.
The ad, dubbed “Change has a taste”, is backed by the song “I Got That Feeling” by Highland Park Collective and, as one would expect, has the product saving the day.
The ad has also received its fair share of criticism for commercializing social progress.
“These companies think it is OK to take something and make it a brand,” said Amina Awartani, a student activist from Qatar, in an interview with Newsweek. “And not just anything, women in Saudi Arabia have been and still are fighting patriarchal oppression on a daily basis.”
“They not only include themselves in a struggle they have nothing to do with, but they’re literally using it to their own advantage so that they can make money,” she added – from her Qatar.
Some even compared the spot to the disastrous Pepsi ad in April featuring Kendall Jenner offering a police officer a Pepsi during a protest. Pepsi was harshly slammed by critics who accused the company of exploiting social issues to sell a product.
— Muna AbuSulayman م ن ى (@abusulayman) November 4, 2017
Coke’s representative in the region, Omar Bennis, responded to the criticism, also to Newsweek, saying:
“Coca-Cola is continuing its legacy of celebrating positive social and cultural change in its advertising campaigns by releasing a topical and timely ad in the Middle East. The campaign touches on the brand’s values surrounding diversity and inclusion and aligns with Coca-Cola’s commitment to enable the economic empowerment of women.”
Sure, Coke is using the ad to sell sugar water and it is unabashedly inserting its brand into the middle of a controversial social issue.
However, unlike the Pepsi disaster, this is celebrating a special moment between a father and his daughter within the context of a country amid ongoing social change.