Social media was abuzz over the pronounced diversity of this year's Super Bowl ads, particularly Coca-Cola's multilingual ad. The company received praise from some for its multicultural embrace and sparked outrage from others -- a reminder of the lingering racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia that plagues our society. Granted, the Coca-Cola ad is not a sign that Islamophobia is over, but it is also not an insignificant occurrence. Let's avoid emotional knee-jerk reactions, on either side of the issue. The ad reflects an important trend among multinational corporations that Muslims are increasingly recognized as an important consumer segment that can no longer be ignored. Corporations have long known that fact, but have chosen not to prominently market to it due to the counter pressure from the organized anti-Muslim industry.
Organized hysterical attacks, such as the one in 2010 on Campbell's Soup for its halal products and in 2011 on Whole Foods for its Ramadan marketing campaign, have intimidated many other corporations from openly catering to Muslim consumers the way they typically do with other demographics. The goal of the Islamophobes is very deliberate and calculated: it is about making American Muslims radioactive in order to marginalize them and ensure that they are not seen as part of America's social fabric.
Regardless of whether it is out of social responsibility or pure economic interests, it is significant when Best Buy showcases Mustafa, the Muslim salesman, or when Coca-Cola highlights women who wear the hijab -- Islamic headscarf -- in their ad. It signifies a turning point where corporations are willing to withstand the pressure, attacks, and boycott threats from hate groups in order not to miss out on that consumer segment and its economic potential.
This move is important on both a political and social level. Politicians pay close attention to economics well and quickly follow it. Once corporations make it clear that American Muslims are not to be ignored or marginalized, politicians will get the message and realize that fear-mongering and defamation of Muslims will be politically costly. On a social level, media significantly shapes public perception, and television is arguably the most powerful medium that can propagate or debunk stereotypes about certain groups. More than any other method, television (and movies) can close the gap between the perceived "other" and "us".
Coca-Cola's advertisement and the responses to it demonstrate a greater need for a greater dialogue among and about the diverse groups that make America.