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Coke's Super Bowl Ad Puts Spotlight On Cyberbullying

Coca-Cola YouTube

The thought of spilling a drink on a computer probably induces a feeling of panic in most of us. Little did we know, however, that a few drops of a sugary soda could be the key to solving cyberbullying.

This is essentially the plot of a Coca-Cola Super Bowl spot, in which a maintenance guy inside a giant data center spills his Coke down into a tangle of wires. Sparking ensues in utility wires and wireless routers around the world, the Coca-Cola logo flashes across screens everywhere, and online negativity suddenly disappears.

A man watches as a video of two men arguing on TV transforms into a video of them laughing and smiling; a young boy receives a message saying "No one likes U" only to see it transformed into the message "There's no one like U."

With this ad Coca-Cola launches its #MakeItHappy campaign, which the company describes as a "movement to add more happiness to the Web and offset negativity."

Internet negativity is not news to anyone, and at the extreme end of this negativity, cyberbullying has had tragic effects on the lives of many. According to StopBullying.gov, a 2013 study revealed that 15 percent of high school students have experienced electronic bullying. But the Coca-Cola ad, addressing Internet negativity, and criticizing it, takes a step into the corporate mainstream.

The response on social media, Coke's target stage for the campaign, has been surprisingly positive. The ad seems to touch a nerve with those who are ready to highlight the issue of online bullying, and Coke's campaign gives them a platform to do just that. Tweets using the hashtag #MakeItHappy are quick to praise the ad for its message of positive empowerment. Even comments on YouTube, a place where negativity often reigns, commend the ad as a favorite among those aired during the Big Game. USA Today's Ad Meter ranks the spot as one of the top 10 ads of the night.

Twitter users seem attracted to the "more than a hashtag" part of the campaign in which they are invited to "happify" a tweet by tagging it with the #MakeItHappy hashtag. Coke's branded account then responds with a happy visualization of the negative tweet. This interactive piece of the puzzle is smart — it gives participants the feeling that they are being heard by a major brand.

But of course, this being the Internet, not all responses can be positive. Among commenters who don't praise the ad there are two main themes: the snarky commenters and those questioning the altruism of Coke's motives. Many are quick to note that spilling a Coke inside a data center is unlikely to have the advertised effect.

Other comments cite the negative health effects of Coca-Cola — a soft drink often linked with obesity and other health risks. Behind these comments are concerns that praise for Coke's socially conscious stance on cyberbullying only serves to draw attention away from the company's less savory practices.

That's undoubtedly one of the benefits of corporate social responsibility. #MakeItHappy gives Coke the image of being a corporate leader in criticism of Internet negativity, and this is a boon for the company. But the campaign also gives a platform for those wishing to speak out against online bullying. It legitimizes the issues, and publicizes it.

Is this a mutually beneficial relationship, or corporate appropriation of a cause?

Tajha Chappellet-Lanier is the social media intern at NPR.

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