A multilingual advert for Coca-Cola broadcast during the recent NFL Super Bowl in the US has divided opinion.
The advert features the song “America The Beautiful” sung in eight languages: English; Hebrew, Mandarin; the Filipino language Tagalog; Arabic; Spanish; Senegalese-French; and the Native American tongue Keres.
The makers of the 60-second short, titled “It’s Beautiful”, say the film is meant to highlight the different colours, lifestyles and origins of people found in the United States today.
Several versions of “America The Beautiful” sung in different languages have also been released by the soft drink giant on YouTube.
But some detractors, using the Twitter hashtag #BoycottCoke, argued that America’s unofficial second national anthem should have been sung in English.
Conservative former US congressman Allen West wrote in a blog post: “If we cannot be proud enough as a country to sing ‘American [sic] the Beautiful’ in English in a commercial during the Super Bowl, by a company as American as they come — doggone we are on the road to perdition. This was a truly disturbing commercial for me, what say you?”
And controversial political commentator Glenn Beck suggested that the commercial was meant to “divide us, politically”.
However, one Filipino-American named only as Leilani, who sang a portion of the song in Tagalog, said: “I think people will really feel good in themselves to know that America is there and to hear it in many other languages spoken, especially if one of the languages is a language that you speak, then it’ll really get deep inside of you.”
Her part in the song includes the line “Sa ibabaw ng mga prutas”, which is translates into “Above the fruited plain”.
Sonya Soutus, senior vice president of public affairs and communications, Coca-Cola North America, said: “We believe [the ad] is a great example of the magic that makes our country so special, and a powerful message that spreads optimism, promotes inclusion and celebrates humanity – values that are core to us and that matter to Coca-Cola.”
The advert, which is also the first Superbowl ad to feature a gay couple and their daughter, was produced in collaboration with advertising firm Wieden + Kennedy and Skunk Productions.
Advertisers are well aware that American football’s flagship event is watched by millions around the world. Because of this, businesses are prepared to pay anything up $4 million for a mere 30-second slot.
An American tradition
Nataly Kelly, vice president of market development at Smartling and co-author of ‘Found in Translation’, reminds us of a few historic points concerning language in the USA. Writing in the Huffington Post, she says:
- In the US there are currently 381 languages commonly spoken, according to the latest American Community Survey. These include German, Arabic, Spanish, Vietnamese, French, Chinese and Korean.
- One in five people watching the superbowl will speak a language other than English in their own home. Research shows that around 60 million people in the US speak non-English behind closed doors when among friends and family.
- 169 Native American languages were spoken in America long before English was made the common tongue. Even today there are still 372,000 people speaking the ancestral languages of America.
- At least half of the United States presidents to date have been multilingual. In fact many of the founding fathers could speak multiple languages, including Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, , James Monroe and John Quincy Adams.
Coca-Cola says it plans to launch a 90-second version of the advert during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics.