By Dow Jones Business News,
January 29, 2014, 08:44:00 PM EDT
By Mike Esterl
ATLANTA-- Coca-Cola Co. has apologized for a digital campaign in South Africa that allowed consumers to replace the
"Coca-Cola" script on its iconic red soda cans with alternative words like "straight" but didn't allow the use of "gay."
The world's largest beverage company removed the controversial program from its South African website this week
after drawing fire from gay-rights supporters who have already criticized Coke for not condemning a Russian law banning
gay "propaganda." Coke is a sponsor of the Winter Olympics being held in Russia next month.
The Atlanta-based company plans to post a new digital program on the South African website that will only allow
consumers to replace "Coca-Cola" with first or "proper" names, Ann Moore, a Coke spokeswoman in Atlanta, said Wednesday.
In a statement on its global corporate website Tuesday, Coke said the "Share A Coke" digital program on the South
African website hadn't functioned as intended and that the company has "long been a strong supporter of the LGBT
community." LGBT is shorthand for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
"We apologize for this mistake. As one of the world's most inclusive brands, we value and celebrate diversity,"
Coke added in the statement Tuesday.
Ms. Moore said Wednesday the issue was confined to Coke's South African website and that the company doesn't have
similar "Share A Coke" campaigns running in any other countries at the moment.
The South African campaign allowed consumers to change the label on a digital rendering of a Coke can and share the
image through social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter. It went viral beyond South Africa after some consumers
discovered they couldn't use the term "gay" despite being able to use many other words, including "straight."
New York resident Ken Kidd, a supporter of the gay-rights group Queer Nation NY, says he got the message "Oops,
let's pretend you didn't just type that" after trying to use the word "gay" on the website last week.
Mr. Kidd says he then used the program to post other digital images of Coke cans in social media with words that
were allowed, including "Shame on You" and "Homophobe," in order to draw attention to the matter. Other gay-rights
supporters also took to the Internet in recent days, criticizing Coke.
Coke has already faced criticism and consumer boycott threats for not directly criticizing a recent Russian law
that prohibits "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations."
The company has toed a careful line in public by expressing support for gay rights without directly addressing the
Russian law or criticizing the Olympics host government.
Coke said in a statement last month that it doesn't "condone intolerance or discrimination of any kind anywhere in
the world" and that it believes the Olympics "are a force for good."
"We support the core values of the Olympic Movement--excellence, friendship and respect," Coke added.
Write to Mike Esterl at firstname.lastname@example.org
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