Coke Web site: “Not very classy” to ask questions about gay rights

You can contact Coca-Cola via its US Web site about a number of topics.  But don’t dare ask it anything “gay,” or Coke will give you a virtual slap on the wrist.

That’s what happened to me moments ago when I asked Coke’s “virtual agent” about gay rights in Russia.

Coke, as you may know, is an official sponsor of the 2014 Winter Olympics taking place in two weeks in Sochi, Russia. And Russia is in the midst of a draconian crackdown on its gay and trans citizens, among other dissidents.

I asked Coke’s virtual agent the following: “Gay rights are being oppressed in Russia, what is Coke doing to speak out?”

I got the following answer:

“That’s not very classy. Let’s have a polite conversation.”


So I tried again:


And then simply tried the words “gay” and “lesbian,” assuming they were the trigger.

“Lesbian” appeared to particularly upset Coke’s virtual assistant:


I’m sure Coca-Cola would like nothing better than to pretend that its gay problem didn’t exist.  But it does.  The news that Coke’s American Web site gets rankled over discussions involving the word’s “gay” and “lesbian” comes on the heels of our earlier scoop that a Coke social media campaign based in South Africa bans the word “gay” but not straight.

And that followed our earlier report that Olympics security personnel were sporting a Coca-Cola logo when they detained a gay rights protester waving a rainbow flag less than two weeks ago in Russia.  The protester was turned over to Russian police, who then took him in to ask him more questions about his gay flag.


To make matters worse, Coke then defended the arrest of the Russian dissident.

Coke is not the only Olympic sponsor feeling the wrath of the international gay community for giving Putin’s regime. McDonald’s and Visa have also come under withering criticism for their sponsorship of the Sochi Olympics as well.  And it’s not just gays they have to content with.  Ireland’s Trinity College recently banned Coke and P&G products due to the companies’ refusal to speak out against Russia’s virulently homophobic new “gay propaganda” law.

And lest anyone ask why an Olympic sponsor needs to speak out about human rights abuses in the host country, all you need do is follow the money.  Coke spent $70 million to be a lead sponsor of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, so one would expect a similar sum for Sochi.  And that’s not the only way that corporations spend money on the Olympics.  Yahoo Finance walks you through the various ways.  By some estimates, 40% of Olympic revenue comes from sponsorships.

Speaking of percentages, here’s another interesting figure: 25% to 50%+ of the over $50 billion spenton the Sochi Olympics was stolen. From the Christian Science Monitor:

A Swiss member of the International Olympic Committee has publicly conceded an embarrassing reality that most Russians have long known about: the looming Sochi Olympics have been a virtual potlatch of corruption, with about a third of the $55 billion in mostly-state expenditures siphoned off in bribes and kickbacks by greedy officials.

coke-classlessOthers have suggested that the figure may be well over 50%. The Daily Beast has an excellent round-up on Sochi Olympics corruption.

The natural next question is whether any Olympic sponsor money has been used to finance those “bribes and kickbacks.” And if so, were the sponsors aware that their money was going for foreign corrupt practices? And, what have the sponsors done about it?

That’s the real question the Olympic sponsors would like to pretend we never asked.

(I’m told that in order to better see my Facebook posts in your feed, you need to “follow” me.)

CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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50 Responses to “Coke Web site: “Not very classy” to ask questions about gay rights”

  1. ComradeRutherford says:

    “”non-straight” dollars are worth just as much as “non-gay” dollars. Coke wants all the dollars it can get.

    Apparently not, though, given that Coca Cola seems perfectly happy to alienate the “LBGT & Friends” in the USA.

    Imagine if they were asked about Martin Luther and fighting Jin Crow and their response was, ‘That’s not very classy.’ They couldn’t as easily get away with that as they apparently can with antagonizing the “LGBT & Friends”.

    I suspect that Coca Cola hoped that this would not get any attention from a wider audience, and that seems to have come true for them.

  2. Kelvin Walker says:

    Boycotting is one of the most powerful and effective things we consumers can do. I am switching our free employee sodas to Pepsi. Lets stick together!

  3. Kelvin Walker says:

    As a global company, Coke is afraid of alienating global customers who will shy away from products and companies that endorse persecution and bigotry. If a restaurant, barber shop, florist etc. didn’t serve gay people, I would never go and neither would my straight friends or family. Maybe you don’t understand that “non-straight” dollars are worth just as much as “non-gay” dollars. Coke wants all the dollars it can get.

  4. Kelvin Walker says:

    No social or societal change has ever happened without people protesting, loudly, in places where people think it inappropriate (like you). He was causing a scene because sitting quietly at home on the couch won’t stop the persecution he, I, our families and loved ones are subjected to. People who benefit from the status quo will always complain about those who want to change it, accusing them of “crossing the line” as you have. Putting someone in prison for holding hands is crossing the line, not protesting that it happens. Clearly you are happy enough with institutionalized bigotry to be annoyed by those who fight it. If the fight for equal rights makes you late for a curling match or slalom race, then you’ll either think about what it is that means so much to these people they are willing to go out and tempt your contempt, or you’ll just whine about how fighting persecution is causing an unplanned scene, impacting your schedule.

  5. CrissCross says:

    Which means the Olympics has nothing to do with health, vitality and physical excellence. It has sold itself out to the highest bidder and it has abandoned its central core focus.
    An unhealthy gang masquerading through devious marketing and PR to give the appearance of what it is not.

    Who are the big sponsors?
    Coke, McDonalds….
    stop right there, credibility is dead.

  6. karmanot says:

    Like dude, like that is so like gay, like lame. Like, can I borrow some of those like Cheetos? “—-this sums it up pretty nice.” Like………….

  7. ChrisAndover says:

    Same argument still holds true, irrelevant whatever you substitute for gay. Regardless, it’s probably not a smart idea to be promoting your social cause violently crossing the line and going on the roads and resisting when you are being told to stop while the olympic torch is making its way through. He was creating a scene. I have nothing against any sexual orientation but if I was the police officer I would’ve stepped in as well

  8. Dan Alvírez says:

    Insert Jewish or Black or Native American everywhere you see the word gay and then tell me it’s OK to finance hate.

  9. ChrisAndover says:

    To be honest this is pretty stupid, you all are acting like a bunch of feminists here…trying to make everything seem like you’re getting discriminated against, like beep off, seriously. I don’t know you and I don’t care who you are, but everyone is in the spirit of the game, cheering for their country, and there you are, waving your gay flag around. Like, find a better place? Not everything is about gay people you know. He was at the wrong place at the wrong time. You don’t see people campaigning for cheaper beer waving their flags around. Like get real, think about where you are and act accordingly. He was just creating a scene. And from what I understood the police officer was being nice and told him to stop, but no he just wouldn’t listen. And honestly, you’re seriously blaming coke for all this? Are you freaking kidding me?? They sponsored the Olympics which are being hosted by a country that’s pretty anti-gay so that means coke must be against gay people?? Coke is just trying to make money, your logic is insane. Coke sponsored the Olympics, and all the guards are wearing coke logos and when guards make anti-gay arrests, that means it’s coke’s fault?? This is insane, you all are literally being like feminists here…trying to prove everyone hates you and that life’s unfair. It’s like saying buildings are shaped more like penises than vaginas so that shows male dominance and female discrimination. Like give me a break. Coke is a corporation. Not a person, not some homophobic. They have one purpose: Make money, that’s all that matters to them, and if they were trying to be anti-gay that would be pretty stupid as they would lose a lot of customers. I guess they never knew you guys would be crazy enough bit* over them sponsoring the olympics…not my comment but this sums it up pretty nice

  10. cleos_mom says:

    There’s also the uncomfortable reality that the simplest answer isn’t always the correct one; just the one people want to hear. People often confuse Occam’s razor with science.

  11. ComradeRutherford says:

    “Gay” and “Lesbian” are ‘Not nice’ or ‘Not Classy’, so no one should be allowed to talk about them anymore.

    Coca Cola has changed sides and now supports the murder of non-straights. They are a global company and what a handful of non-straights in America think doesn’t affect their profit margin.

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  13. ProgrammerGal says:

    Well unfortunately, my generation and the one after did and does use gay as an insult, slur, and swear word. You couldn’t go ten minutes in school without hearing SOMEONE say “Thats gay” or “You’re gay” as insults.

  14. ProgrammerGal says:

    Actually I think you have yourself a swear filter of sorts there and it only catches what is on the list and responds with a message accordingly. It’s a programmed response meant to pick up on key words. Insert a word on their list of blacklist words and you get that response set. It’s not against gays, its against using the words gay, lesbian, etc as swear/slurs.

  15. karmanot says:

    Quite right. We tend to overlook the zombie wing of the Republican Party. It is a grave situation.

  16. arcadesproject says:

    What the hell is wrong with Coca Cola? They are aligning themselves with handful of Russian weirdos against practically everybody else, I’ve been drinking coke since I was a kid but the sight of the name in print has begun to be a big turn off. Think I’ll get some pomegranate juice instead.

  17. Debra Fleischer-Moore says:

    Occam’s razor is subjective. What may seem like the simplest answer to you, may not be the same for someone else. Besides, even if you apply it here, if Coke thinks the words “gay” and “lesbian” are derogatory, there is still a big problem. How does anyone not see that?

  18. Lawerence Collins says:

    I hope that was rhetorical! In case it wasn’t. It’s always about $$$$$!

  19. CrissCross says:

    Olympics is sport. Sport is supposed to be associated with health and vitality!

    The World Health Organization says sugar is EVIL and we need to cut right back. Sugar is a dominant contributor to obesity.

    So why exactly is the Olympics associating with sponsors like Coke?

  20. chris10858 says:

    I was at the store the other day picking up bottled water. I usually buy Dasani but then realized its a Coke product. So, im now buying only Aquafina which is bottled Pepsi, Coke’s rival

  21. Silver_Witch says:

    As we used to say “totally”.

  22. Monophylos Fortikos says:

    Yeah, it’s a bit like arguing with the poor sap on the other end of the telephone who’s interrupted your dinner with a telemarketing call. He’s just some part-time nobody who’s probably desperate to keep his minimum-wage job and has about as much power over what his employer does as he has power to halt the revolution of the Earth. Much the same is doubtless true of the nonentities in charge of Coke’s “social media” presence.

  23. Silver_Witch says:

    Actually that is kind of sad. Never try to engage a virtual entity…they are not real. Don’t drink coke, don’t buy coke and get healthy at the same time.

  24. AnthonyLook says:

    Coke, needs to be sued by a class action suit for potential esophageal and gastrointestinal consequences to using their product. Smart lawyers, the time ripe.

  25. KC Jenner says:

    This is funny but not really. The was a vitual agent for Microsoft’s Messneger. I conversed with that one too. I was like the movie HER. I did not have the Powerade was related to Coke and the thing with Stoci was going on at that time. These virtual agents just feed back your words and verbs until you are satisfied or frustrated entirely.

  26. Monophylos Fortikos says:

    Would they even use real butter? I’d think that yellow-colored hydrogenated corn oil spread would be more the American way.

  27. Thom Allen says:

    Not true. Some dead Republicons continue to vote for years after their deaths, but, oddly, the Democrats get accused of voter fraud.

  28. FLL says:

    Here’s the ideal diet for developing type 2 diabetes: Chick-fil-A chicken, which is coated in flour and sugar, then deep fried in butter-flavored oil and placed on a bun that is sopping wet with butter (think Paula Deen and loads of butter in everything). Wash it all down with Coke or a high-fructose-corn-syrup Minute Maid drink. Bigots are not exactly increasing their life span this way. If bigots die earlier than the average American, they will stop voting earlier than the average American. A recipe for failure.

  29. SomeYankInRio says:

    They’re spinning like mad. My initial comment on their “human and workplace rights” was deleted but a week later they let my follow up remain – and even posted a response.

    I see a second post about Sochi remains on the site. How many more should there be?

  30. majii says:

    American companies that are sponsoring the Sochi Olympic games have
    made a conscious choice to place profits over human rights. I plan to
    boycott all American companies that are sponsors and are refusing to
    address our concerns over why they’d do this when their executives know
    that Putin is waging a campaign against gay persons. I’m not gay, but I
    have an intimate understanding of what gay persons are going through
    because I grew up under Jim Crow laws in the South in the 1950s. After
    experiencing segregation for the first 18 years of my life, I decided at
    that point going forward that I would never support/endorse any attempt
    by anyone to discriminate against others, and at the age of 61, 43
    years later, this is still my position.

  31. mark_in_toronto says:

    I have two criticisms of the Coca-Cola Company –
    No class and their products are very unhealthy.
    Coke? . . . Really? I would never drink that crap.
    Minute Maid? High-fructose corn syrup obesity-in-a-carton.
    Might as well have a tobacco company as a sponsor.

  32. UncleBucky says:

    Coke is gonna suffer more than with NEW Coke. We’ll call this the NEW adventures of OLD Coke…

  33. Mark_in_MN says:

    So, you then have some actual evidence to link this with Sochi or suggesting that applying Occum’s razor here is unwarranted?

  34. Thom Allen says:

    I tried the personalized Coke can software, much like the AI bot. It readily let me make a “Nazi” can of Coke. I think, if you were right, Nazi would definitely be proscribed. I think that Coke’s filters are programed for bigotry.

  35. Thom Allen says:

    I wonder how many Coke customer service workers got laid off because of their AI bot? That’s classy, Coke, just like you pouring millions of bucks into Sochi, seeing the gay bashing and approving of it.

  36. karmanot says:

    Oh please, next!

  37. LanceThruster says:

    Coke is [sh]it!

  38. Jim Olson says:

    Mostly I just get the bot misunderstanding any questions I ask.

  39. Mark_in_MN says:

    Coca-Cola might well want to avoid the subject, if they can, and I think there is plenty they have to answer for, but I can’t help thinking that there is a great, and largely unwarranted, leap here. It seems to almost be looking for something to complain about here. It seems far more likely that they have had a long standing filter on things like this “virtual agent” and interactive marketing campaigns that filter words that can be used in a derogatory manner or have sexual connotations. “Straight” may not be filtered simply because it’s primary meanings are “not curved or without an angle.” Maybe they shouldn’t include “gay” or “lesbian” in that list, but to leap that it is related to the Olympics, Russia, and so on without some specific evidence to support that seems to push things a bit far. It would seem that there would be more constructive ways to go after Coke for their connections with the Russian Olympics and their deflection and lack of response concerning the real human rights problems in Russia.

  40. FLL says:

    I have two criticisms of the Coca-Cola Company: no class and no class.

  41. PeteWa says:

    You: Does coke support Russia’s practice of allowing gay children to be kidnapped and tortured?

    Coca-Cola: Perhaps you meant:
    – Does Coca-Cola support Proposition 37?
    – How many countries are your products sold in?
    – How can I contact Coca-Cola internationally?
    – None of the above

  42. 2patricius2 says:

    I kept asking them questions mentioning “gay” numerous times till eventually I got an offer to send them an email. So I emailed them: “When are you going to speak out about antigay repression in Russia? You are a sponsor of the Olympics. Your logo is on the clothes of the officials who attacked a man with a rainbow flag. Why? I will not buy Coke or any of its products ever again if you continue to remain silent and complicit in the face of this oppression.”

  43. Anonymous says:

    The IOC and Coca-Cola just parrot their “anti-discrimination policies” as if they’re being enforced. They’re essentially denying that any of these things are happening. The whole thing is a fraud. If someone does get hurt it would probably be cheaper to pay them off than to relocate the games.

  44. Anonymous says:

    I don’t know what’s worse, treating “gay” as an insult, or getting that canned response. They’ve had this filter on their contact site for months.

  45. Monophylos Fortikos says:

    What would be classy topics for “Ask Coca-Cola”? Asking questions about exclusive deals Coca-Cola strikes with school districts to sell only Coke products? Inquiring into the success of the H2NO program? Seeking information about union-busting practices in South America?

  46. usagi says:

    One can only assume that whoever is in the position of authority in Coke’s social media division doesn’t realize how far off the rails this has gone. The only alternate theory is that they’re so incredibly inept they had no business being on a mall demo team let alone signing off on international advertising. There’s no way a corporation that has control of their image the way Coke does (say what you want about them, they know how to manage their brand) would allow them to screw up this badly.
    Who has a line to the upper echelon for comment? Something has apparently stalled and the mid-level and not trickled up to where it needs to be. They’re about one more fumble away from a Coors Beer level problem.

  47. SkippyFlipjack says:

    You know what’s funny? I think the AI treats “gay” at the beginning of a sentence as if it’s an insult, but doesn’t treat it that way elsewhere. Here’s the more reasonable answer to a different question.

  48. Luigi Proud DemoCat! says:

    Coca-Cola: Hi, I’m your virtual agent. What can I do for you?
    You: Thank you for the fag basher souvenir baseball bat.
    Coca-Cola: You’re welcome.

  49. karmanot says:

    Dear virtual COKE agent, who was your favorite Nazi in the German Olympics of 1936? Answer: “That’s not very classy. Let’s have a polite conversation.”

  50. Luigi Proud DemoCat! says:

    Please ask the Virtual Agent about this.

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