Over the weekend, AmericaBlog uncovered a South African website that invited users to "Share a Virtual Coke" but responded to submissions of pro-gay words—including "gay," "lesbian," and "queer"—with an error message reading: "Oops. Let's pretend you didn't just type that. Please try another name."
Coca-Cola has since apologized, publishing a response on its website, and removed the offending program after LGBT activists called out the company, a 2014 Winter Olympics sponsor, for promoting a social media tool that refused to recognize pro-LGBT words, while words like "straight," "hetero," "homophobe," "homosexual," and even "LGBT" are allowed through the system, producing a shareable graphic with the words emblazoned on Coke's classic red can.
Explaining that the "Share a Coke" campaign was intended to allow users to customize a Coke can with their own name in the brand's iconic logo script, Coca-Cola acknowledged that the version hosted on the company's South African site didn't restrict submissions to names.
"Specifically, the name and message auto-generator on our South Africa 'Share A Coke' website would not accept the word 'Gay,' but did accept the word 'Straight,'" reads the statement from Vukani Magubane of Coca-Cola South Africa. "This isn't how the program was supposed to work, and we've pulled the site down until we can fix the problem. We apologize for this mistake. As one of the world’s most inclusive brands, we value and celebrate diversity. We have long been a strong supporter of the LGBT community and have advocated for inclusion, equality and diversity through both our policies and practices."
"More than 700,000 Coca-Cola system associates get up every morning determined to make the world a happier place and, when errors like this happen, we take it seriously," continues the statement. "Thank you for raising this with us, and we’ll get it fixed."
Activists upset with Coca-Cola's silence regarding Olympics host country Russia's anti-LGBT laws and violent repression of dissent took the advertising gimmick as further evidence that Coke is intentionally ignoring LGBT people.
Despite repeated calls from activists to take a stand on Russia's anti-LGBT laws, Coke has declined to issue any sort of condemnation of the nation's ban on so-called gay propaganda. When a gay Russian was arrested and fined last week for unfurling a rainbow flag as the Olympic torch passed through his city, Coke issued a statement addressing the arrest and confirming that the officers who detained the protester were wearing uniforms emblazoned with Coke's logo. The statement did not condemn the police's silencing of the protester but did claim that the beverage company is "one of the world's most inclusive brands, [which] value[s] and celebrate[s] diversity."